Bill Cornish is a San Diego-based keyboardist across
a broad landscape that traverses Rock, Jazz, World Fusion, and Orchestral. What follows here is a review
of the presented solo material on his mp3.com page.
While his performance gigs have included the keyboard chair for the rock act
The Thomas Connor Band, jazz fusion group Tropic Zone and the group Crystal,
his solo work resides mostly in the realm of New Age with welcomed forays into
Smooth Jazz. In fact, it would be what this writer calls 'Old School New Age'.
That is, the Bill Cornish catalog on mp3.com recalls the golden years of the
Windham Hill and Narada labels in the mid to late '80s. Lots of real piano and
warm, lush analog sounding synths. Digital sounds played in real time where
the synths are used merely as additional sound pallettes and are not the main
performer or compositional tool (Bill is quite the craftsman player and composer).
Cornish lists Shadowfax, Bob James, Vangelis, Deodato, and Kitaro as similiar
artists and this describes his work quite well.
The click through to his mp3.com page... well presented graphically, not so
much muck to wade through like this writer's. Just a few links to buy his "Leap
of Faith" and "A Change of Seasons" albums at cdstreet.com,
a few press blurbs and banners, and ten mp3s (of which only one is downloadable
as of this writing). One gets the sense that the 'retail ready' CDs (vs. the
lower audio quality of mp3 CDs) would be well bought given the already superb
production values and sound of the mp3s streaming at 128Kbps.
So here's the song to song breakdown:
"Shinto" is from Cornish's "Leap of Faith" album and is
labeled World Fusion (due to the Japanese bamboo flute melody and the artist's
Shinto shrines inspiration) yet would be more appropriately categorized as New
Age. This is the epitomy of the 'Old School New Age' sound, elements of Kitaro
and Shadowfax shining through. An all-synth piece with the aforementioned warm
and lush patches. The flute sound and melody is gorgeous and emulates the 'real
thing' quite well. Towards the middle of the piece the flute sound calls and
answers another fine sounding kyoto line while bubbling over rich string pads
and a syncopated percussion groove that has gradually built up from an ominous
ambient beginning. The groove is a punchy synth bass tied to an acoustic sounding
back beat drum kit wit h auxillary accents. This has been one of favorite tracks
on mp3.com for about a year.
The Road Less Traveled" is a piano and flute piece with minimal
staccato accents of synth strings. Acoustic New Age recalling George Winston.
This is a "long distance collaboration" between Cornish on piano and
Garrett King of Jazz911 on flute. Clocking it at just under six minutes, it
is dynamic and fluid. Not quite meditatively relaxing (due to the dynamics and
movement of the piano figures) but nevertheless quite peaceful and an enjoyable
listen. At times, the piano arpeggios sound like a time signature-jumping quote
of the traditional holiday Carol of the Bells... all the while providing wonderful
harmony for the legato flute line floating above. This is the one downloadable
track. Get it while you can, as it does not appear to be included on either
of Bill's albums.
"Days of Summer" is a Smooth Jazz fest. This is the Bob James influence.
A bubbling vibraphone line carries the melody. A smooth groove featuring, again,
a nice acoustic sounding drum kit and an especially fine and funky Jaco-sounding
fretless bass line rounded out by electric piano rhythm. From the "Leap
of Faith" album.
"A Change of Seasons" is placed in the Symphonic Electronica genre
on mp3.com... but again this reviewer is still hearing New Age (albeit a more
aggressive performance). A piano piece with pizzicato string lines. Again, some
of the arpeggios recall Carol of the Bells... but hey, that figure seeps into
my head year-round, so it is at least memorable. Technically, Cornish displays
mastery of the keys on this piece with plenty of flowing figures across a broad
dynamic range (given the compression of the mp3 algorhythm). Each phrase is
well crafted and performed and seems to have a proper head, body, and closing...
like a perfect sentence. From the "A Change of Seasons" album.
About "First Snow", the artist states the track "brings back
a very specific memory of being in a little one-room cabin in Alaska watching
the snow fall early one morning". The piano plays a more harmonic and rhythmic
role here, though makes its own melodic statements when not supporting the melody,
provided by a synth patch somewhere between the timbre of oboe and clarinet
(call it a 1.5 reed sound). The melody line is melancholy yet cathartic and
the vibrato on the oboe/clarinet sound is well used for a lyrical and expressive
subtlety. The piece begins peacefully at a ballad pace but slightly builds in
volume and tempo as the snow accumulates and gently rounds out like the smooth
resulting drifts at the end of a heavy fall towards the end of the 4:09 run
time. Definitely a well-named 'tone painting' from the "Leap of Faith"
"Scatterbrain" is another Smooth Jazz track that plays well back
to back with the "Days of Summer" track and has a similiar 70s Bob
James feel. The melody here comes from a Rhodes-type electric piano sound and
sits well over a laid back yet funky groove. From the artist's "Change
of Seasons" album.
At just under eight and a half minutes, the album title track "Leap of
Faith" is labeled Symphonic Electronica. Perhaps this is what Cornish initially
envisioned when composing, but the final result is again more New Age. Perhaps
even akin to the 'last but not least' slightly different track on a Jean-Luc
Ponty album (the electric violin sound of the melody is a nice touch). There's
lots of great counterpoint going on here in the dialog between the violin and
the piano with accent colors of a resonant frequency-sweep filter synth line
and glockenspiel-type bell sounds. Somewhere around 5:40 of the epic 8:20 run
time we hear a build up on tympani and tom type percussion that leads to a slight
change in feel... the resonant synth pad begins to burbble, the violin and piano
up the ante in notes-per-phrase and pace before rounding out again in the last
several minutes. Definitely an intelligent composition and an interesting listen.
"Nightflight" wins the 'which-of-these-is-most-unlike-the-others'
award of these ten tracks, due in large part to the more electronic sounding
bass and sequenced drum sounds. It's a Smooth Jazz/Acid Jazz jam featuring Bill's
piano chops in fine form. It begins with some Linn type high-pitched tom bubbles...
the synth pads enter, a mellow round funky synth bass, the Down Tempo/Trip Hop
type drum pattern. Then the piano hits. The melodic runs here are quite expressive
and executed well, especially the syncopated descending figure at around 3:30
which kicks booty with some major jazz color. Overall a cool juxtaposition of
quantized electronica with the very human keyboard skills of Cornish. From the
"Leap of Faith" disc.
Per artist, "peaceful memories of Nova Scotia" are captured in "On
The Shores of Cape Breton" from "Leap of Faith". A solo piano
piece with minimal horn synth pads in a more classical realm... again with hints
of those Carol of the Bells-type arpeggios. Bill definitely digs that riff.
"Away" is a sort of Smooth Jazz vibraphone ditty over a polyrhythmic
World Fusion groove with some choir/string pads and piano flourishes and hints
here and there of a tamboura or sitar sound (filtered with a nice sweeping pan
production touch that seques phrases). Another Shadowfax nod indeed (always
a good thing). On the "A Change of Seasons" disc. This track and "Shinto"
are definitely my faves.
Yeah... so overall, fans of Windham Hill and Narada in the 80s, and the well
chosen similiar artist list above, can't go wrong with Bill Cornish. The production,
composition, and performance are all top shelf. His material consistently represents
the New Age and Smooth Jazz genres very well.