James Fernando is reviewed by Michael Doherty’s Music Log

by Michael Doherty

James Fernando: “The Lonely Sailor” (2019) CD Review

I’ve been drawn to the sound of piano my entire life, perhaps in part because my grandfather was a pianist and taught me a few things on that instrument when I was young. I love how gorgeous and moving the instrument can sound in a classical setting, and how fun it can be in a honky tonk or rock and roll setting. And sometimes what I need is just some solo piano work. Jazz pianist James Fernando has been playing the instrument since he was a child. Last year he released his first album, Extended Layover, with vocalist Mingjia Chen. And now he has released his first solo album, The Lonely Sailor, featuring all original compositions. There is a passion to his playing, and a beauty to these tracks that a lot of people should find compelling.

The disc opens with its title track, “The Lonely Sailor,” which is gorgeous, moving and even haunting at moments. It is perhaps especially effective when listened to alone at night, when you can get swept up in the piece’s emotion. It feels like an intimate voice in a much larger and darker expanse, and then rises to fill that space, as if to gain control of the landscape. And then it ends gently, softly, quietly. This is, for me, one of the album’s best tracks. It is followed by “Untold,” which takes its own interesting journey, beginning in a place that feels of melancholy and anguish, yet is pretty. This track takes some unexpected turns, speaking with power at moments, pulling me in to its world. Then “The Journey Within” seems to begin in a darker space. If it is a look within, as its title suggests, perhaps at first we are unsure we’ll appreciate what we find there. But then our steps become lighter, less tentative, as we grow more comfortable, more interested in what we discover. There is magic there after all, and it turns out not to be a lonesome place.

“Ancient Lullaby” begins in a delicate, gentle place, as winds sweep across the landscape. It then opens up into an enchanting world, as if we stepped through a shimmering doorway into a dream. Then “Troubled Waters” has a somewhat unsettling and tense opening, and it’s hard to find one’s footing. Things then calm for a moment. Are we safe, or are we drowning, looking up at the sunlight from beneath the surface? It builds from there, growing in power, in volume, to its conclusion. And then we are through to the other side, right into “The Other Side Of The Storm,” a strange dreamlike place of wonder and without pain. Its beauty soon surrounds us, envelops us, heals us. There is something pretty about “The Last Sunset At Sea” right from the start. And it feels that all these pieces are connected, taking us on an oddly personal journey into an unfamiliar world. The disc and the journey then conclude with “Where The Grass Is Greener,” which begins with delicate steps, as across a reflective pool, the ripples sent out and meeting themselves on their way back from the edge. There is no danger here, but something perhaps gently guiding us as we pass through the dream.

CD Track List

  1. The Lonely Sailor
  2. Untold
  3. The Journey Within
  4. Ancient Lullaby
  5. Troubled Waters
  6. The Other Side Of The Storm
  7. The Last Sunset At Sea
  8. Where The Grass Is Greener

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