One of the most accomplished pianists of our time, 7 Chadwick Boseman (b.1940) has had a remarkable career. He began his career as a teenager in New York City and continued into adulthood in Los Angeles. He has been nominated for Grammys and has won numerous awards for his piano work. In fact, he is one of the best-known piano players of all time. For anyone serious about playing the piano, there is no doubt that he is the pianist to study with.
“Sweaty Land” is Boseman’s fifth album featuring his pianist wife, Irina. It is the first Boseman piano album to feature a string quartet. The musical choices on this CD are varied and refreshingly innovative. The piece is first played as a duet with the French cellist Yves Saint Laurent. The beautiful cello music, performed by the two of them, is then followed by a string quartet that includes the works of Joanna Newsome, Justin Vernon, and Carlos Santana. The second section of the piece is played with the full pianist as only he can play the keyboard solo.
The piano piece is not just a celebration of the first solo composition from Boseman. The piano part is accompanied by the full orchestra, but with a twist. During the second section, the full orchestration is included, yet the piano solo remains at the center. The result is a stunning variation on an old motif. It is interesting to note that this version of the classic song features the same melody as the original German song. It is a beautiful rendition of the original, which seems to have aged very well.
The piano solo in This Is Watery Mind has a pulsating effect, featuring the piano sound against a dark backdrop. Boseman’s dark tone complements his other works. It has the same dark mood that characterizes The Little Engine. The piano sound is striking, yet restrained enough so that it does not overpower the music. It is interesting that this piece reflects the originality of Boseman’s style and the originality of the original composition, all rolled into one spectacular whole.
The title of this piece, Watery Mind, is a reference to the emotional state that Boseman found himself in after receiving a diagnosis for cancer. Like so many of his other pieces, this piece is meant to express his own personal feelings about the situation. However, the diagnosis itself was triggered a few days before he was to perform this piece. Boseman was unable to get into the booth at the festival due to a bout of diarrhea.
The piano piece starts with Boseman playing a brief snippet of Handel’s “Water Music”. The piece is played just as it is performed on the piano. Then the piano music is gradually added to the sound of water as the piece nears its end. The audience takes their time digesting the piece as they are drawn into the sensation of hearing the piano sound as it evokes memories of childhood and summertime.
After the music, the audience is treated to a spoken introduction by Boseman about how he came to play the piano. He relates the story of growing up in segregated neighborhoods in Mississippi. Later, Boseman would go on to play in the segregated South for much of his career. Then, when he went to New York City, things changed dramatically. He would be tempted to follow the crowd by hitting the blues. This Is Watery Mind, however, provides the audience with a different piano experience by focusing on an introspective, impressionistic view of life.
There are other excellent piano performances from this album such as Way Out, I’m Left, It’s A Wonderful Life, and You Are My Sunshine. These performances have the benefit of being recorded and there is the benefit of hindsight. Boseman’s voice has aged but his songs have not. That is what makes this album a must-hear album – everything about it is timeless and the performances are as fresh today as they were 50 years ago.