Chris Donnelly – ‘Metamorphosis’ Review


“What goes around comes around” is the best way to describe jazz pianist Chris Donnelly’s latest CD, Metamorphosis.

With this release, the Canadian composer and improviser wanted to experiment with the concepts of infinity and recursive structures (hence my comment above). He was inspired by the Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher who gained worldwide fame with his unique sculptures. Escher used imaginative shape-shifting to transform an image right before a viewer’s eyes. His most popular pieces, “Metamorphosis” and “Metamorphosis II,” demonstrate how this works.

Donnelly wanted to see if he could try this technique in music, using melodies to show pictures that change, yet maintain balance at the same time. The result is Metamorphosis, a 50-minute composition that begins with one theme which Donnelly builds on until he brings it full circle, returning to the original theme. There are 10 movements in the piece, (think tracks or songs) but they blend so seamlessly together that only a practiced ear (and the display on your music player) can tell the difference between them. Even more incredible is the fact that Donnelly recorded the album in a single take! Of course, he performed it a few times before selecting this version, but still – one continuous work of solo piano played for nearly an hour without a break? Donnelly is not only a musician with a lot of stamina, but an ambitious one at that!

However, those who know Donnelly’s background are likely not surprised by any of this. Many consider him to be a musical prodigy, mentioning him in the same breath as greats like Mozart and Beethoven. At the tender age of three, the Toronto native was enrolled in Humber College’s Community Music School. By 10, he was already improvising and playing in ensembles. He went on to other prestigious institutions, acquiring various music degrees and honors.

His debut album, Solo, took the industry by storm, leaving everyone wondering what he could do to follow its smashing success. I’m not a piano aficionado, so there’s no way I can do Donnelly’s technique justice. However, I can say with absolutely certainty that Metamorphosis’s concept and execution is unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. It’s fascinating to feel the emotional ebb and flow of the piece as it transitions from carefree to intense to peaceful to sinister, etc. Even if you make a point of sitting down to track the variations like I did, you become so mesmerized by the melodies that you won’t even realize they’ve changed. And no matter how determined you are to pay more attention, you’ll suddenly find yourself at the end of the piece, recognizing it as such because the closing strains are the familiar chords that he began playing at the start.

I highly recommend giving Metamorphosis a listen for a musical experience unlike any other. For more information on Metamorphosis, please visit Chris Donnelly’s website.

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