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Steve McCann - Overall Review

Prolusion. Steve MCCANN is a Canadian musician and composer, who started out back in 1973 when he formed progressive rock outfit Busker. He's also issued a number of solo albums over the years, pursuing music as diverse as ragtime, classical and experimental electronic to mention a few of the most contrasting styles he has explored. In 2008 he issued "Reflection of a Mystic Land", an album featuring piano alone, and while sending this album for review he sent along the most recent effort by his band Busker previously reviewed at this website as well as a CD-R copy of an effort issued in 1985, currently unavailable in any format apparently.


Steve McCann - 1985 - "Electronic Expositions"

(35:11, SMC)

*****+
TRACK LIST:

1.  Rhapsody In Red 19:34    
2.  Aurora Borealis 5:07    
3.  Fate 3:04    
4.  Huronia Sunset 7:26    

SOLO PILOT:

Steve McCann  piano, synthesizers
Analysis. "Electronic Expositions" is a neat and inviting title for this production, and after listening to the opening track on my CD-R copy, which probably took up the entire first side of the cassette or LP it was originally issued on, it's also a title that might cause some bewilderment after enjoying this effort. Rhapsody in Red is first and foremost an old-fashioned composition, a classically based creation in four movements. Not that there's a lack of electronic elements in this effort though. Various electronic sounds and synth layers do add textures and moods to this creation, and there are also some purebred electronic segments. But, first and foremost, this is a piano excursion where the electronics have a secondary role. As far as classical inspired piano ventures go, this one is mainly classical in approach and structure. The composition itself blends the aforementioned electronic embellishments with classical piano, many themes of a more distinct pop and rock nature as well as several piano wanderings that first and foremost make me think of ragtime. It's an innovative and mostly futuristic sounding mix we're served, and a perfect soundtrack for a science fiction movie in addition to being a fascinating piece of work in itself. The only drawback is the initial movement of this effort, where many of the synth textures added in sound pretty dated. I would guess that these were pretty modern sounding back in 1985, but 25 years on these cold and somewhat sterile-sounding layers haven't aged terribly well. The following three movements thankfully have more of a timeless feel to them, and are arguably as enjoyable now as when they were initially created. The three pieces that make up the second half of this disc are very much different from this dominating opening composition. On these ventures we're taken deep into the lands of electronic music, where fragmented melodic and rhythmic elements create sparse themes and foundations, and a plethora of fluctuating sounds, beeps and chirps flesh out the sonic tapestries in these ever moving and evolving explorations. Probably not as groundbreaking for someone with a special interest in experimental electronic music as they appear to me, but highly enjoyable efforts nonetheless spacey escapades that made me think of robots rather than galaxies and black holes while listening to it.

Conclusion. "Electronic Expositions" is a highly intriguing effort that should cater for the needs of those with a special interest in experimental electronic music. The opening composition Rhapsody in Red might also interest listeners with a liberal taste in classical piano music the approach and structure should be familiar enough for them, and the experimental nature of the work might just appeal to the more liberal-minded amidst this segment of music lovers. Fans of Isao Tomita should be an ideal audience for this production overall if it will ever be made available again, that is.


Steve McCann - 2008 - "Reflections of a Mystic Land"

(28:30, 'Looney Bird')

****+
TRACK LIST:

1.  Pacific Rim 3:05  
2.  Manitou 2:54    
3.  Canadian Jungle 1:00    
4.  Winterscapes 2:45    
5.  Summerscapes 3:10    
6.  Watersheds Suite 1:55    
7.  Indian Summer 3:45    
8.  A Soft Rain Over Nottawasaga Bay 2:21    
9.  Forillion 2:59    
10. The Broken Land 1:31    
11. Alouette Blues 3:05        

SOLO PILOT:

Steve McCann  piano
Analysis. Like the 2008 release by his band Busker, "Reflections of a Mystic Land" seems to be a tribute to Steve McCann's native Canada. In this case we're dealing with an instrumental piano album rather than a symphonic rock production though, and unlike his 1985 solo album there's no electronic involved in this venture either: just the piano. The compositions making up this rather brief affair has been written at various points of McCann's life, covering 5 decades the oldest number dates back to 1969 while the most recent was written in 2008. Although I presume musicians in general, and piano players in particular, might have a field day in uncovering how different these efforts sound, and probably can pinpoint each of them to set stages of McCann's career; for me these excursions came across as pretty similar in general scope. Musically he blends elements from jazz, rock and classical (at least as I understand these ventures), and the usual setup involves one or more central themes at the core of the compositions, transitional phases back and forth between the different themes in the instances where the plurality option is utilized, and with a careful and skilled use of intensity and dissonant elements to keep up interest, energy and some unpredictability. The playing seems to be effortless, with a good flow and neat insertions of brief melodic wanderings within the overlaying theme explored. For most people not playing the piano or with a special interest in the instrument, I suspect that this production will ultimately be less interesting. World class piano players are able to cause an interest by being just that, but those not quite at that level of musicianship will ultimately reach out to a smaller audience. And this is the case with this disc as well, I surmise.

Conclusion. "Reflections of a Mystic Land" is an album that safely can be recommended to fans of instrumental piano music; in particular those who enjoy hearing blends of different stylistic expressions and compositions more complex and embellished than most such ventures outside of purebred classical and jazz environments. Others may find this disc to be a bit too one-dimensional, but, if someone is contemplating purchasing an instrumental piano effort, this album is worth checking out nonetheless.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: Agst 20 & 21, 2009
The Rating Room


Related Links:

Steve McCann


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