thollem mcdonas | solo piano

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solo piano

by thollem mcdonas

This CD is a long series of short compositions/improvs for solo piano. A collection of thollem's ideas from the last 5 years, some previously unpublished, others re-realized. his interaction with the world & the piano, some are simple, others complex...
Genre: Classical: Contemporary
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. ancient futures
5:30 $0.99
2. death is our only deadline
2:55 $0.99
3. the poor are canaries and the prophets
1:36 $0.99
4. i know that i think that i feel
3:46 $0.99
5. gone beyond reason to find one
2:03 $0.99
6. faithful skepticism
2:21 $0.99
7. Black Elk speaks
4:49 $0.99
8. mind's found an opening
4:06 $0.99
9. the ohlone way
3:37 $0.99
10. through confusion comes understanding
4:11 $0.99
11. one breath is worth dying twice for
4:10 $0.99
12. a moment is only if, and then, and then, and then
3:33 $0.99
13. living is the strangest thing i've done
4:09 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
This album is a long series of short compositions/improvisations for solo piano, recorded in two hours on march 18th, 2005. They are a collection of thollem's ideas from the last five years, some that were either previously unpublished, others re-realized. They are a result of his interaction with the world and the piano, some are simple, others complex, in thollem's own words "they represent a wide variety of experiences life has had with me. They are not meant for anyone, but not no one either, this is what i mean to say."

San Francisco Bay Area composer/pianist/vocalist, Thollem Mcdonas has enjoyed success in a wide variety of musical situations and his travels as a performer have covered much of the North American Continent and some in Europe. He has performed extensively as a soloist as well with groups. He is a founding member of several innovative ensembles including: "The Hundredth Monkey Generation", "Monk and Cage", and "Asterisk* Movement and Sound". He was commissioned by "The Limon Dance Company" for a large scale composition in commemoration of their 50th year anniversary. He is responsible, in full or in part, for many albums of original music. Currently he is performing as a soloist, with the duo Thollem/Rivera, developing a participatory sound experience called the MakeSoundArium, And scoring a play about Pavel Florensky, an influential Communist era Russian scientist and the gulag where he was eventually executed. For more info check out thollem's website or email:



to write a review

Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes

"Solo piano" is yet another sample of his highly entertaining mastery.
Maybe the correct definition for Thollem's incredible, all-genre pianism is "large-scale". In about 46 minutes you can experience a series of tripping flights through the suspensions and the affirmations of a technically over-advanced magician whose grip on every cognoscible aspect of those 88 black and white keys is as strong as a garrotte on Bela Bartok's neck. The variety in McDonas' garden of chordal laboriousness and melodic saltations can't receive justice from my words; this music's longevity is directly embossed in a genetic code which bears the stigmates of experience bleeding with a profane interest for what's still behind any digital discovery...and quite often those fingers seem to know the answer to most of the upcoming interrogatives in good advance. Intimate and lyrical, overpowering and broken-boned, these thirteen compositions never tell a lie to our inquiring minds: Thollem McDonas is for real and "Solo piano" is yet another sample of his highly entertaining mastery.

Aaron Repke

A Jazz Legend is born!
I have all his CDs and have had the pleasure of hearing him live, and I must say my worries that all the jazz greats are dead and gone were melted away with the piano music of Thollem Mcdonas. Thollem swings real hard all the while making his own music traveling outside of the standard norm. True greatness was always about originality and no one I can think of living today has what Thollem Mcdonas has. This is music well worth hearing.

Dolf Mulder, Vital Weekly

...atmosphere of adventure and joy and are played by a gifted musician with a he
With the release of 'Solo Piano' Thollem McDonas knocks once more very determined on our door. In a relatively short period (2004-2005) he recorded and released three CDs. The first one "I'll meet you halfway out in the middle of it all" was a live recording of McDonas on piano and vocals plus Rick Rivera on trap set (for a review see: Vital Weekly 460). The second one "Everything's going Everywhere" has the same instrumentation and line up, but McDonas sings here only in a few tracks (For a review see: Vital Weekly 467 ). On the third CD we have McDonas playing solo on piano. With the release of this third CD an impressive and creative eruption seems to come to an end. But I hope (and expect!) another one will take place sooner or later. All three CDs are mature crystallization's of a clear compositional vision and carry a strong personal stamp. Besides the music is performed with great skill and verve.
The compositions of McDonas are not over the top experimental, but do have many characteristic but unexpected moves and twists that are sometimes beyond my logic. Surprising changes of mood, style and intensity pass by. Intimate lyrical passages are followed by extravagant gestures of more rhythm-based sections or a cascade of notes, etc. McDonas is not seeking experiment just for the sake of experiment. No each piece is like a meditation or a reflection. This is also illustrated by titles McDonas choose for the compositions, like 'Death Is Our Only Deadline', 'Gone Beyond Reason To Find One', "Living Is The Strangest Thing I've done'. He must be a philosophic nature.
As said in earlier reviews McDonas makes use of a diversity of musical styles and genres.
His sense for experimentation is not of a post-modern deconstructivistic kind. But he is seeking constantly for unexpected and undiscovered corners. This is the case for example in the opening track "Ancient Futures". During the 5:26 minutes it takes, it is as if the piece starts a new from time to time, starting from a different idea, approach or mood. As if he does not know where to start or where to go. This has an intriguing effect. On the other hand you can sense there is an underlying unity which shows the integrating power of McDonas‚ compositional talent. In the 13 compositions that are on this album McDonas shows many faces, often with humor and irony without being superficial. They all breathe the same atmosphere of adventure and joy and are played by a gifted musician with a heart. Chapeau! (

