I spent my Saturday and Sunday evenings this week at two vastly different concerts: the first was the high-energy, sing-it-loud jazz performance by the joyous Dianne Reeves at the Cistern. The second was pianist Conor Hanick’s performance of The Book of Sounds, an intellectually stimulating minimalist concert piece by the German composer Hans Otte. 

Since I just left Hanick’s show, and his sensitive playing is still in my mind, I’ll discuss him first. Hanick is a young pianist known for being a champion of contemporary and new music. He’s become something of a festival regular, with this being his third time playing Spoleto.

He opened this show with a short discussion of the piece we were about to hear, saying at one point that the composer’s intention had been to investigate “the sound of sound,” and offering the example of saying a single word over and over again, until it’s stripped of its meaning. The Book of Sounds is an attempt to do that with notes and chords. The piece is in 12 parts, and repeats, builds upon, and deconstructs a series of chords and motives. 

For a minimalist piece of music, The Book of Sounds is beautifully melodic with equally beautiful and lush harmonies. The way the harmonies ran into and overlapped each other, I was repeatedly reminded of the pealing of church bells — if those bells were softer and featured more minor notes. Though most parts of the 12 featured some element of those cascading harmonies, there were some deviations. One part consisted of a series of individual notes played only by the left hand, while another was a simple melody. Taken together, the parts form a contemplative, quieting whole. 

I’d never seen Hanick perform before, but after seeing this, I absolutely would again. Hanick is a sensitive player whose appreciation for and enjoyment of this piece was evident in the thoughtful way he approached each separate part, allowing every bit of sound to die out at the end of one before beginning the next. Those seeing him play the Concord Sonata on June 2 are in for a treat. 

And now for Dianne Reeves: what is there to say that reviewer Stratton Lawrence hasn’t already? This show was one of the greatest exhibitions of joy I’ve seen on stage. Reeves’ rich, sonorous, eminently smooth voice filled the Cistern effortlessly as she sang her heart out with songs that included an arrangement of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain,” and one rousing, African-inspired, Latin-inspired song of nothing but nonsense sounds. She explained toward the end, still singing, that the song was a tribute to all the world singers she loves whose languages she doesn’t understand. This was a perfect example of the kind of fun-loving reverence Reeves has for the simple act of sharing music — with her band, with her audience, with the world at large. 

A highlight of the show for me? Hearing Reeves give sung introductions to her band members which must have been pre-written, but sounded perfectly improvised. She didn’t miss a beat, even when she went on a tangent about how good the vibrations from her bass player’s playing made her feel. This woman is generous with her voice and her song, and I walked out under that full moon feeling nothing but grateful. 

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