Tiny Thunder   CB0064

The music

Zuòwàng is a piano solo.

Tiny Thunder is for piano four-hands (both parts performed by Bryan Pezzone).

The composer

Nicholas Chase has headlined festivals in Europe and the US as a composer and a performer. His music has been commissioned and performed by the Long Beach Opera, the Philadelphia Classical Symphony, the California E.A.R Unit, New Zealand’s 175 East, and numerous international soloists. His interactive, site-specific composition NOVA: Transmission was exhibited as part of the Whitney Biennial in New York, and his Ngoma Lungundu opened the New Music+ Festival at the Janaĉek Academy, Czech Republic. He was an inaugural Composer Fellow at the international Other Minds Festival in San Francisco and in 2015 was honored by the International Center for Japanese Culture, Tokyo. As a producer he has produced music of Annie Gosfield, Anne LeBaron, the California E.A.R. Unit, Mark Menzies, Morton Subotnick, and others. Cold Blue Music has released one previous album of Chase’s music, Bhajan. (www.nicholaschase.net)

The performer

Bryan Pezzone is a Los Angeles–based pianist who has worked with noted conductors Pierre Boulez, Oliver Knussen, John Adams, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Kent Nagano and performed as a soloist with major orchestras. During the 1990s, he was principal pianist with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. He has performed at LA’s Monday Evening Concerts, the Green Umbrella Series, the Southwest Chamber Music Series, and the Ojai Festival. He has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, the Joffrey Ballet, and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. He has been a featured performer on more than 100 major film scores and has recorded new-music albums for the Cold Blue, Mode, Tzadik, Varèse Sarabande, Decca, and Nonesuch labels.


“As far as piano music is concerned, it is a wonderful time to be alive! The combined legacies of John Cage, Olivier Messiaen, and Morton Feldman are being sublimated and reimagined in so many different configurations, as this new disc of Nicholas Chase disc demonstrates. Performed by Bryan Pezzone, it is difficult to conceive music of more quietly trenchant beauty. 

“Pezzone’s luminous touch is certainly at the heart of the matter. Zuòwàng rarely rises above a delicate pianissimo, yet each phrase cuts through the silence always just below the music’s broken surfaces, chords that never quite break out of the scales birthing them, nor should they. As the meditation suggested by the Chinese title, this is music of leaving behind as much as of reflection, each sonority fading into something just outside of palpability. Pezzone’s pianism is perfect for each moment’s sedate unraveling, lines and blunted corners of thought and reflection navigated with the delicacy of non-linearity. 

“The titular piece begins similarly but eventually gathers something like momentum, though even so, and even beyond the half-way point, it circumvents facile categorization as the lines separating chord, tone, and arpeggio blur and disappear. So do conventional notions of tonality and modality. Sure, you could shove it all in the minor box, but Chase’s music flirts with minorness rather than embracing it. There’s even a major cadence just over 14 minutes in, complete with a few Chopinesque passages in the right hand for good measure. Despite that, or maybe in addition, his interregistral approach takes a century of pianistic development into consideration without ever being rendered subservient to it. The most conventional element is a slow post-Wagnerian dynamic increase, but it is burdened with none of the German composer’s dramatic baggage. As the two-piano textures thicken—both played by Pezzone—and Chopin morphs into something radically like the Blues, the epic and transgenerational quality of Chase’s vision is revealed. 

“This is a relatively brief but monumental album of piano explorations well worth hearing. As always with Cold Blue Music entries, the production is second to none, but this would be for naught if the music didn’t follow suit. It does, and its epic qualities render listening time irrelevant. Sit down, revel, forget, and enjoy!” —Marc Medwin, Fanfare magazine

“Chase’s Tiny Thunder … features Bryan Pezzone preceding the nearly twenty-minute title piece with Zuòwàng, a Chinese word that refers to a Daoist form of meditation involving sitting and emptying oneself mentally. Zuòwàng is, as expected, delicate, serene, and sparsely woven, rich in pregnant pauses—slow, drifting music custom-made to immerse oneself into. It’s not bereft of activity, however, as indicated by the surge in energy that transpires halfway through its eleven minutes. Tiny Thunder unfolds at a similarly contemplative pace and develops even more patiently; it’s also the more brooding and melancholy setting. It follows Zuòwàng, however, in the way its intensity escalates just past the midpoint and makes good on the promise of its title. As the music swells into dense, resonant clusters, it’s easy to picture Charlemagne Palestine wholly absorbed at the keyboard during one of his own engulfing reveries.” —Ron Schepper, Textura

“Composer Nicholas Chase gives to us a new EP of mesmerizing solo piano music entitled Tiny Thunder. Pianist Bryon Pezzone gives us carefully poetic performances of the two movements that exemplifies the Radical Tonality that the Cold Blue label so effectively and promisingly espouses.

“The emphasis throughout is on ultra-slow, infinitely sustained piano explorations that take their time unfolding into a mysterious world we can sense and dwell in happily for the brief but event-filled vibrancy of the work. The second movement ups the pace yet maintains the hovering mystery of it all.

Chase triumphs. Give it a listen.” —Grego Edwards, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

“It’s an exquisite release.” —Rupert Loydell, International Times

Tiny Thunder . . . is the second Cold Blue album to present compositions by Nicholas Chase. The first was devoted entirely to the four-section work scored for electric violin and live electronics, entitled Bhajan. . . .

Tiny Thunder” is the second of the two tracks on the new album. The title of the first is Zuòwàng, which is a solo composition, while Tiny Thunder was scored for four hands on a single piano keyboard. Only one pianist is listed on the album jacket, Bryan Pezzone; so it is likely that Tiny Thunder was recorded in a studio with Pezzone playing the second part while listening to the already-recorded first part.

“For those curious about the title of the first track, zuowang is the name of a Taoist meditation technique. The first syllable can be translated as ‘take a seat,’ while the second may be translated at ‘forget,’ ‘overlook,’ or ‘neglect.’ One may thus interpret the phrase as a form of meditation that detaches mind from ‘worldly’ perceptions.

“In the absence of a score, I can only speculate that the setting for meditation is one in which the dampers are lifted for the duration of the composition, allowing superposition to encourage mental detachment. Tiny Thunder also sounds as if the dampers are kept lifted; but there seems to be more of a well-defined pulse around which the individual phrases unfold. There is also a sense that, because Tiny Thunder is about eight minutes longer than Zuòwàng, the attentive listener may be inclined to ‘parse’ the listening experience into a sequence of episodes.

“Having recently experienced two of the three next@90 programs of new choreography performed by the San Francisco Ballet, I was struck by the fact that Pezzone’s résumé includes performing for the Joffrey Ballet. Mind you, it would probably be a challenge to create choreography for either Zuòwàng or Tiny Thunder. However, since it is likely that most listeners will approach the Chase’s new album as an individual listening experience, the idea of offering a shared experience through choreography strikes me as a fascinating challenge.” —Stephen Smoliar, The Rehearsal Studio

“In the interview that Jim Fox kindly gave us some time ago, the founder and artistic director of Cold Blue Music identified an ‘uncluttered, evocative, and unusual sound, with a wistful emotional edge’ . . . as one of the salient features of the music produced by his label. Now, this recent release from the now-historic American label effectively exemplifies this characteristic. The two piano compositions written by Nicholas Chase are in fact distinguished by their liquid and sensual sound, marked by a rarefied impressionism that has its references in composers such as Satie and Mompou, but also Feldman and Harold Budd. If the first piece lives on the alternation—dictated by intuition, rather than by a precise formal plan—of chords and melodic fragments, interspersed with suggestive pauses, in the second, longer piece . . . the music seems to acquire a sense of directionality—even without following classically understood forms of development—and more clearly delineated melodic profiles. Even the expressive tone changes slightly, and the introspective and slightly melancholy atmosphere opens up to some flashes of light. Chase, like several other Cold Blue artists, works by subtraction, and his music requires a great sensitivity for detail and for nuances, timbre and expression. Luckily for him, and for us, Bryan Pezzone’s interpretation is admirable in this sense, and gives us an immersive and evocative listening experience.” —Filippo Focosi, Kathodik (Italy)

Tiny Thunder is a new CD of graceful piano music by Nicholas Chase. . . . This album includes two new works performed by pianist Bryan Pezzone. The press release for Tiny Thunder states that: ‘Held in motion by their internal logic, these pieces drift and weave through alluring, often serene musical landscapes.’

“Nicholas Chase has enjoyed a long career as a composer and performer. He has appeared in a number of concert festivals in Europe and the US. Chase has participated in the Whitney Biennial in New York and was an inaugural Composer Fellow at the international Other Minds Festival in San Francisco. At the California Institute of the Arts, Chase studied with Morton Subotnick, Bunita Marcus, Stephen L. Mosko, Mary Jane Leach, and James Tenney, among others.  

“While carefully circumscribed within its stylistic boundaries, the piano music of Tiny Thunder is capable of a wide range of expression. Often quiet and serene, there is never any flashy technical excess in the more active stretches and the music is understated even when it turns agitated and turbulent. There is little formal structure or harmonic progression; the refined playing by Bryan Pezzone is the critical element for realizing the composer’s intentions.  

Zuòwàng, the first track, opens with a series of soft notes followed by silence that allow the tones to ring out. The tempo is moderate and deliberate so that the simple phrases evoke a settled feeling. Spare harmonies, consisting of two or three tones, gradually add notes from the deep bass registers to provide a reflective sensibility. High plinking notes occur every so often, as if sending a signal. There is no extended melody, just short phrases separated by moments of silence—this is intimate music inviting close listening. Bryan Pezzone’s delicate touch on the keyboard is essential, maintaining a gentle and introspective quality. As the piece proceeds, more notes are added to the phrases and they occasionally break into separate lines for short stretches. There is a final return to the simple phrasing of the opening just before Zuòwàng arrives at its fading finish.

“The second track on the CD is Tiny Thunder, a longer piece at almost 20 minutes duration. This piece is written for four hands and was realized in the recording by overdubbing. As with Zuòwàng, this begins with simple piano lines and short phrases in a slow, dreamy tempo. The notes are nicely sustained and brief intervals of silence allow the tones to fully ring out. A shift to the lower piano registers along with more prominent bass notes in the phrasing create a quietly powerful feel. A high melody line against the very low bass notes adds tension. When the phases move up to the middle registers, the rhythms become more agitated and culminate with light tremolos.  

“Delicate high notes are heard at 6:50, accompanied by solitary deep bass notes. There is an almost ominous feeling in this. As the piece proceeds, single notes heard in the upper registers are joined in harmony by deep, sustained tones below. The tension grows with the higher notes straining for optimism while being weighed down by the lower line. Soon, a fuller harmony is heard with many new notes and roiling tremolos in the phrasing.  

“Lush and dramatic, waves of sound are soon flowing off the keyboard. A repeating series of high notes is reminiscent of raindrops. The harmonies in the lower registers paint an image of clouds moving across a dark sky. There is a stormy feel with strong phrases and many driving notes. The piece continues on, gradually increasing in tempo and dynamic followed by a swirling, pounding texture. A final low chord rings out to finish the piece. The playing throughout is beautifully expressive without resorting to keyboard histrionics. Tiny Thunder is one long crescendo that builds from a pensive tranquility to a convincingly vigorous tempest without exceeding the expressive limits of its economical musical materials. Tiny Thunder is a polished combination of refined music and a thoughtfully sensitive performance.”—Paul Muller, Sequenza21

“Bryan Pezzone plays two compositions by Nicholas Chase. . . . Two pieces of piano music, the first is Zuòwàng, which means ‘sitting, forgetting’. This is a slow and meditative piece of music, and my obvious references would be Claude Debussy and Erik Satie. . . . For me, this is very much the sort of music I like to play when I get up in the morning. I don’t have to think about doing music reviews (yet!), and I like to play quiet music. . . . The reflective mood continues in the title piece but slowly picks up speed and more notes and becomes quite lyrical and, indeed, a form of tiny thunder.” —Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly (Netherlands) 

“Like many of the other artists on the Cold Blue label, Nicholas Chase on his latest release Tiny Thunder is strictly a composer, the performance—in this case two extended piano pieces, is handled by Bryan Pezzone. . . . The opening track is the nearly twelve-minute Zuòwàng, a wandering, dreamy and peacefully introspective piece that is at once majestic and beautiful, subtle and revealing, with parts of the passages sometimes going silent for long periods, bathing the listener in a gentle warmth. The near-twenty-minute title track picks up where Zuòwàng leaves off; in fact a listener might not even notice that a new piece has started, though as the piece proceeds in a similar style, it becomes apparent that it is being performed by four hands, overdubbed, though the mood of its predecessor carries through most of the duration of the title track, in gentle and introspective waves of eloquent emotion as it picks up energy slowly through the first half, then retreats again into something of a tranquil mist, before again picking up more swirling energy in the final minutes to live up to the thunder its title. Both pieces underscore Chase’s compositional mastery, and Pezzone’s skill as a performer, a cornucopia full of power and emotion.” —Peter Thelen, Exposé