Masterful pianists exercising their endowment in a solo album suffer from a congenital propensity to overpower the listener by showcasing all they can do in restricted periods. For this reason, a sizable amount of recordings sound, at the end of the day, sterile. Even passionateness can’t defeat the bad taste of a strained hyper-technicality; spaces that should remain empty get wholly occupied by superfluous prestidigitations.
Thollem McDonas is vaccinated against the aforesaid virus. An instinctive explanation is that he seems to hold a bigger picture in his brain, something that transcends mere improvisational skillfulness. Call it a compositional frame of mind, or maybe a deeper cognition of the vibration surrounding truly sentient beings (which, quite regrettably, remains undetected most times). The clearness of the imagery, the distinctive lineaments of each transition, the long-lasting feel of perfect accompaniment of every scene. And, last but not least, an innate ability to clutch our attention without gimmicks.
Meeting At The Parting Place is, in a way, the symbol of a continuum. Along four tracks of solitary performance, McDonas effortlessly repels pianistic unimportance by means of an immediately identifiable musicality. A tunefulness evident just everywhere, from classic determinants (“Facing West To The East”) to speed-of-light excursions across the lower regions of the keyboard (“And Each Other”). The resultant beauty is unplanned, therefore all the more admirable. In spite of his lonesomeness, Thollem implicitly invites the audience to follow him through visions defined by a combination of romanticism, common sense, and Nancarrow-esque oblique maths.
Countless road experiences and partnerships, plus the difficulties of survival in a growingly callous artistic environment, have shaped McDonas’ prowess over the years. The capacity of rendering them into creditable material – minus the deplorable self-love of the sanctified “names” – is what places him at safe distance from platitude. Elaborate chords, compelling arpeggios and glorious reverberations are captured from the air to be embossed on our ears. There is always room for thought in between abrupt turns towards complexities that want to be solved. But perhaps we like them better when they aren’t.