Rob Schwimmer | Heart of Hearing

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Jazz: Modern Creative Jazz Classical: Impressionism Moods: Type: Lyrical
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Heart of Hearing

by Rob Schwimmer

Rainy day solo piano, sometimes virtuosic or moody moody, sometimes calm and thoughtful, always harmonically rich, speaking directly to the heart and ears of the listener + theremin and Haken Continuum with liner notes by Ethan Iverson
Genre: Jazz: Modern Creative Jazz
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  Song Share Time Download
1. 1. Terra Firma: Here We Are...
2:02 $0.99
2. Sonic Ginger #1: Sparks
1:01 $0.99
3. Hallucinations on Popular Songs #1: In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning
6:01 $0.99
4. Two Short Pieces #1: Waking up in a Strange Place
1:14 $0.99
5. Two Short Pieces #2: Mist / The Seduction
1:40 $0.99
6. Obsession #1: Cchhooppiinn
2:23 $0.99
7. Hallucinations on Popular Songs #2: Lost in the Stars (For Theremin & Piano)
5:02 $0.99
8. Hallucinations on Popular Songs #3: Sound of Silence
2:07 $0.99
9. The Russian Mystic: Obukhov Prelude #1 (For Haken Continuum & Piano)
3:09 $0.99
10. Sonic Ginger #2: A Feather Blown by the Wind
1:59 $0.99
11. Terra Firma #2: The Question
4:07 $0.99
12. Sonic Ginger #3: In a Japanese Garden
1:00 $0.99
13. Obsession #2: Scene d'Amour (From "Vertigo")
4:34 $0.99
14. From the Light in the Piazza: Concert Paraphrase on Adam Guettel's Octet
3:14 $0.99
15. Americana #1: Hard Times
1:43 $0.99
16. Americana #2: Introduction & a Home Away from Home
4:17 $0.99
17. In the Company of Friends: Accepting It
5:28 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes

Liner notes by Ethan Iverson 2018

Rob Schwimmer is a strikingly advanced polymath, a wizard on multiple instruments, a relentless comic, an old pro, a throwback to the turbulent ’60s/‘70s, a repository of unlikely trivia, a summoner of strange beauty, a master of the absurd, a man with a heart of gold.

For this recording, assorted esoterica combine in Rob’s subconscious for an unprecedented presentation. Many of the works directly come from Rob’s past emotional life or are inspired by people he has known. Heart of gold *and* Heart of Hearing.
Piano is Rob’s home base. His command of the 88 keys is superior to most of those who claim piano as their only instrument. However, Rob also has virtuoso control over the theremin and the Haken Continuum, and both of those unlikely devices have tasteful cameos within.

The disc has an important structural map, with each work fitting into the scheme of things just so.

In the end, Heart of Hearing is about harmony. Hallucinatory, complex, subtle pitches and people together. The 88 keys plus sine waves, a life lived in strange and beautiful music. Rob Schwimmer, thank you for being you!
Ethan Iverson 2018
Going Solo: New Music With Personality

Rob Schwimmer
Rob Schwimmer’s new disc, Heart of Hearing (Sunken Heights Music) is as stylistically freewheeling as Honstein’s album, but with a different collection of styles in play. In concert, I’ve heard Schwimmer mainly as a composer and performer on the theremin and other electronic instruments, usually with new- music groups and orchestras. But there is a lot more to his border-free musical world. He is also a magnificent jazz pianist, with a fleet, subtle touch, and has worked with pop musicians of all stripes, from the Everly Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, and Willie Nelson to Bela Fleck and Vernon Reid. He is also, with Mark Stewart, the guitarist in the Bang on a Can All Stars, half of Polygraph Lounge, a musical comedy group that works in the tradition of Spike Jones and P.D.Q. Bach.

Heart of Hearing touches on several of those involvements, and it’s tempting to see it as a manifesto of sorts — a proclamation that all styles are fair game if you can play them convincingly and if you have the technique and imagination to move between them without ever sounding out of your element.

Schwimmer composed most of the music here, and when he tackles music by other composers — a fascinating selection, ranging from Chopin to Nikolai Obukhov to Bernard Herrmann, Kurt Weill, Paul Simon, and Adam Guettel — he reconfigures them in his own image, as quirky virtuoso pieces with surprising twists. His Obsession No. 1: cChHoOpPiInN, for instance, takes the closing Presto of Chopin’s Sonata No. 2, and subjects it to a retooling in which Chopin’s right- and left-hand lines are staggered so that the movement’s unison octaves are displaced. Some internal rhythms are tweaked, as well, an almost microscopic move that changes the character of the phrasing. It’s obviously not how you want to hear the movement all the time, but it has a fascinating fun-house mirror effect, as well as an extra measure of virtuosity, given a pianist’s natural tendency to move the right- and left-hand music back into synch.

