Reviewed by Bill Binkelman
Even when compared to the unbelievably high quality of music evidenced on most of the recordings that issue forth from Imaginary Road studios and the production team of Will Ackerman and Corin Nelsen, pianist Heidi Anne Breyer‘s Another Place and Time… is a superlative album. This one of those CDs that, as soon as I made it through the first three cuts, I knew it was going to land a special place on “permanently playable” shelf.
Similar in mood and style to Tim Story’s “tragic beauty trilogy” (Beguiled, The Perfect Flaw, and Shadowplay), yet also more diverse (owing to the presence of more accompanists than Story’s CDs featured), Another Place and Time… is a highly introspective album, absolutely perfect for the seasons of late autumn and early winter, when many of us retreat into ourselves and our dwellings, to pause, reflect, remember, and (for some of us) regret. There is a distinctly discernible melancholic mood which permeates the music, although not in such a way that will bring the listener down as much as invite the listener “in.” In addition to the somberness of the music (one of the traits Breyer shares with Story) another is the minimalism of the piano itself. While there are no electronic keyboards (which Story uses), Ackerman enlisted many of his usual suspects as guest artists, among them Jill Haley on English horn, Jeff Oster on trumpet and flugelhorn, Eugene Friesen on cello, Noah Wilding on vocals, and the estimable Charlie Bisharat on violin. It goes without saying that everyone here performs at their characteristic high level (there must be something in the water at Imaginary Roads). There is one solo piano track and one which is solo but on which Breyer also sings and plays recorder (two songs with lyrics are on the album, but the vocals are submerged enough that instrumental music lovers should not be deterred).
I couldn’t pick a favorite track on this CD for the life of me. All Souls Lullaby opens the album and the piano/English horn (Haley) duet is heartbreakingly beautiful and flows with genuine sadness. On His Wings features Oster and Bisharat and is actually even more somber (Bisharat, who usually swirls and flits with abandon, distinguishes himself here with his grace and subtlety). The two vocal numbers are Conversation and And Winter Came (the tune on which Breyer goes solo but also sings and plays recorder). I do have a complaint with these two tracks, and it’s that the vocals are submerged too deeply in the mix. There are lyrics and when you bury the singing this deep in the mix, what’s the point? Wise up, Ackerman and Nelsen—if you’re going to include vocal songs, let the listener hear what the lyrics are saying.
Oster shines on American Gothic and Winter Light (he usually plays more of a background role on Imaginary Road releases) which I was glad to hear, since he is so damn talented. Ackerman’s In A Region Of Clouds has the composer himself sitting in on guitar and joining Breyer who perfectly complements him. There’s even a track without any piano at all, i.e. So It Was (penned by Breyer), a restrained, sparse, late night serenade played by guitarist David Cullen.
I could go on praising Another Place and Time… but all you need to know is that, despite my nit about how the vocals are mixed, I still think this CD is damn near perfect. If I could have only this one album to play while staying for a weekend at a North Shore (Minnesota) cabin on Lake Superior in late October, it would be more than enough. Breyer’s playing is the perfect juxtaposition of subtle nuance and deep emotion—there is not one wasted note. Another Place and Time… is a rare gem, a gift from the artist to souls like me who hunger for the quieter, more introspective side of music which leads us into our own places and times, filled with memories and wishes.