Improvisation Diary 2020
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An artist's sketchbook of musical improvisation.

Composer/pianist Allen Shawn began the improvisations on this recording during the height of the pandemic, recording and sending them to his son in Los Angeles. None of the pieces were planned. Some were recorded on his phone; some on a zoom recorder — yet taken as an entire sequence, the nineteen pieces cohere like a notated piece. This recording therefore should be received in the spirit of those old recordings created from tape recordings of musicians done in someone's living room, and never intended to be made into a record. It is an artist's sketchbook, not a finished painting, but nonetheless possibly deserving consideration in its own right.
Contents:
Allen Shawn, composer
Jaunty
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
Almost A Waltz
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
Mock-Up
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
Hurly-Burly
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
Brief Message
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
We Shall Overcome
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
New Year's Resolution
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
Intersecting Points
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
See-Saw
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
Lovely Love
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
Angularity
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
Someone's Expecting
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
Jitterbug
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
Blues
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
C Major Obsession
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
Almost A Funeral
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
The Sphinx Shrugs
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
Cross Porpoises
Allen Shawn (piano)

Allen Shawn, composer
Epilogue
Allen Shawn (piano)

Review:
Commenting on his Aria Caprice, reviewed above, Allen Shawn describes it as having an “improvisatory” quality. That impulse finds its purest form in this unique release. Shawn wrote these 19 improvisations for his son, to whom the album is dedicated, during Covid lockdown. He began improvising at age 10 before learning notation, so this exercise is natural for him. These unplanned miniatures are wistful, tuneful, jazzy, raucous, intensely creative, and mostly tonal. You can listen to a few or put the whole album on. It works either way. Shawn never intended this to be any more than a “sketch book” but decided it was “possibly deserving consideration in its own right”. Indeed, it is. Right from the beginning, in `Jaunty’, one of Shawn’s most lyrical jazz pieces, we get a feeling of freedom and spon-taneity. `Jitterbug’ delvers this vibe as well, along with just enough harmonic crunch. The wistful `Almost a Waltz’ becomes one by the end: these little pieces go on just enough to create an identity. `Hurly Burly’ packs a lot of fun into just over a minute and leaves a happy impression. `Blues’ is a real blues, not a mod-ernist deconstruction, full of beautiful jazz chords and vibrating trills. Some of these were recorded on zoom, others on a phone. The recording is clear and resonant, though nothing is corrected. “This CD contains the original improvisations”, says Shawn, “mistakes, recording quality, and all”.… There is so much freshness and true feeling that we can only be grateful Shawn didn’t do the usual mechanical clean-up—not something we would want in every recording but exactly right here. These improvisations don’t have the careful, artful craftmanship of the chamber works reviewed above, but they have the element of surprise. If you want something wonderfully, artfully sentimental, put on `Lovely Love’: it will put you in an optimistic mood. Put on the whole “sketchbook”, and you’ll feel even better.
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