Where does inspiration come from? Throughout history, the common understanding was that creativity came from divine channeling or “invoking the muse,” to quote the Odyssey. Later though, that concept was replaced by rationality. But when listening to two-time Grammy winner Peter Kater’s upcoming album Soul Story Improvisations, one can’t help reflect on the nature of inspiration. Kater calls his technique Piano Readings; improvised pieces of music inspired by and played for individuals while lying under his piano. Kater’s new album contains nine pieces – or nine piano readings – that delight, engage and amaze. It is a phenomenal release that, thanks to its emotional and heart-warming qualities, will last long in any solo piano playlist. Soul Story Improvisations once again confirms that Kater is the finest pianist on the New Age music scene today.
The album is available on Amazon.
Peter Kater has released over 70 albums and has scored the music for over 100 television and film productions including 11 On & Off-Broadway dramatic plays. He has won the Grammy for New Age music twice; for Wings (2020) and Dancing On Water (2018). He has received 14 Grammy Award nominations.
About the piano reading technique, Kater says: “In intimate settings over the years, I’ve noticed that I’d feel compelled to play differently depending on who I was playing for. Curious, I started inviting people, one at a time, to lie under the piano while I improvised just for them. Intrigued, I explored further and started sitting and chatting with individuals before playing for them and noticed that while listening to their life stories I’d hear melodies and segments of music in my head. This evolved into what I now call Piano Readings.”
The album opener is called Starry Night. The first few notes, slow and hesitant, plus the reverb, make the audio canvas huge. The listener can sense the enormity of space and the loneliness that always comes with that notion. But warmer chords and notes quickly follow, underlining that no matter what happens we are not alone. It is perhaps the most important message of all. Starry Night is, in short, a terrific album opener!
We are still in open air as Touch of Rain comes on. Thanks to its atmosphere, it is easy to envision the feel of the first few raindrops. Also, notice the melancholy. It makes me think that the piano reading that led to this fine melody was never about rain, but a sad but unavoidable life occurrence. The light rain might be a metaphor for that.
The Path is Clear
One of the finest pieces on the album is The Path is Clear. Notice how the melody carefully takes shape; Out of the improvisation comes a theme that is both mighty and passionate. I would guess that this soul story belongs to a young person, who finally has found his or her path in life. It is charged with the Sturm und Drang of youth. It is breathtakingly beautiful!
Spiral Outward is a contrast. The listener will immediately sense the feeling it communicates; of letting go and losing control. Yet out of the uncertainty comes both knowledge and determination. It is a mix of emotions many will relate to, even from the first listen. I very much like the open ending. Find Me is, as the title implies, about longing and desire. In the intro, we can sense many questions and self-doubts – yet slowly the momentum grows and from around three minutes onwards the “me” has been found. I’m certain that this particular piano reading was about the process of being found, and not about life in loneliness.
The title track features a cascade of emotions. I’m tempted to say that it is about the process itself, the connection created by the piano readings. But it can also be about one particular soul story. It is hard to say. Nevertheless, it is a spectacular piece that always makes me hit the replay button. Kater’s Yamaha piano has a divine sound.
Another winner is Majesty Falling. The somewhat hesitant opening is slowly replaced by a sense of success and triumph. The mighty melody rises and falls with majestic grace. The falling part too has a sense of defiant elegance. I can only imagine what piano reading that brought on this inspired piece, but there is a big dose of gratitude here too – which makes falling a lot less painful.
Talking about gratitude; it is the driving force behind the next-last piece, Full Circle. It is one of those melodies that has it all, both gentle low-points and spirited highs. Kater is able to go from the one to the other, effortlessly. It is the hallmark of a world class pianist and composer in my book. United rounds off the album in a thoughtful way. It seems to underline the value of everyday life. Being united is not about grand feelings, but those quiet moments in the company of the people we love. The reflective ending makes it even more tempting to go back to the start, I think.
In conclusion: We live in a time of stress, uncertainty and social unrest. I’m sure many can identify with the person on the dramatic cover artwork; that the soul is trying to “break free”, metaphorically speaking. There is a lot of comfort in Soul Story Improvisations. It might not solve the problems we face, but it gives us time to reflect, breathe and relax.
When listening to the album one can’t help “tuning into” the narrative that these pieces contain. But it is also possible to look past the “stories” and focus on the music alone. The nine melodies are sublime, perfect for thinking, dreaming or as a backdrop to a romantic dinner. Improvisation gives them a natural flow. Pieces like Spiral Outward, The Path is Clear and Majesty Falling will improve any playlist of quality solo piano music.
If you go to one of Peter Kater’s concerts, you might get the chance to try his piano readings in person. But if not, listening to Soul Story Improvisations is the next best thing. It is without a doubt one of 2022 finest solo piano releases and an important album in Peter Kater’s discography. Even though the piano readings are personal, their sound and expression are universal.
Listening to Soul Story Improvisations got me thinking about a George Bernard Shaw quote: “You use a glass mirror to see your face: you use works of art to see your soul.”
For more information and music samples, visit peterkater.com.