Eduardo Chagas, Jazz e Arredores

os temas de Solo Piano privilegiam uma comunicação directa e imediata com o ouvi
«Ler nas entrelinhas e tocar fora delas» - a divisa do pianista Thollem McDonas. Neste seu mais recente trabalho para a Pax Recordings, é aquele lema que dá o mote e a chave interpretativa para uma extasiante excursão de 47 minutos pelas ideias que resumem o pensamento musical do mestre pianista da Bay Area de S. Francisco.
Esta primeira incursão a solo de Thollem McDonas surge na sequência da sua participação em vários grupos, ambientes e contextos, entre os quais o excepcional duo com o baterista Rick Rivera, parceria que deu origem a dois excelentes discos, I'll Meet You Halfway Out In The Middle Of It All e Everything's Going Everywhere, de recente edição.
Nesta medida, a arte de Thollem abarca vários géneros e estilos sem se ater a nenhum em particular. Fortemente influenciado pela tradição do piano clássico dos últimos 50 anos, o pianista trabalha meticulosamente nas profundezas do património comum à composição e à improvisação, que faz emergir e elevar a alturas pouco comuns de se ouvir. Não que o compositor/improvisador pretenda exibir um qualquer estulto tecnicismo maneirista ou o malabarismo de fazer o pleno da variedade estilística.
O resultado a que se chega é a consequência natural de Thollem ser intrinsecamente um pianista ecléctico no gosto e no modo de dizer, no que é facilitado por possuir uma técnica inventiva altamente elaborada, ferramenta que lhe permite conferir à música uma extraordinária flexibilidade e variabilidade dinâmica. Ler nas entrelinhas e tocar fora delas... .
O disco, gravado entre as 11h00 e as 19h30 de 18 de Março de 2005 (sic), inclui 13 peças originais de aparência ora dura e vibrante, ora frágil e delicada nos seus contornos. Piano Solo é uma viagem musical em que se desfiam as experiências vividas pelo artista ao longo dos últimos 15 anos de actividade e que são simultaneamente um balanço e o delinear de coordenadas para o futuro. Tal como nos anteriores álbuns com Rick Rivera, os temas de Solo Piano privilegiam uma comunicação directa e imediata com o ouvinte, convidando-o a um relacionamento seguramente perdurável no tempo.

RKF, Dead Angel zine

Highly recommended for those interested in hearing the extremes of possibility..
What we have here is a collection of thirteen solo piano pieces, all of an unpredictable and experimental nature. McDonas is an excellent player with oodles of technique practically oozing out of his pores -- someone get that man a hanky! -- but he's no stodgy slave to form, as evidenced not only by his wild piano runs but in titles like "death is our only deadline," "the poor are canaries and prophets," and "living is the strangest thing i've done" (amen to that, brutah). His playing skills are sufficiently advanced enough that at times he sounds like he's playing speed metal on a grand piano, with enough force that you can just imagine the keys flying in all directions... but even when he slows down, it's obvious that his sensibilities lie in the avant-garde and sudden shifts in direction. It's nice that the recording is good enough to capture not only the mad rush of keys taking flight, but also the lingering reverberation of sustained notes and chords (such as the more important moments of "death is our only deadline"). It would be interesting to see him play, to actually see what he's doing, because it sounds to me like he's making some bizarre leaps around the keyboard at times; there are many, many moments when it sounds like his two hands are working completely independently, with each hand blazing through totally different melodic progressions that nevertheless somehow manage to hang together. At other times it sounds like his hands are working in tandem to complete progressions that are dizzying in their technical complexity. No matter what he's doing, however, he remains firmly in control of the keyboard, clearly articulating all the notes even at terminal velocity -- sloppy he ain't. He is also capable of truly disorienting pieces like "i know that i think that i feel," where he manages to play totally different progressions with each hand moving at wildly different speeds.

While technical virtuosity is obviously a requirement here, none of it sounds stuffy or forced -- in fact, he frequently sounds like he's having a lot of fun, especially when he's executing complex runs and progressions that sound like they shouldn't even be humanly possible. The sound he gets is highly reminiscent of the brilliant (and brilliantly obscure) Thymme Jones album WHILE, although the intent and final sound of that album is radically different. The thirteen improvisations here are evidence of a really different approach to the piano, to say the least. The cats at Windham Hill would probably cringe in horror at what he's doing here, but Sun Ra would have liked this guy. Highly recommended for those interested in hearing the extremes of possibility when one man with unusual ideas sits down to beat the hell out of a piano.

Jon Worley, Aiding & Abetting

a nice job of melding his influences into a most intriguing sound...
Unlike the eccentric pop of the McDonas CDs reviewed recently, this is plain ol' avant-garde piano work. And maybe not even avant garde. McDonas has steeped himself in jazz piano (Thelonius Monk in particular) and then straightened out the rhythms. While I'm not generally a fan of "classical" interpretations of jazz styles, McDonas does a nice job of melding his influences into a most intriguing sound.

Ramin Zoufonoun

How much can a man squeeze out of the 88 keys...
Well, ask Thollem or better yet listen to his recording here. I am amazed at the range, in every sense of the word, that Thollem exhibits in his expressions. His technique is always impressive and here Thollem conveys ideas that make me think and want go back and listen again and again. Thank you, Thollem, for sharing your fearless, open-minded, deliberate, and unique approach to music with us. I think you are one important guiding light for many musicians, pianists in particular, who strive to develop their own unique voice and are in need of breaking out of what the funnel has poured into them. keep up the great work... -Ramin