This album of 10 solo piano improvisations, written between January and February of 2018, explore some of the ever present emotions as a result of grief and loss. Where "in a dark room" approached the grieving process from a more emotional perspective, this one feels a bit more philosophical and reflective, realizing at the most existential level, I am now a different person than I was before and how those differences, though not always obvious to many, have changed who I am at a fundamental level.
review by Jonathan Widran "
"This is the truth that all of us who have lost a brother or sister have to live with every day for the rest of our lives: the truth of loss and sorrow are ever present, as a shadow reminding us that we are forever transformed and to many, transformation can be an unsettling and scary concept.
Even though we are on a journey to a new normal, remembering the day or night that changed our lives makes us stop in our tracks, mourn again for a moment, reflect on the loss and we are reminded of not only where we came from to get to this new normal but that it is a continuous journey, never arriving until we meet our loved ones in the afterlife.
"If there is anything I have learned from listening to ambient new age composer, performer and improvisational master Scott Lawlor’s musically expansive
and consciousness expanding works, it’s that grief and its many stages of acceptance and transcendence take time. In May 2018, I was privileged to experience
and absorb (for a listener doesn’t merely “hear” his soul-transporting music) his extraordinary recordings Transition and In a Dark Room.
These were emotional, deeply hypnotic and cathartic collections created organically in tribute to his beloved brother Joe, his struggle with stage 4 cancer,
his passing/transition and Lawlor’s’ intense struggle to find light, new life and perhaps universal meaning in the wake of losing a beloved soul far too
soon. Musically, he began the cycle with the introductory experience of Look Unto the Heavens, a powerful opening attempt to seek such meaning amidst the
pain and suffering.
As engaging as the previous trilogy but perhaps the most engaging and sonically palatable for the casual fan of new age/ambient music, his most recent
release The Color of Extraordinary is a magnificent continuation of Lawlor’s multi-faceted emotional journey. The other recordings featured some piano
elements, but this is a full-fledged epic piano collection, infused with pure, raw yet beautiful and lushly flowing pieces – composed in January and February
2018 – exploring, in his words “some of the ever present emotions as a result of grief and loss.”
Lawlor is an excellent essayist who often quite eloquently expounds in words what he is trying to convey – and his sometimes lengthy track titles are deeply
poetic. Yet his sparsely arranged music is so honest and intimate that our open hearts would probably be able to feel what is happening inside his heart,
mind and soul even without his explanatory essay. He tells us that he’s making a transition here from the emotional perspective of “In a Dark Room” to
one that is more philosophical and reflective. It’s lovely, of course, to have that laid out, but those with finely tuned spiritual antennas could intuit
this just from the titles and the flow of the music. The album title alone informs us of the solid breakthroughs taking place and the generally serene
feeling of love in the light of a slightly deeper sense of acceptance of life’s most perplexing mysteries.
One of the most notable shifts from Lawlor’s previous works dedicated to his brother is the fact that eight of the ten pieces are briefer, more easily
consumed and connected with than the lengthy, ultra-meditative pieces that previously dominated. His elegiac approach to the piano is immediately soul-satisfying,
drawing us in emotionally from the get go – a very different mode of expression from the earlier slow building soundscapes of atmospheric seduction. That
said, the emotional core of The Color of Extraordinary are the two longest pieces, the dark, haunting, endlessly questioning “what if music is what escapes
when the heart breaks” (reminding us that his gift of cathartic expression through rhythm, melody and improvisation is perhaps Lawlor’s true salvation)
and the stark, spacious, atmospheric and deeply exploratory 18 ½ minute meditative masterpiece “She peered over the ledge of heaven.”
Despite their overall sense of darkness, contemplation and working through the pain to find connective light somewhere within the tunnel, many of the shorter
expressions on the album ease across our consciousness like more commercial, traditional sounding new age solo piano recordings. Whether by design or simply
the way his divinely inspired fingers found new life, pieces like the eloquent, moody “The darker the night, the brighter the stars,” the gently meditational
title track (where gloom is shattered at certain moments by brief sparks of light) and the bleak, brooding and deeply philosophical “The deeper the grief,
the closer is God” are a bit easier to grasp emotionally.
Lawlor uses the titles of these shorter improvisations to help guide us through the powerful soul-work he’s been doing. “our souls contained more scar
tissue than life” is slow and soulful, but has some of the collection’s most dynamic melodic movement – i.e. a ray of hope. Where the equally melodic,
graceful but daringly optimistic “grief and love are conjoined,” the soft spoken sense of eternal life is more deeply felt on this side of the veil. Lawlor
continues that theme on the last two tracks – “There is no grief like the grief that does not speak” and “But my grief will never go” – to let us know that
even if shards of light envelop him so that he knows his beloved Joe is alive and thriving in another dimension and feels his love, his pain will not subside
until the two are reunited in the eternal realm. That’s when he’ll know the true Color of Extraordinary, and where the sorrowful music will give way to
pure soul-cleansed joy.
