James Fernando – The Lonely Sailor Review
By: Illiam Sebitz
Pianist James Fernando, like so many, began his foray into music through classical studies; his instrument of choice is the piano. During his time in High School, he was exposed to jazz like so many youths are, the spark was ignited. Fernando was nominated for the Jazz Fellowship Awards of the American Pianists Association. An astute learner, Fernando attended Berklee College of Music on scholarship, where he graduated summa cum laude in only 3 years.
A few of the notable artists and ensembles he has worked with are Chris Cheek, The Mark Zaleski Band, and The Either/Orchestra. Fernando’s first solo release, The Lonely Sailor, features an acoustic and electronically augmented piano.
“Untold” is a steadily paced andante selection with a modern romantic melody that is augmented by jazz colorings. The form is evident as the theme is developed. The center improvisational section fits well within the written material. Fernando’s improvisational skills are melodic, and his time sense is focused. The overall effect is still “classical” in nature, more so than jazz. The rhythmic aspect of the material is the most significant defining feature that pulls the selection to the modern classical genre. Fernando’s sense of the pulse is beautiful but informed by the classical tradition. No use of electronics where used in “Untold,” and that adds to the beauty and impact of the melody.
“The Other Side of the Storm” is a stunning ballad written by Fernando. His touch on the piano is sensitive, and the dynamics between the melody and the accompanying structures are balanced and filled with emotion. The use of mics to capture the acoustic piano and then routed to a computer for “processing” to add a sound effect to the music is a little confusing. Having such a beautifully played and composed composition paired with what mostly comes across as varying degrees of white noise is a little mystifying, but that is what is here none the less. The combination of electronics and acoustic instruments in the classical genre has been around for years. Edgar Varese used electronic media for sound production, and his use of new instruments and electronic resources led to his being known as the “Father of Electronic Music.” Fernando seems to be following this tradition and has a personal way of working in this hybrid medium. The result though is a little confusing; the use of electronics only adds ‘noise’ and not any meaningful rhythmic or melodic substance to the composition. There is a pattern to the electronic noise because it originates with Fernando’s performance on the piano. Is this Fernando posing the question that Varese did too, “what is music but organized noises?”
Fernando is certainly a creatively competent musician that utilizes his many years of study to evoke a darkly hued debut solo album. His musical aesthetic is squarely formulated in classical music. Though his credentials are grounded in jazz, The Lonely Sailor is firmly planted in the classical genre with a modernistic narrative offering a full palette of utopian hubris. The purely acoustic compositions are sublime, but to a stubbornly conditioned ear, the electronics are baffling, but then again, anything new in music has always been called noise. Either way, The Lonely Sailor is a stimulating listen and Fernando is an excellent pianist.
Release Date: February 8, 2019
Label: James Fernando Music