Music takes us on emotional journeys, going to places far beyond the here-and-now. It expresses feelings and thoughts in ways words cannot. James Michael Stevens’ new album is called A Place Beyond. Each of the 10 carefully crafted pieces gives a glimpse into “a blissful place”, to quote one title. It makes us reflect on the power of music and how it unlocks doors in our minds that we didn’t know existed. A Place Beyond is a phenomenal solo piano album with incredible replay value.
James Michael Stevens is a composer and arranger residing in Nashville, Tennessee and the Dean of the School of Music at Welch College in Gallatin, TN. Dr. Stevens currently has more than 7,000 music publications at Sheet Music Plus, as well as additional publications with many worldwide mainstream publishers. His most recent albums are From the Heart (2023), Many the Moods (2023) and today’s topic, A Place Beyond. The album is available as sheet music here. Check out his catalogue on Spotify.
A Place Beyond
The title track opens the album. It is a gentle and heartwarming piece. Careful chords and a light melody great us like an old friend. Instantly, we understand where Stevens is taking us. It is an imaginary, peaceful place for daydreaming, relaxation or creative thinking—far from the hubbub of everyday life. The melody is beautiful beyond words. It is a terrific opening!
In terms of layout, the first part of A Place Beyond is about dreams, contemplation and peace, while nature and culture inspires part two. The kind-sounding Dream Away makes the mind wander. It is so pretty and gentle. It makes one think about the music of Claude Debussy. Each note seems charged with a special energy, capable of transporting the listener to dreamland.
Drifting at Shimmer Lake
My favorite piece on the album is Drifting at Shimmer Lake. This short piece is way more powerful than the name implies; Like a classical masterpiece (by Grieg or Schumann, for instance), it takes charge from the very first note and doesn’t let go. It balances melancholy and happiness flawlessly. The lake is a much used theme in classical music, and wow, Stevens really nails it. Bravo!
Where there is a lake, there is usually at least one more. That is true both for geography and music. Lady of the Lake is a slower and deeply poetic piece. A lifetime of memories seems to flow from Steven’s piano, and the good and bad experiences all come together in the big symphony called life.
If you want to know what this album is about to, listen to A Gentle Place. The reflective yet rapid melody transports the listener to somewhere far away. It is light and uncomplicated, but never simplistic. When we reach to Blissful Peace, it is as if we have reached our destination. The meditative atmosphere feels heavenly. But don’t take my word for it, check it out yourself:
Elegy at Stanpit Marsh
The last part of the album is, as mentioned above, more nature-oriented with a healthy dose of melancholy. It ensures that the album is very well-balanced. The dark yet elegant Elegy at Stanpit Marsh makes one reflect on how the environment affects our mood. Even a beautiful tableau of a nature reserve can’t cure a deep sadness, but might make it more bearable. It is a fantastic composition that I’m thrilled to play on my piano. Mountain Stream has some of the same atmosphere. It is easy to envision the flowing water and feeling its healing effects.
Triste Serenata is just that, sorrowful and despairing. It shows Steven’s ability to present an emotion clearly and without effects or grandeur. I believe this is why his music is so appealing, both to play and to listen to. Sunset Italian is the perfect album closer. It is a bit more somber than I would expect given the title, but that is what makes it real and interesting. A sunset has many interpretations. Anyone with an open heart can take part and explore what it means.
In conclusion: “There’s a place beyond words where experience first occurs to which I always want to return. I suspect that whenever I articulate my thoughts or translate my impulses into words, I am betraying the real thoughts and impulses which remain hidden,” Jerzy Kosinski wrote. When listening to James Michael Stevens new album, it is as if the music comes from that enigmatic place beyond words that Kosinski writes about. There is something remarkably intuitive about his compositions. They are also incredibly relaxing and peaceful.
James Michael Stevens composes with sheet music in mind. His playing is very clear and distinct, making each note shine. It is a delightful contrast to Lang Lang and George Winston and similar artists, where a display of advanced techniques is a goal. Stevens’ music is never simple though, but direct and accessible. I know many will appreciate this quality.
True to its name, A Place Beyond by James Michael Stevens takes us there, to a point far from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Beyond words and the known, but still instantly recognizable and intimate. That is a major accomplishment.
For more information and music samples, visit jamesmichaelstevens.com.