Eventually, every serious musician wants to lay down music from the soul, music full of heart and spirit, without technical restraint or genre boundaries. For composer and pianist Roger Davidson, Temple of the Soul: Rhapsodies and Meditations is that album. Produced in New York by Adam Abeshouse and Roger Davidson, and recorded by Abeshouse on an impeccably restored Steinway piano from 1876, Davidson’s first solo piano album shares a musical and spiritual journey in 12 emotive and genre-defying musical improvisations.
CD Review – Temple of the Soul: Rhapsodies & Meditations for Solo Piano, by Roger Davidson
Given his long, diverse and rich musical background, Davidson exudes the experience and confidence of an old pro, while providing fresh and new takes on a classic, age-old, ubiquitous, traditional instrument.
The original compositions are wide-ranging, reaching from the depths of the inner subconscious to the heights of lofty aspirations, and Davidson's performance capabilities keep pace with his fertile, vividly creative mind.
Solo piano enthusiasts and casual music fans will find this CD to be worthwhile and rewarding.
While the title of Roger Davidson’s new album contains the word “Meditations,” do not expect weak languor, but rather catharsis. This is very animated and emotional music, which captures you from the very first note of “Temple of the Soul” and does not release you until the final chords of “Waves of Reflection.” Drawing you down secret paths of the imagination, it leads you into the hidden corners of your soul and into the most beautiful places in the universe; it will take you wherever your fantasy will allow. Whereas the word “solo” is also on the cover, I will venture to exchange it with the word “duet.” This is truly a proper duet between a talented performer (who works in the most varied genres from jazz and tango to klezmer) and his noble instrument, an 1876 Steinway. With true inspiration they improvise together, creating lyrical and somewhat dramatic compositions, which are at the same time contemplative and passionate, calm and emotional. In short Roger and his piano dive into the very depths of feeling, the abundance of which can bring a lump to the listener’s throat, can summon to mind one’s most varied and important memories and images, and can call forth either pure, redemptive tears or a radiant joy and a light almost weightless feeling which approaches something unbelievably important and sacred. Most likely this is indeed catharsis, the state to which music should lead a person, if it is played professionally and with all of one’s soul.
Nothing I have said can be doubted when you listen to this album, which has been built on the harmonies of classical works from the dawn of impressionism and on bright, spontaneously brought forth melodies, which at times make improbable turns as they are developed by the artist’s will. The album has also been constructed on a light Eastern vibe which is detected between the massive chords, on a new age tranquility, from which the second half of the album is derived, and on a concert energy which is almost jazz improv. This is music that will not leave you indifferent, and that is its main value. This is a superb release, which is capable of giving much even to those who are indifferent to solo piano, but who are prepared to surrender their emotions to the will of the music.
Temple of the Soul: Rhapsodies and Meditations for Solo Piano
Roger Davidson - 2014 / Soundbrush Records
Temple of the Soul: Rhapsodies and Meditations for Solo Piano is the genre-defying debut solo piano recording by Roger Davidson and his twentieth album to date. Initially a self-taught pianist/composer, Davidson has traveled the world learning as many styles of music as possible and studying with masters of the many genres and eras of music that interest him. Known mainly as a jazz and classical pianist, Davidson is also known for his chamber, symphonic, Latin, Brazilian, tango, Klezmer, choral and children’s music. It is no wonder then that Temple of the Soul has such an international flavor with so many influences coming into play - influences that have seamlessly become a part of Davidson’s musical soul. All twelve of the tracks on Temple of the Soul were improvised in the studio, flowing from his heart and spirit without technical restraint or stylistic boundaries. The album was recorded on an impeccably-restored 1876 Steinway grand and was produced by Pablo Aslan, Adam Abeshouse, and Davidson. Davidson is the founder of the Society for Universal Sacred Music as well as his recording label, Soundbrush Records.
