Solo piano music is fairly difficult to describe. There are no voices, lyrics or other instruments to discuss. There are just the compositions and the playing. For some musicians, that is enough. Paz del Castillo is one of those.
She comes from Spain, was well-educated throughout Europe regarding classical music, and has recorded three albums of original material. Her latest is Eleven Drops, eleven new tunes that Paz has carefully-composed. The music is catchy, but does not have the obvious hooks that pop, rock, country and folk utilize. This music is more subtle in its approach, but it sneaks up on you so that you find yourself playing it one more time and then a little while later one more time again. So the tunes are solid. At first you think they are fairly simple and then you realize that sometimes her left hand and right hand are going in completely different directions as if they are both leading the song along, but somehow the notes and separate melodies entwine and work beautifully together. So her playing is startlingly exquisite, like a plain rock can become a polished gem, with a clarity and from-the-soul feeling too seldom found in instrumental music.
There is no point in listing a bunch of tune titles you won’t remember anyway, but let me speak for a moment about one tune, “From the Beginning,” as an example. It starts with a couple of spaced, deep, resonating bass notes, picks up a little movement, several chords find their way in, but then suddenly this ponderous beginning gives way after a minute-a-half to a gorgeous gentle potential-stand-alone double-melody that slowly picks up the pace. It slows back down at 3:45 and eases into the third section, reminiscent of Part Two, yet different. She plays forceful one moment and soft-and-tender the next. This epic last section also could stand by itself as a separate piece. At the 5:20 mark she adds a coda. This is masterful inventive composition combined with delicate, imaginative playing with just the right touch. And that is just one number on the album.
Paz del Castillo has set the bar a bit higher in the field of solo piano music. It will be much more difficult for the next competitor to reach that height next time around.