Amidst the international crisis, composer-performer Ryan Yard has been busy creating a new album, Stargazer, although its roots lie in coming to terms with a journey of love and personal loss that would pre-date Covid-19. Following in the “post-classical” footsteps of Max Richter’s Blue Notebooks and Johann Johannson’s Orphee, this is a complete and contemplative listening experience – music, speech, sound, immersed in the beauty of the piano.
Stargazer I: Pale Blue Dot – (3:33) Featuring narration by Carl Sagan, regarding the famous photograph of the tiny planet Earth caught in a sunbeam, Ryan starts with melancholy piano and synth strings in a descending minor impressionist feel. A quiet and moody start to a fine evening’s listening.
Stargazer II: Sky Blanket – (2:21) Hypnotic evening cicadas, crickets and piano motifs whirl and unfold with a moment of strings and glockenspiel glimmers – I could have this on loop all evening. Perhaps a hint of Fibonacci structure here? If not, don’t overthink things.
Stargazer III: Nocturne – (4:52) Undulating piano chords bring some sense of hope to the evening with beautifully dramatic C# minor passages and hinted melodies in irregular patterns. Definitely one for the sheet music sales, Ryan! 😉
Stargazer IV: Star Dance – (2:04) Pulses of synth sound and light dance around the galaxy, with rich piano, strings and glockenspiel – beauty and power without overstating the concept of possibilities.
Stargazer V: Chase – (2:26) Pieces written in 5 time could be overshadowed by the technical challenge of “5” but as always with Ryan, the music and melody comes first. The lilt and dance of irregular quavers (fast and then slow) are the most important aspect here. (Lovely harmonies and layers).
Stargazer VI: Waltz of the Stars – (1:55) A lovely conceptual waltz. Just listen.
Stargazer VII: Rhapsody – (6:22) A rhapsody is a free flowing composition, and this movement is the climax of the album and explores a journey through six main sections – connected yet different to each other.
Stargazer VIII: Dear Mum – (2:33) A poignant tribute to his Mother, who recently passed away, Ryan ends on a positive yet reflective note as Carl Sagan returns to discuss love and life on our Pale Blue Dot.
Bonus Track: Ommadawn Variations (based on a theme by Mike Oldfield) – (9:52) Not out of place at the end of this mostly piano journey, Ryan’s exploration of one of MO’s most loved themes overlaps dramatic (almost romantic Bach moments with rich jazz harmonies – I’m always keen to look for influences) – but however he does it, it’s multilayered and impressionistic. I love the distant piano scales over the high chiming bells, rhythmical dance variations and the piano ballad interpretation before the final Rachmaninoff-esque climax.
Overall, this is another gem of an album by Ryan Yard, great for listening whilst under lockdown and in our homes – or if weather permits, wrapped up under the stars. 10/10