DIVIDED Album Review: Doug Thomas
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Anna Yarbrough is a New York based composer, performer and educator. As a pianist, she has a strong background of session work that has brought her around the world—including in Paris where she has penned her first solo release, Divided. Recorded in Brooklyn, this project is a concept album that concentrates on the division between brightness and darkness, tension and release—and everything that fluctuates in between. Through a collection of eight piano pieces, Yarbrough displays her growing musical identity and creativity at writing minimal-impressionistic yet romantic pieces.
Introducing the album, Intro: Underwater makes subtle musical references to the motion of the waves. Its brevity and constant motion sets the tone for the rest of the album. Prolongating the idea of the previous piece and its continuous running phrases, Turbulent at Heart is based on a repeating motif that builds up different levels of tension. Presented by Yarbrough as the foundation piece of the project, it expresses the division, the tension, and the release of the final piece Redemption: Home with You. Mirroring the compositional technique of Turbulent at Heart, this last piece is contrastingly full of hope and highlights a sense of comfort and closure. Restlessness is a piece in motion, whose piano patterns suggest hoping movements that gain more and more weight as the music goes. It finishes on an impressionist passage that suggests the composer’s musical influences. Sharing the same qualities of motion and musical impressions, Re-learning the Rhythms is a piece that plays on odd rhythms, time signatures and note groupings. There are more references to Impressionism in Divided, notably in the intro for Walking the In-between—which then morphs into a minimalistic piece that alternates between smoothness and roughness—or Spring/The Promise that displays a melting-pot of textures and Debussy-esque piano patterns. Absolution (Hymn) is a simpler piece that allows the complexity and contrasts of the album to gain more cohesion.
I admire the composer’s attention to detail in Divided; each piece is written in a key that flows seamlessly to the next one. Something that I do myself as well—and which I believe adds an unconscious sense of continuity to the music.
Divided is a musical portrait of Anna Yarbrough; revealing her cultural influences—her childhood in Northern Ireland, her time in Australia, or her current relocation in the United States—as well as her musical influences—whether it is through Einaudi, Debussy or Chopin, a trio which interestingly enough seem to have influenced the current Contemporary Classical scene a lot. The album is a statement of confidence for the composer and allows her musical personality to resonate, and it has been a very good piece of news to learn that Yarbrough is already working on a second release. Divided is a concept album and a complete story album, where each piece moves the listener towards dark and bright shades.