My first experience of Chilly Gonzales was by complete chance, as I managed to duck into a tent at a festival just in time to see a man wearing a quilted dressing gown demonstrating how to play piano with his feet.
For the uninitiated, Chilly Gonzales is a classically trained Canadian pianist who produces a vast array of music in a surprising and seemingly unconnected set of genres. He’s featured globally, presenting tutorials and lectures on how to interpret trends in modern pop music and deconstruct them, along with the fickle nature of the music business, and advanced piano techniques.
Chambers is a return to his classical origins and has been touted as a successor to the work on his Solo Piano albums. As the name suggests, this is an album of chamber music, in which he collaborates with the Kaiser Quartet to provide the traditional strings that define the genre. There’s a handy guide on his website to help the listener gain an insight into what inspired each song. I’ve listened to the album a few times without; I wanted to form an opinion of it before consulting to see if I was anywhere near the mark.
There’s no doubt that Chilly is incredibly talented he’s a self styled ‘musical genius’, and while this is a deliberately egotistical statement, the album cleverly references both old and new. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Chambers feels modern. There’s a sense of motion about the album that makes it an ideal companion to commuting to work.
Freudian Slippers, perhaps my favourite track, is clever, subtle, and insistent. It’s also less complicated than some of its companions, comprised of several distinct parts that merge together. There’s a call and answer in play between the piano and the strings that gives way into a very cool, jazzy reprise. Lower in tone than previous pieces, it’s relaxing.
An overarching theme of the whole work is how the piano and strings play off against each other. It would have been easy to make the piano the forefront of the work, after all, this is a solo venture. Often the piano will go from providing a guiding bassline that punctuates the lighter strings to winding its way to the forefront of the music and sharing the spotlight, to then becoming almost the “voice” of the track. Even if classical music isn’t your thing, it’s a beautiful album to listen to. Devoid of lyrics until the last track, I found myself conjuring up images to fit to the music in a way I wouldn’t find myself doing normally, and if my mood changed between one listen and the next, I could apply how the music made me feel to what I was imagining. Odessa could one moment conjure up images of falling autumn leaves, and the next a period drama full of heartache. Cello Gonzales is almost a lullaby, coaxing. I can hear a story behind the sweeping cello.
To me, it’s an optimistic album. There’s slow, subtle progression to the music, but even at it’s most heartbreaking, there’s inevitable crescendos that rise above it all. It’s echoed the beginning of spring that has been the backdrop to my listening of it, always there’s a ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds. It’s markedly brightened my commuting in the morning.
If you respect well written music, if you like classically inspired work, then this is for you. Even if it isn’t, I feel that it’s a very approachable album, and it merits turning everything else of and closing your eyes to.