CD: Pianoforte
Timothy Crane

imagesThe late great folk-rock musician John Denver wrote his most famous song as a tribute to the intoxicating effect of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Having lived there myself, I can attest to the veracity of his claim. Someone else who I am sure will agree is pianist Timothy Crane, who makes his home in the Rocky Mountain foothills of Golden, Colorado. According to Tim, who previously lived near Aspen,  “once you live in the mountains it’s hard to go back.” Perhaps it is something in that rarefied air or the natural beauty that has inspired creative spirits for ages, and Timothy Crane is no exception. However, another source of inspiration for this talented artist is his deep faith and spirituality, which not only illuminates his music but every aspect of his life.


Like many accomplished pianists, Tim began at an early age, in this case around four or five years old. He still has that same piano, which was passed down from his grandmother. He shares some memories of those formative years: “My piano teacher was a fabulous jazz player, and for our recitals she would bring in her bass player and drummer to play with us. It made us feel cool.” He also recalls: “I once took classical piano lessons, but my teacher said I was cheating by buying the records and learning them by ear.” Tim eventually gravitated towards rock music and spent a number of years playing in bands. However, a major change was on the horizon. In his words: “One day in Rockville Maryland, I heard a local radio station play Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” on the radio and my thoughts about popular music were turned upside down. About the same time, I heard Yanni on the radio and realized that there may be a place in the world for some of my own music.”


Timothy CraneHis “own music” is something he characterizes as “instrumental pop,” which reflects influences from new age, rock, popular, and even classical music. According to Tim: “For me, a perfect instrumental piano album is like a great pop album of the 70’s or 80’s – with some pieces that move you to tears, and others that make you want to drive your car on two wheels, James Bond-style.” This contrast fits in perfectly with the title of his latest CD. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word “pianoforte” as the formal term for “piano,” and originates in the mid 18th century: “from Italian, piano e forte ‘soft and loud,’ expressing the gradation in tone.” As Tim describes it: “Reflecting the title itself, the album has a mix of soft (slower and perhaps prettier) and loud (faster and stronger) pieces.” Pianoforte emphasizes composition, much like his previous CD’s The Other Life I Dream and Dragonfly, both of which achieved widespread radio airplay and success on the charts. Tim enjoys a challenge and says: “I like to write in different keys to make me a better player. I also like to write at least one piece that is really hard to play. It forces me to practice.”


He must be practicing a lot, because right from the opening track, a blend of distinctive melody and impressive technique is evident. Although the track, entitled “What Will I Be,” is barely over 2 minutes long, it feels like a complete composition and exhibits a surprising dynamic range in its brief lifespan. In fact, all but one song out of twelve are under 3:15 in length. This brings the total time of the CD to around 33 minutes – relatively short for a CD, but like a buffet of extremely rich food, small portions are just right. By the end you certainly feel like you’ve had a very full listening experience, given the intricacy and diversity of Tim’s music. Although the piano is the centerpiece of the album, lush orchestration tastefully compliments the compositions. Synthesizers and samplers add the sound of strings and woodwinds, while the acoustic guitar of Rick Henley provides accompaniment on some songs.


Classical and rock influences combine on the second track, “Awaken The Dawn,” in a virtuoso high velocity piece that brought to mind the keyboard wizardry of progressive rockers like Rick Wakeman of Yes, and Keith Emerson from Emerson Lake and Palmer. A nice contrast to this style is a tune called “Hopefaith,” which showcases the more gentle side of Tim’s playing, yet also exhibits his dynamic range within the boundaries of a song. I was impressed with his abilities as a composer and arranger and I particularly enjoyed some of the elements on a track called “The Doll Tree.”  In Tim’s words: “I like to experiment with modulations. I’m also obsessed with bridges. My favorite on this new CD is in “The Doll Tree” – it only happens once, but I think once is enough.”


Timothy CraneOn “The Red Line,” shifting melodies and tempos unfold in more movements than one would expect in a three minute song. I was constantly surprised at how much detail and complexity Tim was able to imbue in some of his relatively compact compositions. A song entitled “Hide And Seek” is built on a simple descending motif, providing a platform for lavish orchestration to add to the cinematic air. I appreciated that Tim chose to end the album with one of his most sensitive compositions, “Stratford Road.” This was the perfect one to provide closure after a CD’s worth of intricate, and often intense piano virtuosity. This piece had a pleasant pastoral quality that I found emotionally evocative. In general, the music on this album lends itself more to active listening, than background ambience. Timothy Crane has crafted a spirited mélange of diverse ingredients and influences in the music of Pianoforte.