If you visit Lawlor’s bandcamp page after listening to The Color of Extraordinary (or the other works dedicated to his brother), you might find yourself a bit intimidated by the sheer output
of well over 200 ambient releases. Yes, it’s a lot and it may take you a little exploratory time to find another entry point. But once you start immersing,
and begin healing in ways you could have never previously imagined, you’ll know why I wrote in my review of Transition: “If you are into soulful, thought
provoking and consciousness expanding ambient music, Scott Lawlor is a composer and artist who needs to be on your musical radar. His vast body of work
will keep your ears attuned for a long time to both your inner spirit and that indefinable ‘other’ in the Universe.” You might just color the experience
From Steve Shepard, One World Music Radio:
"Scott Lawlor has been prolific lately with the release of many fine albums, most will know him for his sublime floating synths, but here on this album we explore the solo piano abilities of the artist with the release The Color Of Extraordinary.
We start this journey of ambience with the opener The Darker the Night, The Brighter the Stars. I adore this style of piano performance, when I play keyboards I’m aiming for something similar. There is something quite purposeful, yet delicate in this piece, which really sets the scene for the whole album.
I remember reading an article about Eno once, it was said that he manifested music specifically for an art exhibition at one time, now I am a big lover of modern art, and when in the UK will try and visit the Tate gallery, I may well take this album with me, as it would be perfect for the visit, especially this quite wonderful offering called, What If Music Is What Escapes When A Heart Breaks. This is a true explorative voyage of musical tone and timbre that you’re ever likely to find.
The almost minimalistic title track is up next and of course entitled The Color Of Extraordinary. This offering has a slight feeling of awareness about its construction. Lawlor’s skills as an ambient performer are creating here for us many dark and twisting hallways, of where what might be deemed the extraordinary, may lurk.
I love reading and listening to the works of Edgar Allen Poe, I was only doing so just the other day in a moment of relaxation, now if I had of been playing this album, I would have had the perfect soundscape to add to that twinkling of time, especially this one entitled, She Peered Over The Ledge Of Heaven. This has all the hallmarks of something deep and mysterious, but in his performance the artist also creates something vast and quite breath-taking in an ambient sort of way. Long form at its best here by Lawlor, as he creates an 18 minute plus opus of beautifully spacious music.
History Dressed up in the Glow of Love’s Kiss Turned Grief into Beauty is our next port of call, I mentioned Eno earlier, and perhaps I should remember one of his musical partners in Harold Budd, with this light and floating offering, which is similar in style, one that has a real sense of blissfulness about its overall construction, a nice mood changer here from the musician.
We now move into the realms of shade and shadow once more as we come across a piece called, The Deeper the Grief, The Closer Is God. For me there is a real juxtaposition of composition and thought here in this offering, one that is clearly mysterious in energy, deep and brooding in essence, one that explores the very labyrinths of grief, and its relationship with the enigma that is called god, a fascinating and very in depth opus indeed.
Let’s now open the door to a dimension called Our Souls Contained More Scar Tissue than Life. There was something of an undercurrent about this piece, one that revealed many layers of emotion as it played out to its conclusion. It seemed to work with the realms of both light and darkness, but at all times retained a fluency that seems to hover and drift around the piano itself.
Grief and Love Are Conjoined is our next offering that fluency continues here with a symbiotic composition of great musical clarity. This would be one of my personal favourites off the album and listening to the performance one could with ease imagine a musical helix, swirling in and out of itself, grief and love combined perhaps.
The ever decreasing circle of sadness plunges further within this next piece called, There Is No Grief like the Grief That Does Not Speak. There is a fathomless pit of emotion within this offering that is so very tangible, sometimes the silence of nothingness speaks volumes. The performance here is heartfelt and moving, but one that also creates a void to allow oneself to get lost within, perhaps to escape the grief!
But My Grief Will Never Go is our final composition, Lawlor explores the nature of griefs illusion within this offering, this is beautifully played and is lighter in composition and arrangement that one may assume from the title, this cathartic journey through sufferance and pain may continue, but while it may seem like grief will never go, it does in fact eventually transmute into the form of acceptance, and for me that is what I get from the performance within this track, one that has a slight hint of something that we must all have in its tones, hope.
