Philip Aaberg | Piano master releases Versatile

Montana’s fleet-fingered pianist celebrates long, faceted career with new album

New Albums
Philip Aaberg, Versatile
Philip Aaberg showcases “uncatagorifiable” repertoire on Versatile.

Grammy- and Emmy-nominated Philip Aaberg, Montana’s fleet-fingered pianist from Chester, celebrates his long career on his umpteenth album, with new, old and never-released pieces.

His own and others’ compositions are featured. Aaberg calls the tracks “uncatagorifiable,” representing many of his musical styles, and the CD jacket shows a list of every kind he’s performed – from opera to orchestral to new music to funk, and everything in-between.

Aaberg has played in tons of bands and orchestras and recorded and toured internationally with masters of rock, country, bluegrass and blues, jazz, world music and classical music over the years.

There’s a concert recording of the knockout barn-burner, “Leaving Cottondale,” from his stint in the bluegrass folk band NewGrange, with the likes of multi-picker Tim O’Brien, fiddler Darol Anger, and banjo phenom Alison Brown. Aaberg says, “nobody told me piano isn’t a bluegrass instrument, so I had a fine time …”

He boogies the heck out of the rollicking “Chicago Breakdown,” and trades funky, syncopated licks on the bluesy “Bala Blue” with Kinobe, a Ugandan balaphone player.

Aaberg’s solo pieces shine. He started composing in the ‘80s, and treats us to the improvised “Dream Train,” with its pensive and relaxed pace. He’s also an alum of many of the Bay Area’s early rock and blues powerhouses, and mirrors the Elvin Bishop Group’s monster hit, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.” It’s terrific!

For the great players, music is an extension of their bodies, and Aaberg is no exception. His technique is so fluid that the musculature of his hands seems unbridled by joints and bones.

“O, Shenandoah” starts with a quiet, dissonant intro, then strides into the main theme, filling with movement, ebbing and flowing. Aaberg taps the high keys lightly as he plays arpeggios and passing tones on the bottom. Along the way, he synthesizes a string quartet that suffuses the beautiful melody. To end, he plays the first few notes of the song, fading out quietly. What a stunning rendition!

The pianist also shares some personal history on the 18 tracks in a booklet that comes with the CD. Soak it up!

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– Mariss McTucker