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Happy Note Records
Although he is best known for his electronic music and the alias Xman, Charles Xavier is also a remarkably visionary pianist - a point of which he reminded himself during the pandemic when, after spending months recording what he describes as “endless loops of anguish and despair,” he would unwind by simply sitting at the piano and improvising - “a much needed escape from the aggressive tones percolating from my instruments morning brew.”
The result is an enthralling stream of musical consciousness that simply goes where it chooses, for however long it takes. A few tracks are almost impossibly brief - thirty-three seconds is the lifespan of the shortest - but there’s a sense of purpose throughout. And, if the overall mood remains downcast, there is also a sense of defiance (“Mary’s Pond” is especially powerful) and hope, too.
The liners describe the album as “encouraging meditation, relaxation and mindfulness,” and maybe it does. But there’s an impatience, too, sparking through the abrupt chords that flow through the music; and a frustration that most of us will likely recognize from our own response to the pandemic.
Yes, there are moments of calm - “Ascending Masters,” for example. But there are also episodes of startling intensity, the piano itself reaching out with an oft-times unexpected savagery (the ironically-titled “Introspective Loving Man”); and jabs of familiarity, too, as Xavier returns to ideas already broached, and takes them in fresh directions.
It’s not necessarily everybody’s idea of easy listening. But, if you don’t mind a little difficulty in that bag, Pandemic Piano is well worth your time.