Dividing The Darkness
Reviewed By Donovan Johnson
“Dividing The Darkness” is a recent album recorded by pianist Steve Rivera, after a long break from piano performance and recording. Steve's return to the piano driven genre is a welcome one, as he's brought a very high quality recording to the table that is packed full of innovation and creative mastery. “Dividing The Darkness” was recorded at Imaginary Road Studios under the production of Will Ackerman.
Overall, the recording has a feel which is a unique blend of New Age piano stylings and ethnic world music. Native American influences, broody sounds of the East, and Celtic influences can most certainly be found here. Steve's piano playing dominates the recording however, creating a fusion that is lush and full, and at times taking us into the far reaches of the psyche. This is a recording that sets in front of us a well of depth, and asks us to explore it. As I listened to it, I couldn't help but ask myself some questions that I had not asked in a long time. Questions that demand answers – that aren't always there.
Let me be clear from the beginning, there isn't a weak track on this album. It is my practice to choose several of my preferred tracks in every review to discuss briefly, to cut down on the length of the review. Reluctantly, I was able to do that, and the first of these tracks is “This Ancient Road.” This song takes the listener on a journey down a well travelled path. Reflective and somewhat uneasy, the slow, minor feel of this composition carries on – just as we carry on down the ancient road that we call life itself. The piece modulates to a major key on occasion, giving us a feeling of hope as we travel. Strings and horns “open up” the music, make it bigger, almost like the unending sky above us as we travel down “This Ancient Road.”
“Skyward” is a brilliant piece that takes us a different direction. Musically, the right and left hand work together at the piano to create a texture, or mood, that is flowing and consistent. The right hand then brings out the melody as the hands continue to work together. The piece almost has a fluid-like feel at first, breaking away occasionally when the melody presents itself again. As the song builds, we're greeted with choir voices and percussion, along with cello, which to me created a sense of flying amongst the clouds. I had to wonder as I listened to this one, is Steve making a reference to the afterlife here? Is this his interpretation of that experience? The “magical” quality that this song possesses along with composition style, to me, would suggest that.
This brings us to my favorite on the album, “Valley Of Light.” This piece inspires and uplifts, with a beautiful piano melody which has an almost old European feel. Combined with that, we have the majestic sounds of French Horns – one of my favorite instruments. The result is a contemporary piece with a trace of our fairly distant past. It's an elegant and regal composition, and to me a very stirring one. The only change I would make to a track like this one would be to add an even more powerful buildup, and more use of those horns! But, that's a personal preference and does not in any way take away from my love for the piece.
I'd like to add one more note here before concluding as well. Steve does something on this album that I have yet to encounter with any other recording in this genre of music. Don't turn the stereo off after that last song! If you wait for just a few more seconds, Steve has added an “Easter egg” at the end of the disk. Unexpectedly, we are given a final recording that is lovingly haunting! Layers of reverb cover a piano track that sounds as though it's being played from afar. Don't miss this, it's a highlight on the album. Brilliant Steve!
“Dividing The Darkness” is a refreshingly unusual offering to the contemporary piano genre, and I highly recommend it. It's not necessarily a recording that's made for background music, and It's not complex engaged listening either. That's what I love about it. It's a creative work, full of exploration and uncharted territory, and all the things in life that are important and meaningful.