Dana Cunningham, “The Color of Light”

[Fountain Creek Music FC92321]



Pianist Dana Cunningham has created an intriguing, fresh and meditative voyage on The Color of Light [available at www.danacunningham.com]. There is always something new to explore on this disc, from the beautiful opening anticipation of “Leap of Faith” to the gorgeous colors and free flowing motion of “Flying Over Water.” Cunningham’s Steinway is recorded in all of its reverberant glory in this open studio space, with lots of surrounding air, tactile midrange textures and wonderful, sweet treble. This recording was produced by Will Ackerman, who also lends a sparkle of acoustic guitar to the surging motion of “River of Grace.” In Ackerman’s skillful hands, we are led on a journey filled with nooks and crannies to explore in Cunningham’s rich compositions.

There is a directness of purpose and communication in Cunningham’s piano technique that makes this recording a delight. With a beautiful way with phrasing and lingering chord resonances, she gets to the heart of her compositions to create soulful moments rich in feeling and contemplation. For example, on “Stephen’s Song,” Cunningham invites us in with a deep turning on minor chords, full of lingering. Midway through this slow ballad, we turn to the light and she brings us a lovely, major chord transition with a feeling of new beginnings. She leaves us off gently, letting the last note from her solo piano take us where we wish. Similarly, on the beautiful “Prayer For Peace,” Cunningham gently invites us in to contemplate its themes with her wonderful, light touches in the treble, brushed by vocal caresses which are then followed by deep, rolling plunges into the piano’s lower registers.

In addition to her beguiling solo piano, there is also a special comradeship between Cunningham and her accompanists on this recording. On the title track, the languid phrases of Eugene Friesen’s warm cello sit beside Cunningham’s piano glow in an astonishingly beautiful dialog. Similarly, Samite Mulondo’s vocal colors form a fragile silhouette behind Friesen’s bowing and Cunningham’s delicate treble notes on “Flowers In The Dark,” leading naturally from a deep pool into the expanse of “Flying Over Water.” Cunningham ingeniously transitions between these two pieces with the barest twinkling of high notes, cascading into Glen Velez’s light percussion and Steve Schuch’s violin. The recording captures the untethered beauty of this piece, with excellent texture to the strings and wonderful image dimensionality where each player is pinpointed in space, spread out on a natural, wide stage. The recording concludes with a “Reprise” that works as a wonderful bookend to this introspective journey. It returns us to earlier themes but also graciously pirouettes on Cunningham’s lovely gentle turns and gestures to a conclusion ripe with possibilities. There are gifts to be found everywhere on this gem of a recording with a directness to the musical heart captured in Cunningham’s piano and her singular compositional voice.

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Nelson Brill