Beyond the Sky
Joseph Marciano, Joseph Patrych, Ed Reed, Max Ross, Joe Mardin, Engs.; Joseph Patrych, Mastering eng.; Joe Mardin, Rob Schwimmer, Prods. DDD. 47 minutes.
You may not know Rob Schwimmer, but you oughtta. Schwimmer is one-half to one-third of Polygraph Lounge, as well as a composer, pianist, thereminist, synthesist, singer, and arranger. He's a go-to guy for artists like Wayne Shorter, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Willie Nelson, Stevie Wonder, Laurie Anderson, and Paul Simon—both in the studio and on the road.
Beyond the Sky focuses mainly on his piano playing and composing, both of which are remarkable. Most unusual, perhaps, is "Waltz for Clara," which is featured twice; once for solo piano and once as a duet for piano and theremin. The "Clara" in question, of course, is Clara Rockmore, the "Empress of the Theremin." If you think of the theremin primarily as a sci-fi movie sound effect, you've probably never heard what an artist of Schwimmer's (or Rockmore's) caliber can do with it. Schwimmer coaxes a plaintive, effectively voice-like tone from it that imbues the theremin version with a pathos the more formal solo piano version only hints at.
There are two song suites called "Two Hallucinations on Popular Songs I and II," which pair, respectively, "Buddy Can You Spare a Dime" and "Never Never Land" and "All the Things You Are" and "Stormy Weather." The contemplative interpretations of all four songs belie the "Hallucinations" tag Schwimmer has attached to them. These are solid jazz ruminations, rich with atmospheric dynamic changes and subtle emotive flourishes.
Actually, for all of Schwimmer's immersion in the contemporary music scene, Beyond the Sky is an old-fashioned jazz piano record. It's not that he can't play free and wild, but more that he saves that for added flavor. "Ostinato," one of his most frenetic flights, has more Raymond Scott in it than Cecil Taylor.
What I most like about the recording is its unalloyed sentimentality. Schwimmer's "I Would Talk to My Dad" and "Holding You In My Arms" are unashamedly emotional—about as far as you can get from hipster cool. Schwimmer, who has proven in Polygraph Lounge that he's not too hip to laugh, is also not too hip to cry. I like that—the best music, in my opinion, connects directly to the parts of us that are not logical.
I'm also impressed by the sound of the disc. It is honestly dynamic—check out Schwimmer's excursions under the lid on "Inside" truly exploit this quality. There may be a hint of ProTools glaze, but only the merest gloss; this is an awfully natural sounding studio piano recording—and one I continue to listen to with pleasure.