Such an ironic title.
For the music of Visions is heard, felt, sensed. Certainly not seen.
That’s not to say, however, that it can’t be visualized.
But then, the deeper meaning of the word "visions" (note that the song title and the CD title suggest not one, but at least two or several sightings) involves comprehension of a thing that can’t be seen.
Things like beauty, spirits, wisdom and art.
And so, Visions offers vision.
Australian pianist Mark Isaacs, who enraptured listeners with his last CD the sometimes ebullient Keeping the Standards establishes dramatic contrast between the successive recordings.
So much so that Visions and Keeping the Standards could have been conceived and performed by two different artists, had the listener not known any better from reading the name, yes, "Mark Isaacs," on both CD covers.
Keeping the Standards lets the listener know that Isaacs is in full command of the keyboard, with splendid technical facility, imaginative re-phrasings of well-known melodies and an irrepressible buoyancy on which much of the music floats with varying degrees of rippling rapidity.
However, something dark this way comes on Visions.
Whether the follow-up album is the result of a drastic change of personal circumstances or an artistic statement arising from Isaacs’s long-simmering interest in the moods revealed on Visions, no matter.
Isaacs’s trio inhabits a more subdued, more meditative space on Visions. Moreover, its playing is a model of restraint. Isaacs’s intention was to set up his favored songs from the 1960s and 1970s as glowing, glimmering jewels, wordless but speaking to the listener through the evocation of under-the-surface feelings as the songs are recorded.
The most appropriate song for Visions is "Moon River," a perfect merging of wistfulness and musical execution. Singable, uncomplicated in form, yet unforgettable once it’s heard, "Moon River" allows Isaacs to follow the song’s path without excessive elaboration as he revels in the strength of the melody itself.
The other songs of Visions, though, require some reworking of the harmonic structures, consistent with the original songs’ to be sure, but with broader chords or more complex modulations. "Both Sides Now," never a rousing number in its original form to the extent of making audiences jump to their feet and clap hands and dance, slows to an even more ruminative tempo for consideration of the song’s shadier recesses as Isaacs refuses to resolve the final chord for a seemingly interminable length of time before the repeat. "Visions" itself extends Stevie Wonder’s original introduction throughout the length of the song as Isaacs slows the rhythm for wondrous consideration of harmonic possibilities, subtly twisting the conventional chords into dark visions of quietude mixed with meditative solitude.
Isaacs has teamed with a bassist, Ben Waples, and a drummer, James Hauptmann, who share his concept of music’s ability to reach listeners’ inner depths of emotion. Waples characterizes the songs with his sinewy patterns, softly expressed yet firmly rooted. And Hauptmann embellishes the clarity of Isaacs’s articulation and sensitivity of touch with, not so much percussive force, as broadening spectrums of colors.
Mark Isaacs’s Visions, while acknowledging the melodic appeal of the music of a generation ago long enough for the songs to be called standards has created his own statement of inner peace reinforced by the music he sees with insight and fondness.