What makes Jazz music special is that its essence of relating to the moments that the players are in. Even though, in a broader range, jazz explores more complex ideas and compositional elements; its philosophy is still the sole postmodern idea that sets it apart from all the other genres. Many musicians took this initial idea and experimented with it In different manners, and Daryl Johnson’s 2020 release “In The Moment” is one of them. In his 8-piece solo piano album, he recorded pieces at the instant that he played them; without changing anything or thinking about what should play before-hand. During 8-days of the pandemic, Johnson had this urge or representing the moment and feel that he was stuck-in, and the best way to get all of these out was to transform all of these moments into notes.
In this postmodern approach, the idea may step forward and shadow the music that’s been played. If one doesn’t want to make this mistake, they have to listen to the album in detail and should get captured in the cool-jazz atmosphere. His influences of the legendary improvisers McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett are apparent in the melodies of the pieces; where they have non-changing yet slowly-captivating soundscapes. Every solo indeed has been taken from the moment that they were recorded, making Johnson succeed on what he was after. The non-repetitive and constantly changing natures of the tracks prove that these were started from scratch and finished when he pressed the stop button.
During these stressful times beclouded of politics and pandemic, this album is an opportunity to get lost in your head—forgetting what’s behind and what’s coming.
-Daryl Johnson: piano
Produced, composed, and arranged by Daryl Johnson
The first solo in Daryl Johnson’s improvised piano album is simply serene, peaceful, and aesthetic. The solo starts with calm and harmonious notes. Although Johnson’s composition is a full solo, the listener will notice that this peaceful introduction will anchor the melody and the harmony throughout the solo. The prelude makes its transition to main solo parts quite unhurriedly. While Johnson settles down a serene, enjoyable atmosphere with its calm transition, he will surprise, without bothering the tranquility, the listener with smooth chord progressions. Moving on through the solo, nice and neat chord progressions meet the listeners, again peacefully, again with sheer musicality and emotion. The solo keeps on going with these beautiful, harmonious chord progressions and other solo-like musical structures.
However, the most important element in Johnson’s first solo is neither its chord progressions nor other techniques he used, but it’s the sincerity, the sheer musical effort in it. The listener feels Johnson’s in-flux state and imagines his “at the moment” recording while feeling the aesthetic listening to the song. Although what makes this solo touching and graceful can be explained by Johnson’s dynamics and tempo on his piano, there are simply no theory and no words to explain how he, gracefully, embedded his emotions and musical passion into this solo.
The second solo is one of the most iconic pieces in Daryl Johnson’s new CD: “In the Moment.” It is apparent from its continuous melody that it’s a more different approach by the composer. The piece starts with an open melodic motive that forms into various other melodic sentences that create different feelings inside the already created atmosphere from the accompaniment. This accompaniment empowers in key points with bass notes that bring the listener’s attention to the newly introduced improving melodies.
The piece continuously prepares for a resolution that will not be reached until many ideas are presented and this happens through the ending. In this part, melody falls and connects with the accompaniment to introduce a striking connection that leads to the resolution. This idea makes a very powerful, yet so satisfying mark in the listener’s head which serves as the main aspect of this piece. The creative continuous melodies connected with generously scattered bass key accompaniments and its remarking ending earn this piece an iconic part in the album.
The third solo is a more striking piece than the other solos in Daryl Johnson’s new CD. Perhaps one can say that the “striking” part in this piece is its main melodic sentence which is a repetitive but an enhancing sentence, introducing many ideas to explore. These ideas are beautifully harmonised with the changing accompaniment. The piece may somewhat seem like already written because of this; however, as Daryl says, it is an improvisation and this feature only shows the ability of the composer to form the structure while playing.
The piece continues with smooth and broad melodies after the introduction of raw melodic theme with its accompaniment. This is the repetitive structure of the piece and actually acts as a preparation for the listener’s ears for the enhanced broad parts. It is this treat that makes such an experience for the listener. As the piece continues, it starts to build for the ending by reintroducing and decorating the primary theme. In this instant, smooth but hanging chord structures fully transform into an ear filling atmosphere for the listener. Afterwards the piece ends with its main motive repeating to fade into silence.
