Just as the caterpillar turns into a butterfly, Terry Lee Nichols’ new album Metamorphosis opens our eyes to transformations, both big and small. Each of the 14 piano pieces give unique glimpses into everything from migrations and world events to relationships and, to quote one title, the life of a cocktail pianist. It is a bold album, but Nichols’ well-crafted compositions, incredible performance and style create a warm and easygoing atmosphere. Metamorphosis is a phenomenal piano album, filled with surprises, creativity and showmanship.
Terry Lee Nichols started playing the piano at age four. Already at this stage, he had already decided that composing and performing music was his life’s goal. At Florida State University, he earned a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Composition and Theory. Nichols’ training in classical composing led him to pursue a doctorate degree at Brandeis University. After a very successful career in IT, he is now gravitating back to his first, and true, love, composing and performing music. His most recent releases are We Have Only Come to Dream (2018), The Pale Blue Dot (2020) and today’s topic, Metamorphosis.
The title track opens the album. The gentle and thoughtful build-up is a perfect illustration of how metamorphosis works; A complete transformation takes place so slowly that we don’t even realize what is happening before a magnificent theme manifests itself. It is beautiful beyond words, not unlike the miracles of nature that it imitates. Metamorphosis is a guiding star, both on a metaphorical and musical level, for everything that follows. What an opening! One word; Bravo!
Nichols is not afraid to present big and complex topics in his music. Out of Eden has the following back-story: “The five year Genographic Project, which began in 2005, was sponsored by the National Geographic Society and the Waitt Institute for Historical Discovery, in cooperation with IBM. The project was dedicated to tracing human roots in deep time to a single origin,” writes Nichols. “My ancestor’s migration route is highlighted on the map (see the digital booklet, track 2). The markers indicate that my earliest ancestor is associated with a man who lived approximately 50,000 years ago in what is now Ethiopia, Kenya, or Tanzania. By following the migration route on the map, I can trace my ancestry, which is associated with a man who lived around 30,000 years ago – and then to today’s Southern England”. The careful and somewhat dark opening on Out of Eden is a symbol on the concept of “paradise lost” idea, while the following illustrates all the dramatic events that would follow–both in ancient and modern times. It is a mesmerizing and thought-provoking piece.
Let Us Rest Beside the Cool Waters
Dealing with the fascinating Doggerland history (an area of land, now submerged beneath the North Sea, that connected Britain to continental Europe. It was flooded by rising sea levels around 6500–6200 BCE – see Wikipedia)ø What was life like at that time? Nichols makes us see how history develops and nothing remains the same. It is a dreamy and light melody, perfect for reflection.
At this stage, the album changes pace. With Grandma’s Good ol’ Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits and A Day in the Life of a Cocktail Pianist, we are safely back in the modern world. Cherished memories come to life thanks to Nichols’ inspired compositions and piano playing. We have not all been cocktail pianists, naturally, but we have had jobs we remember in a certain positive light. The same is true for many of us when thinking about our grandparents. The wonderful melody makes it all come back.
Once Upon a Time
When Once Upon a Time comes on, the album undergoes yet another metamorphosis. This part of the album is meditative and dreamy. The lovely melody becomes especially meaningful thanks to Nichols’ dynamic playing. This is an album about looking back in history, but it is also about life today and seeing nature in all its wonder. Bedtime Stories is another jewel, underlining the value of the time we spend with our children. It is the most hard-hitting piece I have ever heard named Bedtime Stories, but such stories do always have lively and scary segments. The reflective This Was One A Love Poem gives time to reflect on love and loss. The melancholy continues on The Dangling Conversation. Notice how the melody imitates talking; what a heated discussion indeed! Yet again I’m amazed by both the composition and performance.
Perhaps the finest piece on the album is Barcelona. The Dante quote in the booklet shows it is about getting lost and, given the atmosphere, finding back to yourself and life in general. Barcelona is a great place to do just that–and what an incredible melody! Just as the city, Barcelona always leaves an impression. But don’t take my word for it. Check it out yourself:
Mom, Which Picture Will You Use For Me?
No album is complete without contrasts. Mom, Which Picture Will You Use For Me? is a tear-dripping track about gun violence. The feeling of disbelief and shock is imprinted on each note. Thinking Back gives time to reflect–either on life or everything we have experienced so far on the album.
Closer to the end, One Molecule Away from Madness is a comment on the current state of affairs. Here we can enjoy Nichols’ impressive piano techniques. According to the booklet, he is “strumming, muting, plucking, scraping, picking, bowing, dragging, and rubbing.” The cover doesn’t lie when it says: “pour le piano étendu” – “for the extended piano”. I like how it shows how crazy and fragile the current political situation is. We are all, to quote Sara Manning Peskin’s book, one molecule away from madness. The Long Goodbye rounds of the album. The deep melancholy doesn’t overshadow the sense of gratitude. Each note seems charged with it. The ending though is, spoiler alert, quite sad.
In conclusion: “It is almost banal to say so yet it needs to be stressed continually: all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis,” Henry Miller said. Listening to Terry Lee Nichols’ new album, that quote seems especially true. It adjusts our eyes and hearts to see the many transformations that are going on around us. It is not just about the caterpillar turning into a butterfly, but change as an all-encompassing force. Metamorphosis is from beginning to end a delightful and heartwarming release by one of the finest and most promising pianists on the New Age music scene today.
I noticed something interesting. When listening to the release as a concept album dealing with metamorphosis, one tends to focus on the many serious aspects presented–and that is a great and rewarding way to experience it. But it is important to also notice the many playful and fun aspects of the album. It is truly the complete package, a flawless release in every sense of the word.
I’ll end this review by saying; experience Metamorphosis! If there ever was a transformative listening experience, this is it.
For more information and music samples, see terryleenichols.com.