Patterns is Sean Mahnkenís debut CD of original piano solos. Richly varied in moods and emotions, this CD was fifteen years in the making. An electrical engineer who minored in music at Utah State University, Mahnken began composing at the age of eighteen as an outlet for his emotions. He started piano lessons at the age of eight, but quit after three years. In college, he became frustrated by not being able to play the popular music of the time, so he started making up his own music, finding chords and harmonic patterns that worked for him. Mahnkenís playing style is very natural and expressive, but his piano doesnít quite keep up with him on some tracks, sounding a bit metallic, as digital pianos do. A few of the tracks have some additional keyboard accompaniment, but most are solo piano. Patterns is a very solid first recording.
The CD opens with Flight of the Hero, an energetic, upbeat piece with a catchy rhythm. The beginning is dark, with a basic bass line and a simple melody that crosses over into the deep bass of the piano. From there, the tempo picks up and the mood lightens, creating a feeling of freedom and triumph. The ending returns to the opening theme and concludes peacefully. Katelynís Laugh is a warm, sweet piece that conveys a feeling of contentment. Asyleís Burden is named for a character in a fantasy novel Mahnken is writing(!!!). Darker and more brooding, it is very effective. The Quickening of the Falcon: A Tempest Reborn is a passionate multi-movement work that Mahnken considers his most-difficult to play. Turbulent and powerful, heís all over the piano on this track. Patterns is one of my favorites, reminding me a bit of Suzanne Ciani. Its graceful flow is punctuated here and there in the deep bass, adding an element of surprise. Alyse is another favorite. Pensive and deeply emotional, itís the perfect accompaniment to watching it rain. Followed by Rain, the mood is sustained. Sounds of rain and thunder accompany the music, which begins with Mahnkenís pianistic interpretation of the sound of thunder (sounds good!). Lively and dancing, I really like this one, too. Nightshroud goes even darker and more ominous. One of the longer tracks (five minutes), the piece has time to explore and develop several themes. Joye brings us back to the sunshine and feeling of gentle contentment. A bit wistful and dreamy, yet substantial, this is a lovely piece. The closing track, Sunrise On Frozen Meadow is a bit more abstract and paints a lovely scene of light dancing and sparkling on an icy meadow.
Patterns is a very impressive debut from Sean Mahnken, showcasing a variety of playing and composing styles as well as a wide emotional range. Perhaps an acoustic piano for the next CD? Patterns is available from www.seanmahnken.com, cdbaby.com, and amazon.com. Very enjoyable!
...and the hero rushes in
I started reading the notes and bio of Sean Mahnken and the first thing I realized is that this is truly a humble human being that is in awe of his own talents. How unpretentious and refreshing! His new album Patterns is sort of an epic, that is, fifteen years in the making. Mahnkenís solo piano compositions encompass a wide variety of styles that include contemporary, World and what I call book score music. He has a fiery, staccato side that makes the pulse pound and the adrenaline rush. He also has a deep, passionate side that warms the heart and makes you think of the importance of family and friends.
Sean sees patterns in everything. Some are fairly obvious, but others are more subtle and sometimes hidden. His music brings into focus the geometry and symmetry of everyday life. Where we see a beehive, Sean might see thousands of hexagons arranged in neat little rows. Remember inside every rough looking geode is an elaborate and colorful arrangement of crystals. Let us look at some of his discoveries.
Kamaís Theme is Seanís first contribution to the album. Wistful and warm, the song is a tug at every heartstring and a foundation for a daydream. The emotional tune is for days when your imagination takes flight and allows you to climb above the clouds if only for a minute. To many a minute is a lifetime.
The title track Patterns, is a light, intricate waltz of wide rays of sunshine that fall on squares of cornfields. It is the odd and even petals on Shasta daisies and it is the white dot-to-dot connections we see in the stars every night. Patterns are wonderful things. Seanís tune reminds me that the sad goodbye in the morning turns into the hello kiss in the afternoon and the drowsy eyed story time turns into the sleeping angel of the evening. One of the better tracks on the album and my personal favorite.
A violent crash of thunder opens the stormy track Rain. Visions of a slate colored sky and constant rain offers a gloomy forecast for the day. This short track is a reminder that a little rain must fall. Nothing is certain however, but the tune offers little glimmers of hope. Lightning and thunder will move on, the clouds will part and the sun will return once more.
As I mentioned Sean has written some book-scores, music that accompanies a fantasy novel he is writing. Flight of the Hero, the opening tune on the album is one of them. It is the best tune on the album. It is an anthem to the end of civilization as we know it and the man or woman that will change everything. It is a story of a character that is not afraid to use his/her mind and heart as a weapon. Loss is quite sad. It is as if the whole story of a life has been erased by some cruel god. The only way to get it back is by searching the memory. As the sun rises and warm winds gather, so commences The Quickening of the Falcon: A Tempest Reborn. The solar power literally invigorates our hero and she/he is ready to fight the good fight and overcome the odds.
Sean Mahnken is a quitter. Really, it says so on his bio. He began piano lessons at age eight and quit. Luckily, he began again at eleven and finally, for him at least, he began composing in earnest at age eighteen. He earned an Audio Electrical degree from Utah State and minored in music. I think his music is a major force in the genre. His songs are well constructed and if anything animated. I just hope Sean does not wait fifteen years to compose his next opus.
Rating: Very Good (4 out of 5)
It has always fascinated me how different solo piano recordings can sound from each other. Where one may be quiet and delicately reflective, another can fill the room with strength and punctuation. Patterns by Sean Mahnken is strong and confident. He strides across the piano keys with conviction, even in his softer pieces like Kama's Theme and Asyle's Burden.
I think perhaps the prettiest melody on the CD is Loss, and I also really like the title track. Fans of George Winston will love Mahnken's music.