Combining all the aforementioned aspects of the piece, it was an experience to listen and another to write for.
The fourth track can actually be seen as the inciting incident of this whole album. According to Johnson, the piece came out during the soundcheck of another recording. Listening to it through this perspective and imagining Johnson as he casually checks the sound levels, it is clear that the solo starts out with no musical intent. The notes are short and direct as if he is conducting an experiment, his voice distant and impartial.
The beauty of the piece actually comes from the gentle transition into a more thoughtful and expressive improvisation as Johnson himself abandons the cold opening and instead manifests a more musical personality to warm the listener’s ear. The block chords and heavy bass that frames the first section dissolves into legato notes and the impactful use of the sustain pedal. The piece morphs into a self-reflection and unexpectedly tells a story that only came into existence as a stroke of luck. It is this contrast and the sincerity (no matter how unplanned it was) that separates “Solo IV” from the rest of the album.
The 5th Solo is a calm, relaxing piece. One can listen to it in the background while doing some intense studying or work and it won’t be distracting. That however doesn’t mean that there aren’t enjoyable melodies. When listened with special attention, one can enjoy the beautiful pieces of melodies that are divided into sentences and spread all across the piece. Every second of the music has a different melody that, when combined, creates a beautiful unity all across the piece.
There are various musical sentences throughout the piece on the treble while the bass accompanies those sentences to an extent that it almost makes this piece have fugal elements. The bass isn’t always there. It usually starts a “sentence” and then we never hear it until the start of another “sentence”. That creates a beautiful simplicity to the piece. There aren’t any loud sounds caused by the bass in the background, which leaves only the simple, yet beautiful melody to be enjoyed.
Throughout the album, Johnson has used the idea of playing the bass note in the off-beat. This allowed him to explore some different rhythmical patterns in his songs. It is especially unexpected of someone to instantly improvise this way since we normally tend to give more attention to create such atmospheres in the song. It’s like unconsciously improvising in 13/8, on a less complex level.
However, at this point in the album, the listener expects some changes in the style of solos, especially we’re looking for some melodic motifs to take this album to another level— a level that exceeds the sweet melodies and feelings of a coffee table jazz music. Considerably, this short piece was more structured and focused—yet it still was exploring different progressions while relating to the initial feeling in 3 short minutes.
What it generally it lacks is the non-dynamical approach and relatively insufficient use of-tension and release in a focused manner. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, it was actually what Johnson was after: an improvised piece that was captured in that specific moment.
The 7th solo is a somewhat complex piece. The treble has a calm, relaxing melody while the bass has a rather strong, distinctive melody. The music is divided into larger “parts”, rather than sentences that provide a more uniform piece that is enjoyable to listen to. The patterns that the bass clef follows creates a strong sense of rhythm, which makes the piece more enjoyable for uneducated ears.
The bass and treble are disconnected from each other in this solo. However, that does not mean that there is a complexity or dissonance throughout the piece. The bass almost always plays the same melody while the treble is a freestyle jazz solo. Sometimes, treble and bass coincide and become a complementary melody to each other, but the rest of the time the two melodies are distinctly different and simple.
The last solo in the album starts with a nice, positive groove. The intro is relaxed but vivid, in Johnson’s unique way. The harmony and melody manage to keep its joyful first impression with different chord progressions. Like what Daryl intended and carried out in all solos in the album, changes in harmony and melody are unhurried and satisfactory. As the song progresses, listeners again encounter Johnson’s improvisation techniques unique to his album. Being the longest solo in the album, Johnson gave place to these techniques much more than the other solos. Relatively thinner texture, softer dynamics, and smoother melodic phrasings reminding the audience of common improvisations in the cool jazz era, back from the 1950s.
A wider and more unhurried approach to piano solo with its longer length and smoother progressions, the eighth solo in In the Moment is simply full of joy, positivity, and peace. Just what we need in these extraordinary days…