CD: Ashokan Memories
Artist: Peter Calandra

Ashokan MemoriesHaving had the pleasure of writing about Peter Calandra’s excellent album, Inner Circle, I thought I had a fairly good idea of his style and musical direction. However, his Ashokan Memories album reflects a different facet of his creative spectrum. Oftentimes an artist draws inspiration from their surroundings, and this is certainly the case with Peter. Much of his time is spent in the heart of New York City where he has spent the last 30 years cultivating a highly successful career as a composer of soundtracks for film and TV. In that time Peter has scored over 40 films and produced music for more than 60 major television networks such as ABC, Bravo, Comcast Sports, and FOX Sports. Some of the well-known shows he has worked on include Good Morning America, The View, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Late Night With David Letterman, The Bachelor, The Early Show, CBS Evening News, Sesame Street, The Today Show, and Major League Baseball, to name literally but a few. In addition, he has been a pianist for Broadway productions and has performed with a wide range of artists from The New York Pops Orchestra to Aretha Franklin, and more.


Given a background such as this, it was no surprise that his Inner Circle album drew from the diversity of life and work in PeterCalandraThe Big Apple. That recording was richly orchestrated and included influences of classical, jazz, new age, and Latin, as well as featuring a number of world-class accompanists. However, his solo piano release, Ashokan Memories,  provides a completely different experience, with the two albums contrasting each other like yin and yang. The surroundings that inspired Ashokan Memories are Peter’s summer home in the Catskill Mountains, about 75 miles north of New York City, and light years away in terms of environment. The title of the album comes from the beautiful Ashokan Reservoir (the word Ashokan is Native American for “place of fishes.”) The recording consists entirely of solo piano pieces with each track being named for a point of interest in the area. As can be expected, the music is peaceful and reflective, yet one thing that distinguishes it is the influence of Peter’s favorite jazz pianists such as Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock, compared to many other solo piano albums that come more from the George Winston side of the spectrum.


Here Peter describes the difference in how his two working environments shape his creativity: “While both areas are inspiring, the Catskills have a solitude that makes it easier for my mind to slow down and let the creative flow occur with less commentary from my rational mind. This manifests itself in having a more spacious and expansive musical output which is the basis for my own projects. My NYC creative output mostly comes in the form of film scores and TV music where the inspiration is either visual or story based and my workflow is more of an ‘artistic craft’ based method. Additionally, film and TV projects are ‘team based’ and my role is one of being part of a creative team working together on a project with directors, producers, film editors, audio post people etc.”


water viewPeter talks about there being “something spiritual about that area” and I asked him to elaborate on that. In his words: “Spending extended time experiencing the combination of physical beauty and general peacefulness of the area changes you. For example, my home sits on almost 7 acres of land with mountain views and a stream. On the other side of the stream is a state park with thousands of acres of undeveloped land. I can be up at the house for a week and not see another person or have a car drive by. This kind of an environment opens one up to being more in tune to the rhythms of the day and night. Every day becomes almost it’s own event where you can feel the way time unfolds. Each part of the morning, afternoon, evening and night cycle has it’s own feel and with little ‘man-made’ stimuli, it can open your perception up in a way that is fundamentally different than suburban or city living.”



In addition to the natural beauty and peacefulness of the area, some more personal internal reflections played a role in studioPeter’s decision to create a solo piano album. As he tells it: “Over the past decade or so, I have experienced sudden loss of several people close to me. At some point it really hits you that this life is a finite journey and it’s best to not have any regrets. Even with all my successes as a professional musician/composer, one thing I had always wanted to do was release my own music in a consistent manner. At some point in 2012, I decided to just start doing that. A solo piano album, for me, was the easiest way to get this process started. That summer I spent 6 weeks up in the Catskills and everyday would record myself improvising at the piano. As time went on more and more of my improvisations started sounding like complete compositions and my favorite ones are on the album.”


I also have some favorites, and here are some highlights from among the 18 tracks on Ashokan Memories. The album opens with “Awosting Morning,” which like that time of day is bright and alive with the first rays of sun casting golden sunbeams through the window, illuminating the promise of a new day. I was curious about the title of a track called “Ramblin’ Nightime” and how it would relate to the music. As it turns out the term “ramblin” perfectly fits the upbeat, free flowing, improvisational feel of the piece. I like the way it doesn’t seem to follow a strict compositional structure, and puts you in the moment, not knowing what to expect next. Taking a more quiet reflective tone is a piece entitled “Overlook,” which for me evoked viewing a panoramic vista from an elevated vantage point and feeling small in the vastness.


Catskill mountain viewThe title track is spectacular and its lively rolling arpeggios create the feel of a rushing river tumbling over a falls. This piece is a real tour de force exhibition of Peter’s exquisite piano technique. On a different note, is the gorgeous pastoral ambience of “Woodland Valley.” This track is quite spacious and I particularly appreciated the use of well-placed pauses to create a sense of anticipation for the next melody. The aforementioned jazz influences are strong on “The Ice Caves,” which I found quite evocative. The album draws to a lovely conclusion with the wistful “Buttermilk Falls,” that features the interesting contrast of sparse phrasing with a far-away feel and more densely clustered rapid note sequences that are dazzling.


In the well-populated field of solo piano albums, Peter Calandra has created a recording that stands out not only for his virtuoso playing, but for the not-as-often-heard jazz influences he brings to the music. While the sound of this album is inspired by the natural beauty of the Hudson River Valley and is generally quite peaceful, the decades of living and working in New York City that have shaped Peter’s musical DNA, made me think of the old saying: “You can take the boy out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the boy.” But the merging of these two diverse environments creates a sound that is serene, yet sophisticated. Peter’s music is created from the heart, and in his words: “I love telling stories in sound while finding inspiration in different places. Creating and releasing this music is a way to do that from my own perspective. “ Ashokan Memories reveals a more personal and contemplative side of multi-talented composer and pianist, Peter Calandra, providing a captivating listening experience that reflects the natural beauty in which it was created.