jazz, free-jazz and improvised music

brian agro | poems and preludes

Brian Agro 'Poems and Preludes'

Brian Agro | poems and preludes

percaso production cd 018
Tomas Bächli / piano

Tomas Meyer and Brian Agro / liner notes. Music by Brian Agro. Recorded live direct two-track at Ballhaus Naunynstrasse Berlin, 1999 August 2 & 3 by Marcus Waibel. Edited, mixed and mastered at Elephant Château Studio Basel, 2000 July and December by Max Spielmann and Christoph Gallio. Graphic design by Anne Hoffmann. Cover Art: Alain Huck

Brian Agro was born in Hamilton Canada in 1953.He took piano lessons for 8 years with the Ontario Conservatory until he was 14. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts degree,but then returned to Hamilton to work in his father’s insurance business. At the same time he started studying jazz arranging with Jim Howard,and composing followed shortly thereafter. Brian has lived in Toronto, New York and Berlin, where he now spends most of his time.His first CD, “A Hole in the Ice” is also on the Percaso label.

Poems and Preludes presents twenty of Brian Agro’s latest compositions for solo piano, interpreted and performed by Tomas Bächli. Brian Agro, born in Hamilton, Canada and now living in Berlin, released his debut CD on Percaso in 1989 titled A Hole in theIce. Tomas Bächli, born in Zurich and now also living in Berlin, has been awarded numerous prizes for his work in promoting, interpreting and performing new music. Describing these pieces does not come easily, although listening to this music comes with great ease. Compositions for solo piano often capture my interest and imagination, although I often struggle to describe exactly what it is that so captivates me. Such is the case with Brian Agro’s music. All of these pieces are short (from one to four minutes in length), and are defined by what Thomas Meyer describes in the liner notes as being largely “unremarkable”. These poems, preludes and études each capture their own unique mood, theme and presence. Agro’s music is a book of snapshots. The style might be described as neoclassical, reminiscent in turns of Satie or Debussy, but this is merely a suggestion, an affinity only hinted at in this music. At times the music takes flight in a sudden flurry of keys, at times it returns to the soil, sullen and slow. These pieces are at once simple and complex, remarkable and unremarkable, caged and free. Poems and Preludes is a lyrical and evocative new work.Incursion, Richard di Santo


Brian Agro is a Canadian-born pianist/composer who, like Gunther Schuller, William Russo and Anthony Davis, straddles the sometimes-overlapping worlds of jazz and contemporary notated (i.e., “classical”) composition. Poems and Preludes is a collection of Agro’s pieces for piano, played here by Swiss pianist Tomas Bachli. Those who know the Percaso label for documenting the European avant / free jazz scene (the fine trio Day & Taxi, for one) may be a tad surprised by the “accessibility” of the music here. But hopefully not dismayed, for P & P is a fine, charming collection of miniatures for piano. They share qualities of some pianists’ legendary works for ECM Records in the early 70s: the unsentimental spaciousness of Paul Bley, the mix of folk simplicity and gentle urbanity of Dollar Brand / Abdullah Ibrahim and the romantic, rhapsodic nature of Keith Jarrett, while influences outside of jazz would include the piano music of Maurice Ravel (impressionist) and Phillip Glass (minimalist). And of course, the shadow of The Duke falls across the key now ‘n’ again. Yet all these sounds are not present as mere pastiche but are fully assimilated into Agro’s compositional approach. This music – extremely lyrical while avoiding sappiness, direct, reflective but never self-absorbed – seems “familiar” while also seeming like it belongs to no particular time or place at all.jazzreview.com, Mark Keresman

In Poems and Preludes, Tomas Bachli gives a powerfully expressive solo piano performance of modern classical music by Brian Agro. The forms are varied, contrasting, and adventurous, and at times evoke the spirit of Ferrucio Busoni’s early 20th century Sonatinas, particularly at track number four, entitled “What Goes Up.” However, as a composer, Agro is not so easily pigeonholed, as his technique is all encompassing, making use of the complete harmonic spectrum and orchestral range of the modern grand piano.And his chromatic concept should not be underestimated. Even students of improvised music should benefit from close attention to the highly original chord structures and melodic treatments here.Make no mistake about it: these are perfect piano recital pieces. The depth and breadth of these performances make them as important as Paul Jacobs’ late 1970s sessions for Nonesuch Records.Jazz Now, James D. Armstrong, Jr.

1 Comment

  1. Tony Agro

    Amazing – talented man . Proud to be his cousin. I will say… it took me a listen or 2 before I could hear HIS MUSIC…

    WONDERFUL! it is my “go too” when I need a reflective time for myself….

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