MIKE MASSEY – The Present
When an artist rediscovers his passion, he often traces back to a point in his life when he first discovered how deeply moving music is, returning to a simpler, more straightforward approach. For Mike Massey it’s his love of the piano, and fans of his music are the better for it.
It’s been quite an active time for Massey. In 2005 he released his first solo piano disc, Be Careful How You Say Pianist, a beautiful statement of perseverance. Later the same year he released a pop masterpiece in Attack of the Delicious, paying homage to all the great music he grew up listening to.
His latest offering, The Present, comprised of eleven Christmas standards and two originals, isn’t as different an album for him as one might think. Massey had always wanted to make an album of Christmas songs and he spoke of how much work went into the preparation. That’s because Massey doesn’t just replay the standards, he takes possession of them. The songs were rehearsed to the point of familiarity as far as the chord progressions go, and then were improvised and recorded in one or two takes. He therefore puts his own indelible stamp on every selection. Without the track listing, it might take several seconds or even a minute to recognize which standard he’s playing. You might just forget you’re listening to Christmas songs at all. Yet he remolds the compositions without bastardizing them or removing them from the context in which they were intended to be heard. Massey stretches these tunes to five minutes or beyond, largely via extended improvised introductions. “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” gets an extended improvised part in the middle and is given a touching and gentle ending. “Joy to the World” is practically an entirely new reading, melancholy and dramatic. It sounds fresher and far more interesting than any rendition I’ve ever heard. His take on “We Three Kings” is equally captivating.
The two solo songs, the title track and “Snowshine” are both in the same mold as much of Be Careful How You Say Pianist: smooth, melodic compositions gracefully articulated.
Massey nearly sold out his first run of The Present at his recent release party at Café Montmartre. The place was overflowing with a line going down the street. This fact speaks volumes about the level of respect he receives from his fans and peers. If you missed that show you’ll have another opportunity when Massey opens the Madison Area Music Awards fundraiser at 8:30 p.m. on December 14th at the High Noon. It’s probably not the last time the words “Massey” and “MAMA” will appear in the same sentence.