Artist: Steven Cravis
Musicians create for many different reasons. For some it is about the quest for fame and fortune, while others may be motivated by the sheer joy of self-expression and creativity. For pianist and composer Steven Cravis, there is a more idealistic inspiration. In our recent interview, Steven shared: “My musical vision is to create music that first unifies the listener with themselves, and then gives them a sense that they are connected with everyone/everything. I also like that instrumental music is truly universal and communicates to everyone in the world, transcending language.” A feature article I wrote about one of Steven’s earlier releases, Lavender Dreams, went into detail about his motivation as well as his musical background. So rather than repeat it here, I’ll direct readers who may be interested to click on the link for that article.
There is a distinct difference between that earlier album and his new one. While Lavender Dreams featured Steven’s keyboard orchestration accompanying his piano, Cloudwalker is purely a solo piano recording. Here are some of Steven’s thoughts from our interview: “The whole album was a very planned effort to make as complete a solo piano recording as possible (slightly over an hour of music) that would be satisfying to fans, perhaps create an ‘It’s about time!’ reaction from many fans who have patiently waited for my solo piano recordings. It had been a long while since I had recorded a solo piano album. 2010 was Healing Piano but that was completely improvised. This album, Cloudwalker, has more arranged songs, including two cover tunes. This is my first full-length piano album to include cover songs, and a collaboration song.”
I always like to delve into an artist’s creative process as well as getting a behind the scenes look at the making of an album. In this regard, Steven shared some interesting perspectives: “I sought out studios around San Francisco, and was really glad to find Studio Trilogy with recording and mixing engineer Justin Lieberman. There were further processes done on this album that I haven’t done on a recording before, like 6 microphones around the piano per track, later mixed for a very 3D sound (even for stereo image) thanks to great recording and mixing by Justin Lieberman and great mastering (mastered for iTunes too – a first for me on any album) by Michael Romanowski. One interesting and subtle thing I didn’t expect, that happened in the recording studio, was holding some of the ending chords, and waiting, was allowing some really nice piano harmonics to settle in, as the sound naturally faded out, so in the production process we purposely kept long endings for most of the tracks.”
Now that we have some background on the project, lets get acquainted with the music itself. The opening song is the album’s title track. This is the collaborative effort that Steven referred to earlier, and about which he shares: “ This was co-written with my friend Micco Bonterra. He showed me the beginning parts, and I stepped in, and we went back and forth as if completing each other’s musical sentences on the piano! There are four complete improvisations, and they are produced with a slightly more ambient, spacious sound on the mixing of the piano microphones. I felt really proud about finally getting this onto a solo piano album, because I really love the song.” It’s upbeat and uplifting energy makes for a perfect intro to the album. There is a cinematic quality to it and I could definitely imagine it as a theme song for a movie, or used in a scene where a triumphant or feel-good soundtrack was needed. It’s a stunning piece of music that really draws the listener in and gets them eager to hear more.
This is followed by a more understated, yet equally heartfelt composition called “Stairway to Spirits.” According to Steven: “I felt very inspired by the composition and playing style of one of my favorite composers Liz Story, like melodies moving in blocks of almost-jazzy chords.” Of the next song, Steven shared: “In practicing for the album, I found myself most drawn to playing one piece, ‘Poppy’ (which was named by my daughter Sasha, because it reminded her of our dog ‘Poppy’ playing in a park). It is one of my personal favorites on the album, perhaps because of a carefree, drifting type of sound it has, while at the same time staying very arranged.”
A composition entitled “Between Ages” has an elegant air, with a blend of new age and neo-classical elements. About the title, Steven reflected: “As a father, I notice that our children’s personalities can be between when they were a ‘little kid’ and a teenager, when not definitely one or the other. Also I liked the double meaning that could be interpreted, ‘ages’ as in time generally, in history.” Another song with a personal story, and also related to children is “Pavla’s Boy.” This was inspired by a woman that Steven met via social media, who after many years of sadness about not being able to conceive a child, finally had success. The joy and appreciation she expressed at this dream come true had a profound effect on Steven and he felt compelled to write this exuberant instrumental composition reflecting it.
As mentioned, there are two cover songs on the album. The first of these is the much beloved classic, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” Steven’s take on it is nothing short of magnificent, and for me, truly one of the highlights of the album. This rendition definitely leans toward the jazzy side of the spectrum in its chord selection and the artistic license taken with the melody. I would also describe it as elegant and quite grand; an outstanding showcase for Steven’s prodigious piano playing.
The other cover tune is a song by Sting entitled “Children’s Crusade.” Unlike “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” this song has a more melancholy air, as can be expected considering that it is written about some rather dark times in English history. I can’t imagine anybody but Sting writing a song about this in such an articulate and wistfully poetic manner, but I found Steven’s instrumental version just as evocative and deeply moving, even without the lyrics. Steven also cites Sting as one of his influences along with George Winston, Liz Story, and Oscar Peterson.
The album draws to a peaceful conclusion with “Lullaby,” which Steven describes as: “a simple, yet important to me, song to include at the very end of the album, in case anyone was listening as they fall asleep. I really wanted it to end on a light, ethereal note. There is some of the main theme melody of this tune played at the very end, in a modified key (in relation to the usual corresponding bass note and chord) to hopefully throw the song and listener off into the dreamy realm.”
As much as I greatly enjoyed the orchestration on Steven’s Lavender Dreams album, the solo piano format on Cloudwaker allows his impressive skills as composer and pianist to stand out in a different way. The fact that he is able to do both forms equally well gives an indication of his stylistic range that I don’t believe we’ve seen the extent of yet. But in addition to Steven’s technical and compositional abilities, there are emotional and spiritual elements that come through in his music, inspired by his desire and intention to create music from the heart. Cloudwalker has a perfect balance of all these qualities and makes for a loftly listening experience. In Steven’s words: “The most significant thing that could happen with my music on a broad scale is for it to help people feel whole, reduce stress and contribute to peace.”
Click the links below to hear samples and/or purchase this album: