Justin Kauflin, captured by a photographer (above, unknown to me) is making his customary deep dive into the music that he is playing. It is “customary” for Mr Kauflin to do so. In fact, it is the only way, it seems, that this young pianist experiences music; as a baptism, a complete immersion and – as a consequence – a renewal by the fire of the music that propels his entire life. In his short, expressive liner note to this disc Coming Home Mr Kauflin tells of how life changed miraculously for him after he turned completely blind at eleven years of age. “Instead of everything going black,” he says, “What I see in my mind’s eye is extremely colourful and textured.”
Unsurprisingly, this results in a kind of transmogrification of mind into music. In other words, by his sheer genius, the colour and texture that he “sees” is poured out into melody and harmony that dances around each other as if impelled by an invisible, interminable rhythm. Mr Kauflin also says (in his note) that his world “became more vibrant”. Every act of musicianship reflects that aspect of his being. Sometimes the rhythms dictate a sort of stately, more sober vibrancy and he opens the recording with a song “Coming Home” that reflects this aspect of his experience. It begins with a profoundly solicitous theme that soon gives way to a playful solo that evokes visions of probing curiosity born of a delightful single-note romp with his right hand, impelled by chords that seem to suggest the sensation of touching familiar things as the pianist seeks an old comfort-zone.
Almost all of the music on this album reflects variations of the theme of Coming Home. The sensation of “Looking Forward”, for instance, is driven by a yearning melody and palpitating rhythm that has everything to do with hope and expectation. “Transition” is another variation – and perspective – on “Coming Home”. And, by his own admission, “Country Fried” sings in praise of nostalgia as well. But there is another kind of music here as well and this is the music of experience. Most of it has been written by Mr Kauflin to echo his ongoing journey – both musically and otherwise – but the credits of some of the songs is also shared by the incredible bassist, composer and co-producer on this recording, Derrick Hodge. The other tunes – by Sufjan Stevens, Mulgrew Miller and John Lennon – all reflect a sense of peace that is couched in melodic elegy.
Bassist Chris Smith, drummer Corey Fonville and guitarist Alan Parker play with extraordinary empathy; the soli are eloquent and virtuosic, and each musician is fully attuned to the pianist’s vision and artistry. Meanwhile Mr Kauflin wishes to – and succeeds in – opening our minds to his world that is “extremely colourful and textured.” And we ought to consider it a privilege to be admitted into this place where the music glitters as if by the magic, glimpsed by moonlight that is somehow transformed from something ink-dark, into a vividly colourful landscape. For in sheer colour, texture and variety, in the depth of characterisation and in the exceptional range and refinement of his pianism, Mr Kauflin here imparts an enormous power and stature to this music. With buoyant, aristocratic grace and almost insolently effortless virtuosity he makes this music come alive for us.
Track list – 1: Coming Home; 2: Looking Forward; 3: Pendulum; 4: Transition; 5: Lost; 6: Country Fried; 7: John My Beloved; 8: Present Day; 9: Strawberry Fields; 10: Somethin’ Somethin’; 11: Somethin’ Somethin’ Revisited; 12: Carousel; 13: Strawberry Fields Solo;
Personnel – Justin Kauflin: keyboards; Chris Smith: acoustic and electric bass; Corey Fonville: drums and percussion; Alan Parker: acoustic and electric guitar
Released – 2019
Label – Justin Kauflin Music/Qwest Records (JKCD003)
Runtime – 55:32