Pianist and composer Chris Donnelly teaches at the University of Toronto and has previous teaching experience as a faculty member at the Humber College Community Music School, Prairielands Jazz Camp and the National Music Camp of Canada. Holding Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from the University of Toronto, where he studied with David Braid, Gary Williamson, Paul Read, Kirk MacDonald Alexander Rapoport and Russell Hartenberger, Donnelly was awarded The Tecumseh Sherman Rogers Graduating Award for students "deemed to have the greatest potential to make an important contribution to the field of music."
Donnelly's first recording, Solo, was not only nominated for a Juno (the Canadian version of a Grammy) but also earned him nominations for Best Recording of the Year and Best Keyboardist of the Year at the 2009 National Jazz Awards. With such a debut expectations were high for the release of his newest CD, Metamorphosis.
This new solo piano recording is a single 50-minute uninterrupted flow of improvised ideas and set pieces that will remind many, in form, of some of the work of Keith Jarrett. The differences lie in how each develops their ideas. Jarrett's long arm of classical technique and jazz fire power colors his work in a truly unique manner that is uncategorizable. Donnelly, on the other hand, seems to work with the starting point being simple two-part inventions. From these humble beginnings he weaves lines and phrases that are developments of those beginnings.
While the music is mostly in the romantic vein, the most forward looking of the pieces is "You hear the voice." After a dramatic beginning of fast juxtaposed large repeated note large leaps it settles down into a more tranquil quasi-swing section ala the music Chick Corea and Gary Burton play when recorded together.
Recordings like this one raise the question of whether the music is jazz or classical improvisation, similar to what Bach, Beethoven and Liszt were known for doing during their lifetimes. The answer will have to be decided by each listener. While the music is ostensibly inspired by the works of graphic artist M.C. Escher, it's hard to hear that influence in the music. While there is the occasional ticked note, as on "Cresting, falling away," Donnelly's technique is quite clean and careful throughout. The harmonic palette is tonal and rarely does he stray from the center few octaves of the keyboard.
For the occasional listener this recording will most probably be too heavy and slow in developing, but for others there are moments of greatness.