Here and Now: Pianist David Lanz on Movements of the Heart

By , Contributor

Photo: Rosanne Olson

After an extended foray into the musical world of The Beatles, a journey of interpretation that yielded the fine albums Liverpool (2011) and Here Comes the Sun (2012), Grammy-nominated composer David Lanz has gone back to basics. For the first time in five years, Lanz has issued a collection of new solo piano pieces, Movements of the Heart. He revisited his acclaimed album Cristofori’s Dream last year, rearranging it as an extended solo piano set as Cristofori’s Dream Re-Envisioned. Movements, however, is an hour of entirely new music.

Featuring 13 compositions, Movements is steeped in the trademark melodicism that has made Lanz one of the most enduringly popular instrumental artists of the past quarter century. From the soaring joy of “Love’s Return” to the dark melancholy of “Rainlight,” the new album boasts a wide variety of moods. Indelible melodies make tracks like the questing “The Way Home” strong highlights. I recently spoke with Mr. Lanz about the creation of this album’s worth of “love music at midnight.”

Movements of the Heart marks a return for you to Shanachie Records. What can you tell me about that label?

They’ve been around 30 or 40 years, a long time. They kind of started as a Celtic label, way back in the day. They had the band Clannad. They now specialize in a lot of world music, a lot of urban pop, jazz. They don’t have a lot of artists of my ilk, but we get along really well. We did a record in 2008, Painting the Sun, that did really well.

How did you come to release the new album through them?

I was getting ready to do another record. I was so over-baked on The Beatles, almost four and half years: two songbooks, three albums, a DVD, half a dozen music videos. It was plenty. At that point, I really needed to kind of withdraw from the guys I was playing with and just go back to my solo thing, which is really more where I want to live anyway.

Shanachie called me out of the blue over the holidays. I was down in San Francisco playing Yoshi’s, a really cool club. I got an email saying, “Hey, let’s do another record.” So I went, “Great!”

How would you describe your method of composing solo piano pieces? Does it differ from piece to piece?

Every song kind of has its own little way about it. I think more than anything, before I really get into the craft of it, I come up with a basic theme. Something melodic. I’m more of a melodicist anyway, with all my music. Some of the songs will start with more of a rhythm. I’ll just get a groove going and the melody flows on top of that.

There’s a tune on the album, “In Moonlight,” that begins with a simple but attractive theme and builds subtly atop that. Any thoughts on that one?

I just got fascinated with using more classical chords, diminished and flat five chords. Just to keep some of the chromaticism a little more intact. Most modern music doesn’t have any chromaticism anymore. It’s all pretty much diatonic, based on a major scale, or a pentatonic scale for the blues or something. So I tried to incorporate a little more of that in some of these songs. And plus that’s where my ear was going anyway.

Is it a challenge to arrange the piece after you’ve come up with the basic theme or melody?

Once I kind of have a melody in mind, I go into the craft part of it: getting the voicings, working the arrangement—arranging it in a way that it has a good song form. And then a couple of the songs were spontaneous anyway.

Which ones were spontaneous?

There are two pieces on there, “I Hear You in a Song” and the very last track, “I See You in the Stars,” that were total improvisations. And then the second track, “La Luna dell’ Amonte,” I ended up arranging it and turning it into something other than what it was originally. But it was really just a long improvisation that happened at midnight on a full moon, which was pretty cool. I just got into a zone.

Those pieces were almost spontaneous inventions that I went back to and once they were past that spontaneous point, I went in and tweaked them and arranged them a bit more, figured out the midsections and endings and stuff. So I felt it was a little more natural kind of songwriting. Some of my stuff, I’ll sit and work an idea and then come back to it years later, and then pull it out and work it and work it. I love craft part of it.

That’s why I liked doing the Beatles stuff, too. Because their songs are so simple, there isn’t a whole lot of meat on the bone - but what’s there is really great. So I was kind of trying to do the same thing, come up with some nice simple pieces and then attempt to craft it into something that works as a solo piano piece. You don’t have all the production to kind of flesh it out. It has to be done with the dynamics and little variations of the verse and such.

One tune in particular that really caught my ear was “Here and Now,” which begins with a very pensive feel and takes an interesting turn into an almost pop-type bridge.

Yeah, it’s a gospel-y kind of feel. That piece, originally I had a friend who was doing this movie, it never went anywhere, but that’s where the pensive thing came in. And I just fell into this little bridge section. To me, it’s an ode to Larry Knechtel, who played piano on “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” He had this approach that was pop with a little bit of gospel. So emotionally, whenever I play that—especially when I was recording it—I felt the spirit of Larry.

He passed away [in 2009]. He played on my Liverpool album, it was the last session he ever did before he died. He was one of the most legendary studio musicians there was. He played on all the Beach Boys’ stuff, the organ on “Good Vibrations.” He was also the bass player on the first Doors album, uncredited. He played bass on The Byrds’ version of “Mr. Tambourine Man.” So yeah, I was kind of feeling Larry around me when I was working on that piece.

It gives the song a very unique feel in relation to the rest of the album.

I wanted something, because it is such a long, kind of pensive piece, I thought it’d be nice to break it up with something. I just fell into that, it’s very different. It was just a matter of figuring out a way to build a trail back to the pensive thing. It worked out okay. The other stuff is meant to be more of a deep listening thing. It’s love music at midnight. [laughs]

Have you been playing the new album live at your recent concert performances? I know you have numerous dates coming up over the couple of months.

I’m having fun playing this stuff live. It’s always interesting to figure out what’s going to make the cut live. When you do a record, I don’t know if anyone does the whole record live, unless it’s a classic album. I did that with Cristofori’s Dream, we played almost the whole record live. But I’m doing a little more than half of this live. It’s holding up for me.

Special thanks to David Lanz for his time. For more information about Movements of the Heart, upcoming concerts, and more, visit his official website.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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