Chad Lawson is just about the polar opposite of every other solo pianist out there. He has toured the world with Julio Iglesias, is an official Kawai performing artist, was nominated for “Album of the Year” on Whisperings Solo Piano Radio and has scored several films. His most recent film is Doughboys, featuring Louis Lombardi (The Sopranos, ‘Edgar’ from 24) and Vincent Pastore (The Sopranos). Lawson also recently scored a TV pilot—details which, for now anyway—are under wraps.
Earlier, Lawson’s trio recorded two wildly-successful albums for Summit Records. Dear Dorothy; the Oz Sessions—brought music from the Wizard of Oz to the national jazz charts. The CD was featured in Starbucks, showed up in Dawson’s Creek, and he trio even toured Japan. Unforeseen, their second album, jumped to 8 on the national jazz charts, and included songs by the Police, Soundgarden, and the Beatles. However, all these successes were a blur, leading up to one night on tour in Spain with Iglesias—in yet another sold-out 10,000 seat venue. It was here that Lawson suddenly felt absolutely alone on stage and said, “It’s time to do my own thing again.”
That meant getting back to writing music true to his soul. The result isn’t the kind of music meant to be downloaded to your iPod, listened to on your crappy laptop speakers, or caught at the gym on the elliptical machine. Lawson’s music is meant for those rare times when we have actually have a few moments to sit down and turn on some music to relax.
That’s because Lawson composes the silence between the notes as much as the music itself. Imagine standing in the middle of NYC, engulfed by all its energy. That same pulse stems from Lawson’s music, in a more slow-burn sorta way. That’s the kind of music Lawson writes: with listening—real listening—in mind. Listeners get the feeling they’re participating in a musical conversation. That’s because—unlike just about every other solo pianist out there—Lawson’s music has a strong organic, improvisatory element to it. Chad Lawson is sort of like George Winston, but the audience Lawson’s going for probably won’t get that reference anyway. (Lawson has always made a habit of bringing jazz to new audiences, as if you couldn’t tell by his credits.)
“Will,” the opening track of his new solo release, Set on a Hill, doesn’t grab you the way a first song is “supposed to”…rather it invites you in. It opens with one simple tone, first played alone, then repeated in different rhythms—a beacon, or lighthouse, on the open sea, calling you home. From the start, it’s obvious that the spaces between notes have as much value as any notes themselves. The music is influenced—but not overrun—by Lawson’s producer, Will Ackerman of Windham Hill Records. (Ackerman was behind many of George Winston’s eponymous albums as well as those by guitar great Michael Hedges.)
All Lawson’s songs, in fact, give you the chance to hear the music, and simply exhale, to breathe. His music affords the time that most of us never take in the day to rest our mind—as if to say, things can be put on pause—even for just a few moments. Although a CD of nine original instrumentals, there’s a heavy lyrical element to the music. “Will” seems to unfurl in the studio, a call & response conversation, continually developing between that single note, and richer phrases. The title track is part country waltz—and part moodier, quicksilver chord changes. The two (thankfully) never quite resolve. Throughout, the music is engaging, but never takes itself too seriously: “A Goldfish Named George” recalls a fishes’ shimmering movements, with little right-hand flourishes, and singsong melodies.
For the immediate future, Lawson will continue writing, recording and producing records by like-minded artists on his Hillset Records. And all of this is very good news for those looking to get away, at least for a few moments, from everything else.