Scott Lawlor and The Color of Extraordinary is a wonderful journey through the darker emotions of ambient piano from the artist, it gives us many moments of sadness and dark moods, but also hiding within the very soul of the album is a little courage and faith. Lawlor’s works are a fine example that music is the panacea that cures all ills and woes; it is the courage and fortitude of Lawlor to express this in music, that gives all of us who have suffered grief in some way, a prospect, an aspiration perhaps of an expectation of hope."
review by Steve Sheppard of One World Music Radio:
From Kathy Parsons of Mainly Piano:
"The Color of Extraordinary is a collection of ten solo piano improvisations by the incredibly prolific (and gifted!) Scott Lawlor. Darkly ambient, this album is something of a postlude to Lawlor’s trilogy of albums dealing with his younger brother’s cancer diagnosis, death/transition, and the grieving process that followed. The Color of Extraordinary was recorded in early 2018 and Lawlor describes the music this way: “….this one feels a bit more philosophical and reflective, realizing at the most existential level, I am now a different person than I was before and how those differences, though not always obvious to many, have changed who I am at a fundamental level.” The ten pieces provide well over an hour of atmospheric music that is easy to have in the background, but more focused listening - perhaps in a darkened room - is the key to fully appreciating the music and experiencing the emotions being expressed. As with Lawlor’s previous albums, the titles to the pieces are fairly long and poetic, providing insight into what he was thinking as he created the music. Reverb is used extensively, adding to the atmospheric vibe of the music and giving it a somewhat otherworldly feeling.
The album begins with “The darker the night, the brighter the stars.” By alternating major and minor chord patterns, Lawlor effectively alternates between the sounds of light and darkness as he sets the tone of the album. “What if music is what escapes when a heart breaks” ventures into much darker emotional depths, almost meandering around the piano keyboard searching for answers and perhaps realizing that closure will likely never be fully achieved. The title track isn’t really melodic or rhythmic, but is probably more accessible to those who prefer a less ambient style. I have no idea what the title “She peered over the ledge of heaven” refers to, but this 18 1/2-minute work is the centerpiece of the album. It begins very quietly and mysteriously with open space between many of the notes/passages. The first several minutes are ominous and eery. The next section moves up the keyboard a bit, becoming lighter and more comfortable. Throughout the piece, open space continues to be as important as the notes whether they are in the deep bass of the piano or up in the treble. Improvisation doesn’t always suggest a musical stream of consciousness, but this piece does and is an in-depth exploration of an artist’s musical thought process. The last few minutes feel lighter and more optimistic, with some kind of acceptance or resolution achieved. “The deeper the grief, the closer is God” begins with a return to the depths of despair. At about the midpoint of the piece, you can feel a powerful uplift in the music that gradually brings comfort and a stronger sense of peace. It truly is amazing how much can be expressed with such an economy of notes. “Our souls contained more scar tissue than life” is the piece I like best on this album. Introspective and often poignant, honesty and vulnerability seem to flow from each note. “But my grief will never go” ends the album with an expression of acceptance that permanent change has occurred - an “it is what it is” of sorts. It is far from light-hearted, but my interpretation is that there is now an ability to move forward.
Scott Lawlor is a master of expressing complicated emotions with open space and a minimal number of notes. I always come away from his recordings feeling like I have shared a personal and emotional experience with him."
review by Dick Metcalf:
This is my first listen to pianist Scott’s deeply moving and evocative solo
piano work… for me, keyboard playing is best when the artist is immersed so deeply in their work that no external influence can interrupt their thoughts
(or their playing). That’s what you (definitely) get as you listen to the (somewhat) dark-toned title track, “
The Color Of Extraordinary
“… Scott is able to use the lower registers to pull forth colors you would never have imagined on this slowly moving composition… it has already gotten
repeated listens here.
Scott’s song titles alone clearly show that he gives a great deal of thought to his playing… one of the best examples of that (for this reviewer, anyway)
our souls contained more scar tissue than life
“… it’s almost like he was a “soul surgeon” (so to speak), examining life and finding ways to heal with his music. I’m very impressed with his playing,
and if you love well-performed solo piano without gimmicks – this is your ticket… if I were on the “award panels”, this piece would definitely be recommended!
I searched, but didn’t find, any examples of “live” playing, but Scott has some great music videos… I recommend you
SUBSCRIBE to his YouTube channel right away
… I did!
After some personal grieving and loss, Scott’s own words described the process of realizing these tunes as “realizing at the most existential level, I
am now a different person than I was before and how those differences, though not always obvious to many, have changed who I am at a fundamental level”…
you’ll find his emotional explorations on the deeply moving opener, “
The darker the night, the brighter the stars
“, show his total talent for drawing the listener out… in fact, this is my personal favorite of the ten songs Scott offers up on this release.
This isn’t your “standard” solo piano album… it requires close listening (preferably with headphones ON) and involvement… I give Scott a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
rating for his unique approach, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98.