Temple of the Soul begins with the title track, a piece Davidson says “felt like the beginning portal into the spiritual journey that this album is.” The piece has a Middle Eastern feeling in much of its 8 1/2 minutes, but there are also some very strong American influences. Sometimes big and exhilarating and sometimes quiet and reflective, this piece alone is quite a journey. “Ethereal Ocean” was named for its feeling of ebbing and flowing. Very free and in constant motion, it evolves and develops organically and in the moment. Nature has a strong influence on Davidson’s music, and “Forest Prayer” expresses his connection to “trees, birds, and everything in the forest” - a favorite. “Fountains of Life” reflects Davidson’s love of the French Impressionist composers in a piece that he refers to as a “celebration of life.” “From the Rising Sun” is based on the scale played on the Japanese Koto, a thirteen-string zither. Cinematic to meditative, it’s a beauty. “Blue Voyage” hints of Gershwin and the blues-infused popular music of that era. Peaceful yet edgy, I think this is my favorite on the album. “Freedom For All” comes in a close second with its references to African-American spirituals and gospel music - very earthy and soulful. The impassioned “Journey of Wisdom” suggests difficulties and hardships along the way to enlightenment - a struggle worth enduring. “Waves of Reflection” brings this evocative album to a thoughtful and peaceful close.
Temple of the Soul is an amazing musical journey. While it may be more of a listening challenge than much of the music I review, it is music that reveals new meanings and nuances the more you listen to it. Roger Davidson is an extraordinary pianist in so many ways! This album is available from Amazon, iTunes, and many other music retailers. Recommended!
ROGER DAVIDSON/Temple of the Soul: No one can ever accuse Davidson of not knowing his way around a piano and his skills have taken him around the world and around the genres in fine style hitting all the stops of from classical to Brazil. This time around, we find him opening up the spiritual side he's been harboring for himself and his insiders, now opening it up for all. On a solo piano set that has a very impressionistic feel, Davidson plays what he feels reaching for the inner soul sounds like. A crafty sonic mixture of where he's been and where he's probably headed, this is a nice bag breaker of a release for all of you who think you know the multi-faceted, multi award winning player well enough to take him for granted. A finely dramatic works that really sets the table for something different.
New Age Music Reviews - Keith “MuzikMan” Hannaleck-New Age Music Reviews Founder
People like Roger Davidson receive a gift from a higher power or a superior intelligence at a very early age. At four years old he was drawn to the piano and began playing and improvising. He continues on to this day bringing the solace and joy of the ivory keys through his compositions.
The recently released Temple of the Soul: Rhapsodies & Meditations for Solo Piano is a gorgeous collection of solo piano works. The tracks range from classical to new age and on to jazz-infused piano throughout, in any combination of all the genres. This is an album that eases your mind, body and spirit. Yes, the triangle of life receives a surge of energy by absorbing this powerful yet serene music.
On the artist website it states the following: The solo piano pieces on this CD show what happens when Roger, in a reflective mood, simply lays his hands on the keys. The influences of a lifetime flow through him. You may hear nods to Gershwin, Jobim, and Ravel, and to the wealth of styles he has absorbed in his travels. The album, he says, is “not just a journey of the spirit; it’s an intuitive journey around the world. When you have the right color and the right kind of brush to express a feeling or a quality of life, it instinctively comes up and becomes part of the fabric of each piece.”
That puts everything into proper perspective. The simplicity of one man sitting at a piano and creating such beauty is a wonder to me. I listen to many forms of music and some of it is very complex. This kind of experience allows you to appreciate artistry in its finest form. You bear witness to an enlightened soul letting the music do all the talking. I think that is much more difficult than singing along to a tune. Davidson has the ability to make it all seem so natural and flowing; it’s comparable to a river running down a mountainside, giving life wherever it may go. In essence this perception, as the title of the album would indicate, literally feeds the temple of soul.
I found myself not only appreciating the sheer beauty of the music, but what each piece was communicating to me. “Temple of the Soul” breaks the ice, ever so sweetly, while the majesty of an “Ethereal Ocean” of sound sweeps you away with tides of peace and introspection. “Blessing” holds beauty, proud and strong at the outset, then it allows for tranquility to prevail as it moves along. If your ears are open there is so much to take with you while paying attention to this music. Every track is a special journey that can be translated to your own understanding.
Temple of the Soul: Rhapsodies & Meditations for Solo Piano is a good listen for any time day or evening. Simplicity and beauty abound through the fingers of this talented man, Roger Davidson. This recording comes highly recommended from this listener.
By Grady Harp
As a composer and pianist, Roger Davidson is known for his thoughtful, melodic embrace of every style that interests him, be it chamber, symphonic, choral, jazz, sacred, or Latin music. His work builds bridges between genres, while uniting a world of audiences and cultures.
All this began at the piano, which has been his sanctuary since the age of four. For much of his childhood, Roger’s main teacher was himself; he learned by experimenting and improvising. That free approach is still close to his heart. “It’s as natural as breathing to me,” he says.
