Ben Folds – So There (Part 1 - Concerto for Piano and Orchestra)
2015 – New West Records
Ben Folds has always been one of my favorite artists. His musicianship, creativity, and songwriting were always a draw for me. In this vinyl, the first disc contains “8 Chamber Rock songs featuring yMusic”. The second disc has one side devoted to the “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra” and the other towards “Instrumentals”. For this post, I’m only going to be commenting on side three, the Concerto (don’t take that as a subtle comment on the rest of the album, I really enjoy all of it and will be posting Part 2 in the future). As the name suggests, this piece is lead by the piano, which is played beautifully. The mixture of piano with Fold’s percussion arrangements is something special. The piano moves back and forth between being part of the percussion section to a melodic instrument that plays off the strings. He uses extended techniques (like muting the strings in the piano) at points throughout the piece to lend a great texture. Folds was touring playing some of his normal repertoire arranged for orchestra few years ago and I’m not sure if he was the one that arranged it all, but he definitely picked up a few tricks from that setting. This piece sounds like it came from a veteran orchestral composer. This is definitely a piece worth hearing. It does lead to a broader topic in music: the difference between musician and performer, and where the two meet. There are plenty of “musicians” who are handed songs, arrangements, told what to sing or play and are just a face to sell records. There are plenty of musicians who understand how instruments work together, how to convey their message through music, and how to continually evolve and innovate. Great musicians can also be great performers, which is the case with Ben Folds. He could have taken the formula that brought him success and regurgitated it ad nauseum while touring and hopefully making money. He chose to push himself and learn arrangement for an orchestra, and as we will see when I get around to Part 2, the “chamber pop” songs are something special too. As a listener, I always find it interesting to hear someone try something new and different. In the case of Mr. Folds, it has been a fruitful pursuit. Check back in a few weeks for Part 2!