It's certainly easy to see, or rather hear, why David Lanz's Cristofori's Dream deserves this deluxe re-release/re-envisioning. Anyone who calls him or herself a connoisseur of new age music must consider Cristofori's Dream to be one of the seminal and landmark recordings in the genre. The original 1988 release broke Lanz wide open as an outstanding artist in the just emerging category of contemporary instrumental music (or new age, if you prefer) . Just a few bars into the re-recorded title track (here performed as a solo piano piece, and also the first song on this CD), one will immediately appreciate its subtle majesty, its emotional gravitas, and its immediately approachable melody, which weds neo-classical influences to a free-flowing mood. Lanz plays thetitle song, note for note as it was originally written and recorded, whereas the other six selections from the 1988 release are here "re-envisioned" with some improvisations and variations (but nothing overly drastic so purists can breathe a sigh of relief).
Sonically, Cristofori's Dream…Re-Envisioned benefits from all the advances in recording technology made over the last two decades (not that there was much wrong with the first version). Mixed by Gary Lanz and mastered by Paul Wickliffe, you're not going to hear a better engineered piano recording any time soon, I'd wager. The recording quality of the seven (from the original album) tracks is meticulous and flawless. Besides those seven selections, the CD also contains a live version of the title track, performed with a full orchestra in Seattle, and an album-closing short piece titled "Seoul Improvisation" (you can guess where it was recorded, I would hope).
Much like seeing a first love again for the first time in years, hearing songs like "Spiral Dance" (delicately lively, romantic without being the slightest bit cloying), "Green Into Gold" (subtly dramatic and powerful without being overbearing), and "Wings to Altair" (hauntingly beautiful, brushed by hints of jazz, and possessing that wonderful refrain of interplay between upper and lower registers that evokes a soft melancholy) will take listeners back and remind them why they fell in love with this release in the first place. That sentiment may sound cliché, but I defy you to deny that these "old friends" will not tug at your memories in the best possible sense. Yet, because Lanz has subtly reinvigorated them with those moments of improvisation and variations, your enchantment at rediscovering them will also include revelations of something different. I'd be remiss to not mention the gentle nostalgia of "Summer's Child" which gets a particularly warm interpretation here, as well as the sprightly "Free Fall," a tune which, for me, captures the image of red and gold leaves dancing and blowing in the wind on a cool, crisp autumn day, sunlight peeking through the clouds highlighting their vibrant colors. Of course, the topper is Lanz's now near legendary interpretation of the Procol Harum classic "A Whiter Shade of Pale" which never fails to trigger heartfelt memories of my youth (tracing back to the band's original, as well as the first time I heard Lanz's version). The song on this CD is even more evocative than the 1988 one, if that is possible. I shouldn't be surprised, though, after hearing the artist's two recent Beatle cover albums he hasreleased (Liverpool - Re-Imagining the Beatles and Here Comes the Sun, both of which are highly recommended). Lanz has apparently developed a unique talent for taking iconic songs and making them his own.
The two remaining tracks are certainly worthwhile in their own right. On the live orchestral version of the title track, the full power and drama of the piece comes through loud and clear. Paul Speer (a label mate of Lanz's in the early days of Narada Records) captured the performance on tape and it's a damn fine live recording. While it's a bit robust when compared to the solo piano version earlier on the disc, it is no less heartfelt. The album concludes with a two and half minute improvisation by Lanz during a concert in Seoul, Korea. Quite minimal when compared to the rest of the CD, it's a fitting conclusion to a great album. Lanz lovingly paints a somber but beautiful tone poem, meant (per liner notes) as a musical "thank you" to the Korean people for their support over the years.
Cristofori's Dream…Re-Envisioned is not just for Lanz completists – not by a longshot. The subtle twists and turns of improvisation that Lanz executes on the original versions are alone worth the price of admission, not to mention the music itself, the quality of the production, engineering and mastering, and the two extra pieces as well. Beautifully packaged, too, I might add, with copious, entertaining and quite revealing liner notes by David Lanz himself.
Rating: Very Good+