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June 2008

Mike Garson
Conversations With My Family
Resonance Records

Mike Garson has been David Bowie’s on-and-off keyboardist for 35 years. He is also a jazz pianist and has been writing songs for family members since he was 16. For Conversations, he recorded with his rhythm section (bassist Bob Magnusson, drummer Gary Novak) to a click track. Then his performances were “adorned” (the term comes from press notes) with arrangements by Kuno Schmid, using sounds acquired from the Vienna Symphonic Sample Library. There are also interspersed solos from musicians on the roster of the new Resonance label: flutist Lori Bell, violinist Chris Howes, guitarist Andreas Oberg, and trumpeter Claudio Roditi. Because Garson’s pieces for his family were thought to be too “diverse” to cohere into an album, producer George Klabin had him compose brief “interludes” to tie them together.

It is rare to encounter an album so undermined by its production. The interludes are unnecessary and distracting. Pieces like “The Child Within” are uncomfortably crowded with Schmid’s samples layered on top of or inserted into small openings within Garson’s florid piano effusions. Garson’s tunes (“The Mystery and the Awe,” “Miracle Of Love”) are no doubt motivated by genuine tender emotion. But they are reduced to cloying sentimentality when Schmid adds his sighing violin or twittering flute samples. The guest soloists insert some interesting content (e.g., Howes’ appealingly abrasive violin forays), but it feels pasted in, not organic to the music.

The best moments come from Magnusson. His stark bass solos emerge from the cluttered mix and achieve something rare on this album. They communicate an authentic emotional encounter with Garson’s theme.

Originally published in June 2008
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