The solo piano pieces on this CD show what happens when Roger, in a reflective mood, simply lays his hands on the keys. These “rhapsodies” and “meditations,” as he calls them, are “one-hundred-percent improvised. Maybe I knew what key I was going to be in, even though there were lots of modulations. And I generally knew the note or chord that the piece began and ended on. The spiritual and musical intention was in my head before. But even then I dropped the reins and let the spirit carry the music wherever it would go. I learned from the music itself. I didn’t realize that it was that complete, that wonderful while I was playing it. A spirit that’s bigger than me takes over and becomes a part of me while I’m playing.”
Temple of the Soul is in many ways the purest expression of Roger. The influences of a lifetime flow through him. You may hear nods to Gershwin, Jobim, and Ravel, and to the wealth of styles he has absorbed in his travels. The album, he says, is “not just a journey of the spirit; it’s an intuitive journey around the world. When you have the right color and the right kind of brush to express a feeling or a quality of life, it instinctively comes up and becomes part of the fabric of each piece.”
In every one, he channels his highly personal spirituality. “I feel a strong connection to God, to the one, universal source of unconditional love, the source of creation, and most importantly, the life-affirming, all-embracing energy in the universe that connects us all.” With it, he says, comes “a strong connection to eternity. I’m well aware that the lifetime I’m in is one of many, and also that my life beyond the earth is just as important as my life here.”
The instrument on which he recorded – a beautifully restored 1876 Steinway – gave the music a heightened sense of spanning the ages. Meanwhile, a window to the future was present in the person of Nilcelia Santos, Roger’s Brazilian fiancée, who attended the sessions. “Her beautiful, elegant spirit enhanced the music I was playing,” he says.
Roger’s first improvisation, he explains, “felt like the beginning portal into the spiritual journey that this album is.” With his left hand, he plays a simple, repetitive ostinato; it gives the piece a prayer-like, chanting quality. His right hand introduces a mood that sounds mysteriously Moroccan or Arabic. Roger named all the pieces after he recorded them; he calls this one Temple of the Soul.
Nature is a recurring theme of his music; it surrounds him at his home in upstate New York. “The life energy in nature really comes from God,” he says, “and I can feel that vibrancy in the trees, in the woods, in the water, with animals, everywhere I am. It plays a large part in how I relate to the world.”
His music evokes it vividly. Ethereal Ocean is so named because of its ebbing and flowing, gently rocking feeling. Roger sees that movement as “the waves of invisible energy flowing through the universe. It’s about the visible ocean and the invisible one.” The pentatonic Forest Prayer has a shimmering stillness about it, like that of a sunrise. The playing reaches a surging crescendo, then calm is restored. Roger felt in this piece music “a spiritual connection to trees, birds and everything in the forest.”
His love of the French impressionist composers informs Fountains of Life – “an ebullient, rhapsodic piece that feels like a celebration of life.” The quiet, Spanish-style grandeur of Blessing may remind some listeners of Enrique Granados, a pianist who wrote extensively for that instrument. Freedom for All has a tinge of early African-American spirituals and hymns – “but it’s not just about the American experience; it’s about the whole world,” says Roger. From the Rising Sun is based on the scale played on Japan’s national instrument, the Koto, a 13-string zither. “The first row of notes I play are exactly the notes you hear when you’re playing open strings on a Koto,” he notes.
The chromatic slides and jazz chords of In the Eye of the Storm point up its basic serenity. “There’s a tranquility in the middle of nature,” explains Roger. “I think that when we’re in turmoil in our lives, there’s always a peaceful place where we can go.” Desert Light unfolds with a slow, stately Spanish rhythm reminiscent of Ravel’s Pièce en forme de Habanera. “The harmonic feeling influenced the title,” Roger notes, “because it comes from countries that have deserts. Figuratively, it’s about being in the desert and turning toward the light.” Blue Voyage evokes a pop song of Gershwin’s era; jazz and blues give it its dark colors. Hints of Casbah infuse the exotic Journey of Wisdom. Roger’s intense playing suggests a difficult and far-off road to enlightenment. Many of the answers may be beyond our grasp, but in Roger’s music, one can hear a continued striving for wisdom.
He calls the final piece Waves of Reflection – “because that’s exactly the feeling it gives me. Waves of reflection on life, on the spirit, on communing with the divine in all creation.”
- James Gavin, New York City, 2014
[James Gavin’s work has appeared in the New York Times and Vanity Fair; his books include Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne and Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker.]