Album Review For PAM ASBERRY Solo Piano Album “Twelvemonth” Review by Kerry Barnes I love this album to the moon and back!! …..and could listen to it for a whole year, literally, to infinity and beyond!! I think this is Pam’s best work ever, you can hear the calibre in her playing that perfectly matches her eminent and widespread notoriety to date. She has an unquenchable thirst for creative beauty in all it’s excellence. “TWELVEMONTH” takes us through a whole year’s worth of beautifully descriptive piano playing, laying bare Pam’s incredible talent for original composition. Each track has it’s own uniqueness and shows great stamina across such a large body of work.
Track 1 “SNOW” I’m immediately feeling the gentle touch of a snowflake as it brushes past my face. A delicate sense of Debussy caresses me. (he did write a piece about snow). Pam’s phrasing and pausing allows us to see the snow as it covers the ground momentarily, she gives us space to listen. A symbiosis of modulations and irregular time create great interest in musical terrain, I wonder whether Pam’s inspirational lady Fanny Mendelssohn was even up to this!!!! Am staggered by Pam’s ‘staggered-octaves’ in the melody, so pretty, as if the silvery stars are alive, looking down upon us, and tracing the curve of a crescent moon upon their descent. Pam’s pedalling techniques are very admirable, showing versatility and mastery as she holds within one pedal action notes that are ‘out of triad’, and allows the sound to fade naturally. Of course I speak mainly of western-classical triads, but new-age triads are something different. Just beautiful.
Track 2. “ROMANCE” Who doesn’t love anything romantic!! Here, Pam is tender, sensitive and in love with her composition. She is mellow, steady and in a luscious ‘andante’ state of mind. Ooooh, what was that I just heard???......’chromatic-insertions??? ….yes I did, and it works beautifully, giving a certain ‘edge’ to the music. These chromatics are mainly in descending mode and create a lovely saunter. Pam experiments with all sorts of ‘intervals’ but I am most struck by her ‘major 2nd’ inclusions, and hats off to her array of ‘6ths’ one after the other in the melody, something that I find quite challenging to do!! Welcoming ripples in the bass clef accompaniment give a certain buoyancy, enough to provide a platform for some rather bluesy notes above. Am loving the slight tempo variants, and Pam’s use of ‘rubato’……..I adore rubato and use it at great length in my own work. In this old fashioned love story, a perpetual beat straight from her heart, pulses deeply in mine, as I listen. Thank you Pam.
Track 3. “WIND” Pam has the wind in her sails with this one!! Fanny Mendelssohn’s 500 piece collection is certainly a driving force!! A welcome minor-tonality grapples with this wind of change, lots of battles with 3 against 4 time, encourages unusual modulations in a very powerful mode. To play this particular piece takes a lot of relentless stamina and Pam has that in abundance! Blunt staccato punctuation shapes her phrasing beautifully and say’s “I’ve had enough of this wind, so take that!!” A tapestry of bass-clef patterns determined by ‘octave’ stretches give the music depth and strength and some wow-factor. Love it Pam!!
Track 4. “Awakening” A fragrant newness adorns spring stars, pointing at the hemisphere, so fresh and delightful. Matt Strieby conveys this feeling beautifully in the artwork for this album, a stunning creation indeed. I think Pam is at her best here, a river of cantabile-tone flows throughout and her legato control and production is blissful, this piano is singing to us. Recording engineer Joe Bongiorno also knows this and has harnessed her beautiful pedalling for our pleasure! In this ‘balladic’ movement, a necklace of shiny descending 6th’s and 5th’s compel a magpie to sit and listen with a gentle energy, he holds back, and allows Pam to continue. She teases him. For now his best bet is a crescent-moon, adorned with stars.
Track 5. “Maypole” Oh Pam, I’m in my element here, thank you, thank you, thank you for blessing the world with such a gorgeous Tudoresque Folk Song!! ( the Tudor Music Era is my favourite!) Ah, we are in simple-triple measure, and with minor tonality to boot. The subtle ‘dryness’ of palette is a perfect sound world for this piece. I have to write what comes to me and be true to it…….I’m getting Einaudi AND Pirates of the Carribean……where did that come from I wonder!! Clear and concise foot-work brilliantly applied to a 2nd Subject compliments wonderfully, and the bass clef rhythm of ‘minim, crotchetcrotchet in semi-staccato’ is to die for……such a simple gift and yet speaks volumes!! As I am English (UK), may I just say that King Henry the 8th in all his splendour, must be dancing politely in his grave and catching Pam’s different time signatures with his feet!!
