Review by music critic G.W. Hill
While the concept of melding jazz and classical music is nothing new (Duke Ellington comes to mind), this album is a new entry. Conceptually, perhaps the best comparison would be to something like “The Planets” by Gustav Holst. While that work created a movement for each of seven planets, Ron Leshnower’s creation devotes twelve individual pieces (one for each month) to create a conceptual suite entitled “Year.”
An energetic piano line starts the year on “January: Anticlimax.” As it continues other instruments are added and it becomes a playful and rather chaotic piece that plays at a fast tempo. At times it leans towards jazz oriented music. Then it drops down mid-track and turns to a slower motif that builds more like pure classical music. It never rises back up to the pace and intensity of the opening section, but works through several themes in a mellower territory. The symphonic string sounds that open “February: Companionship” are lush and pretty. As a new line of sound is added there is some energy and even a little bit of mystery in the mix. The cut is quite purely classical in nature and has a lot of wonderment. “March: Determination” comes in bombastic and there’s almost a rock music element there. It really does feel “determined” and decisive.
The jazz comes to full fruition on “April: Anticipation.” The energetic number has a retro lounge vibe to it and a driving rhythm section. It’s one of the most easily accessible pieces in the set. There is an unusual little drop down to café music near the end. “May: Rebirth” doesn’t have as much energy as the previous cut, but it has a classic jazz vibe (sometimes bordering on rock and pop music) that really sells it. “June: Fulfillment” pulls the work into more modern jazz territory with something that resembles fusion. The piece has some classical construction for certain, but with more of a jazz flavor. It gets a bit dissonant at times and has a bit in common with the Rock In Opposition movement.A more classical arrangement is heard early on “July: Euphoria.” There is a bit of a playful symphonic movement at first. Then it turns more towards the rock end of fusion for a time. It drops back to more symphonic, but with an electronic edge, later. It is one of the most complex compositions of the set and one of the most lengthy and turns quite electronic in the later sections. As “August: Nostalgia” (one of the shorter pieces) starts, it’s with a short, rather pretty, symphonic introduction. Then there’s more of a jazzy section for a brief time. The two movements seem to play off one another as they recur in variations. Then piano leads the piece in a dramatic symphonic movement. Mellow, symphonic electronics end the composition. A pounding symphonic element opens “September: Passage.” After a time, it’s replaced by more jazz oriented music. The two sounds are contrasted off one another in alternating movements as the cut works outward. It’s one of the most effective pieces of the whole album.
Mysterious sounds with piano open “October: Beauty.” The piano remains an integral part of the melody as the piece works forward. In fact, that piano leads through a faster paced section before the whole thing drops back for a mellower movement that induces pictures of people in Victorian clothes dancing at a ball. It works back to the earlier textures later in the track. There’s a full classical piano solo at the end.
“November: Gratitude” comes in slow and sedate. It becomes a more energetic, but still mellow piece of music. There’s a playful symphonic arrangement to it. Around the two minute mark it gets some electronic sounds added to the mix and in some ways the movement recalls the aforementioned Holst work a bit. As it continues, though, some world music melodies are added, moving it in different directions. By the three minute mark, though, it has dropped back down in terms of intensity and tempo and a piano drives the arrangement. More classical stylings build out from there. Then later in the cut an energized movement drives it forward with more jazz in the mix. This composition is among both the most complex of the set and the lengthiest. There is a short piano bit to end the cut in style. While other instruments lend flavor to the piece, “December: Reflection” is essentially a dramatic piano solo.
Like the year, this is a cyclical work. It’s possible to jump in at any point and take the trip around the year. Like the actual calendar year, most people will find “months” that touch them more than others. It’s clearly a work of art and a successful one in the grand traditions of Ellington and Holst.
For more information, visit www.yearmusic.com.