For The Russian Mystic: Obukhov’s Prelude No. 1, Schwimmer turns an attractive, if obscure piano piece, composed around 1915, into a duet for piano and Haken Continuum, a flexible, polyphonic synthesizer with a smooth fingerboard on which the traditional keyboard layout is printed, giving a player ample articulation options. Schwimmer gives Obukhov’s graceful melody a timbre that combines the characteristics of a clarinet and a flute and plays it with a sensitive vibrato that lets it sing, while playing the accompaniment more straightforwardly on the piano.

The other Obsession arrangements, scattered through the album, are a compelling take on Herrmann’s Prelude and Scene d'Amour from his score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and the Octet from Guettel’s Light in the Piazza. They are virtuoso showpieces; indeed, Schwimmer calls his take on Guettel’s musical a “concert paraphrase,” an appellation that evokes Lizst and Gottschalk, and he plays it in a style those towers of Romantic pianism would recognize.

The Guettel benefits from an extraordinary level of detail, including hints of the original’s orchestration in brusquely attacked, fortissimo chords, from which graceful melodies flow. Mostly, though, Schwimmer examines Guettel’s score through a larger-than-life Romantic prism. The Herrmann offers a different bag of tricks: Schwimmer’s version begins with the piano in the distance, heard through a scrim of vinyl scratchiness, a pair of effects that fall away quickly as Schwimmer channels the technical grandeur of late Romanticism, an approach entirely suited to the anxiety that drives Herrmann’s score (not to mention the film he composed it for).

Another set of arrangements, Halluciations on Popular Songs, offers a suitably jazzy rendering of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” and a version of “Lost in the Stars,” in which Schwimmer plays the melody on the theremin, summoning an eerily vocal timbre that, when played in a lower range (as it is, at first) is not far from that of Lotte Lenya’s 1944 recording (with Weill at the piano). The arrangement, though, is also a tribute to Mary Cleere Haran, a singer with whom Schwimmer worked, and who was killed in a bicycle accident in 2011. Toward the end, the melody, now played in a higher register, is interrupted by a violent crash, followed by a long, descending keyboard spill. When the theremin melody returns, it is distant and bathed in reverb.

Still, the most striking of the three is a piano setting of “Sounds of Silence,” recast with flatted intervals that make this version sound even darker and more haunting than the original, and with some structural tweaks that move the signature guitar introduction from the Simon and Garfunkel original to the end of each verse.

Schwimmer’s own works are as varied as his arrangements. The two movements of Terra Firma — “Here We Are” and “The Question” — are steeped in the harmonic ambiguities of Impressionism, but also embrace the melodic turns of jazz. A different side of Impressionism — its painterly aspect — drives the three distinctly pictorial selections from Sonic Ginger: “Sparks” is etched in short bursts of rapid notes; “A Feather Blown By the Wind” uses brisk, light passage work to create the image suggested by the title, and the rolled figures in the minute-long “In a Japanese Garden” evoke a blend of antiquity, stateliness and mystery.

Schwimmer’s Two Short Scenes are similarly descriptive, presented with impressive concision. Harmonic haziness gives way to frenetic, angular, exploratory bursts in “Waking Up in a Strange Place,” and “Mist/The Seduction” draws again on the Impressionists, this time on the style’s distinctive approach to water imagery, which morphs into a sultry meditation in its final bars.

Americana sees him testing other accents. The chorale-like “Hard Times” tempers Ivesian dissonance with jazz inflections. And “Introduction and Home Away From Home” channels the late 19th-century salon style — as well as cowboy-movie saloon music — with an opulently harmonized and elaborately decorated version of “Home on the Range” cropping up every now and again.  

Schwimmer’s finale, In the Company of Friends: Accepting It, is a short, eventful jazz workout, recorded in 1989 with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Jeff Hirschfeld. Where Schwimmer’s other jazz-tinged pieces here are hybrids with classical style, this closing piece focuses on his jazz moves, which have an assured sparkle. Of course, if you’re looking for hybrids, you can find them: the piece’s refrain, a simple turn-around, with three descending and two ascending notes, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Beatles’ “If I Fell.”



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