Derek Wille’s An Approaching Storm is close to a perfect solo piano album. Over the last 30 years, Wille has produced hundreds of recordings for other artists – so it is no surprise that the first release under his name is of remarkable quality. Mature, rich, and complex, the album moves and evolves like a force of nature. It is, at the same time, surprisingly accessible and filled with pieces that have the potential to become modern classics. An Approaching Storm is, in short, a triumph!
Derek Wille is a recording artist, composer, performer, and producer. Learning and living music from inside the LA and D.C. jazz scene, Derek experimented and developed an authentic musical voice. “I have been performing, producing, and composing music for decades,” says Wille.” “But this music project comes along, giving me an opportunity to get my music out to the whole world for the first time. Solo piano is personal, intimate, and real… I have been feeling remote and disconnected. The pandemic. Middle age. Life in general. Inspired by hope, this collection of music is my intention for the future.”
The album is produced by Michael Whalen and mastered by Tom Eaton.
An Approaching Storm
Albums that start with the title track always have, in my opinion, an aura of confidence. It is as if the artist is saying that no build-up is necessary; everything this album is – and isn’t – can be found on this particular track. An Approaching Storm has a gentle opening. Melancholy seems to hang in the air; it is a melody you can feel. But the storm itself doesn’t appear to be threatening, and there is no noticeable fear. There are lighter segments here, too, giving the impression that everything is going to be ok. That sets the mood for the whole album. I believe Derek Wille’s personality and optimism shine through. In other words, An Approaching Storm is a fantastic album-opener!
Last Kiss is a romantic and deeply moving piece. Wille plays softly, underlining the gentle kiss. Even though it is goodbye, the melody is all smiles and happiness. It is easy to sense that this could have been a sad melody, though – but that is not the way it turned out. Last Kiss is the first of many solo piano jewels on this album.
When we know the album’s context – the pandemic, isolation, and middle age – a piece like Persistence takes on a new meaning. The soft playing is gone with the wind, or the storm, if you will, and the music has a new intensity, which is very different from what we have heard so far. But it is not about defeat and loss, but determination. We can sense both the struggles and the happy ending.
Derek Wille has a present for solo piano fans at this stage: Cold Day is a brilliant piece! With the same finesse as Yiruma’s River Flows In You – and a melody made in heaven – it instantly finds its way to the listeners’ heart. I’m sure Chris Martin and Coldplay could have turned this incredible piece into an international hit in less than an hour, which is a statement of Wille’s talents as a composer. Cold Day might be about a chilly day, but wow, the piano is glowing. Bravo!
After that raw display of talent and creativity, the playful Still Friends always brings a smile to my face. It fades beautifully into the jubilant We Made It. The rhythmical lower note that comes and goes resembles Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire, giving the piece – and conclusion – a victorious feel. For piano playlist curators, We Made It is a true find. It is, simply put, pure playlist gold.
Song For Linie and Green In Blue have a thoughtful and reflective quality. They offer time to think and breathe before Melody’s Melody seems to comment on what a piano tune is. Nowhere on the album is Wille’s background in jazz more prominent. Talking about music that moves, I don’t know if Cindy K is a ballerina, but wow, this melody is danceable in a classical ballet, tiptoe, style! I’m happy to report that the album ends on a high note, thanks to Waking Up Late Morning. It represents a feeling that you take with you long after the album is done playing.
In conclusion: “In order to realize the worth of the anchor we need to feel the stress of the storm,” Corrie Ten Boom once said. Derek Wille’s An Approaching Storm is filled with pieces that are like snapshots of everyday moments, emotional anchors that will survive any storm. There is enough life wisdom here, too, that could fill several books. Yet Wille somehow manages to keep an unpretentious and easygoing style. The sound is profoundly modern, without neoclassical baggage of any kind. Whalen and Eaton have done a terrific job producing and mastering the album.
Do you know that electric feel in the air when a storm is approaching? Derek Wille’s solo piano debut has this charged quality too, rich with emotions, atmospheres, and well-crafted melodies. It will be received with accolades throughout the solo piano world, underlining that Derek Wille is a man for the future.
For more information and music samples, visit derekwille.com.