Track 6. “Procession” At a pace guided by the moon, “Procession” is an elegant tale of two hands joined as one, and touched by a promise of eternity. The beauty is immediate here, sensitive playing and in an uplifting major tonality. (Is it me……or do most composers like writing in the ‘minor-key?? ….I know I do)..so it’s refreshing to hear. A simplistic structure educates the slow and steady walk, as all eyes are watching now, and all ears are listening. Vertical building blocks of harmony speak to me of true New Ageism, something that is less well developed in British ears like mine!! Glissando’s of delicate descent, glisten with sonorous silver, every note a gem and impressively controlled. Next, I am reminded of a pianistic skill of playing in 3rds, most prettily in the treble clef, giving another layer to the melody……along with gorgeous collisions of 2nd’s to take your breath away. Oooh, am thinking of how photogenic Pam is, and a stunning image of her captured by photographer Patty Wells, another talented member of ‘the-team’. At 3.08, we rise to meet Van Goh in the starry-starry night above, tracing a simple melody as he goes, and finally pronounces unity. Amen.
Track 7. “Sparklers” “Sparklers” has an independence and freedom of spirit. I sway from side to side in my chair and just go with it’s flow!! Pam makes good use of triple time and I sense the ‘dance’ of it’s measure. A gorgeous forward energy makes me sing along to this track, really it does, and I think it will be with me for the rest of the day……what a happy Monday I shall have! I feel Pam’s fingers lighting the blue-touch paper on this one, the music has a weightless quality to it. It also feels very celebratory and reinforces this with repeated phrasing. Big juicy chords fill the sound with an irregular time, and the scale runs are impeccable. Just glorious!!
Track 8. “Peridot” I feel warm and contented, swathed in an Olivine gem form. This piece has the same expertise as an Einaudi creation, with left hand dominance and perfectly placed ‘fermata’ and I revel in waiting. Within the August birthstone lies an understated melody, quite happy to rest when the left hand does, and we are treated to this many times, how lovely. With sun-sprawling arms reaching out to us, we may bathe in the light reflected in this piece, it’s everywhere. In closing, there is a stunning collection of notes held in the final pedal-note that can only live in heaven.
Track 9. “Lament” The loud song of the ever singing leaves, as they drop their acorns, only to be born again. These running semiquavers in the right hand are astonishing, what stamina as they grumble about the weather! A feeling has come over me……of an Italian melancholy, slightly romantic, that of which Nino Rota would be proud, and a tiny twosecond glimpse of a moonlight sonata as the left hand is pulled down by the strength of a heavily burdened ‘Lament’. I kinda feel uneasy, but the sadness is glorious. Within this perpetual tapestry did I just hear some hand crossing?? Technically very secure indeed, I could not play this!! The ending is very ‘classical’ and more traditional, this time harnessing the expected notes of a minor-triad in beautiful ascent.
Track 10. “Shadows” Lurking in the ‘shadows’ are unusual key changes, they keep wrong-footing me, I don’t quite know where I am. Held 2nd intervals make my head turn to the side, you know….like dogs do?? Obviously the choice of a minor tonality is very important for this spooky song, and I can’t help feeling that a dark figure is behind me!! It all feels dimly lit and I’m getting twinges every now and again of Danny Elfman, like a human spider weaving his web in the black of night. Clashes of harmonic matter are held cleverly, as children from the corpse-bride peer at me, all knowingly, my doom is impending. I wonder whether trick-or-treat may help me!
Track 11. “Hymn” Welcome friends to my home, with open arms I greet you, and I sigh a sense of relief as I sit down to this musical feast. A hymn anyone can sing, yielding our hearts in it’s hands with a reassuring and traditional sound we all know, love, and feel. So effective is simplicity, vertical and horizontal, we understand the makeup, like Randy Newman in Toy Story mode. This piece has great heart and totally follows the brief of Hymn form. As it carries on, I stare out my window, gazing up to a higher ground, I know what’s up there for me and everyone. God bless you Pam xx
Track 12. “Hope” How lovely to leave with us, a warm and cosy feeling of hope, so we may all look forward to a Covid free future. Touched by the joy of hugging loved ones again, to see real smiles in their eyes. To feel a single teardrop on the cheeks of harmony and peace. That’s what this music feels like. Slow and deeply considered phrases of memorable melody, hanging from a lone pine tree filled with blessings. This is pure truth. Suspended 4ths and their resolutions speak of a divinity that lives within Pam’s creative energy stores, and a festive anthem is born. Thank you Pam for restoring hope to all beings on this earth, at a time so needed, and for allowing us indulge in your precious gift of sublime music. E N D