Songs Without Words

Dudley Moore (guest artist: Kenny G on “Brogan” and “Faithfully Yours”)

Tracks: 1—Six Weeks, Part 1; 2—Waltz for Suzy; 3—Patrick; 4—Thank You, Ilich; 5—Anemone; 6—Six Weeks, Part 2; 7—Brogan; 8—Faithfully Yours; 9—Skylarking; 10—Three Blonde Mice; 11—Satie; 12—Show Biz; 13—Theme in F Minor

Release Date: October 29, 1991

Tags: Instrumental, Light Jazz, Piano, Blissful

Rating: ★★★★★

I had originally reviewed this album in 1992, a year after it came out, and I still stand by what I wrote…

I read somewhere that his agent referred to Dudley Moore as “The Wee Wonder.” Moore, who didn’t quite come up to five and a half feet, proves that the most magnificent gifts do indeed come in small packages. With an acting range that ran from the comedic Crazy People and 10 to a brilliant romantic/dramatic role in Six Weeks, Moore was less known for his musicianship. His exceptional talent as a pianist won him a “co-starring” role with Sir Georg Solti in the documentary Orchestra! Whereas he previously had Victor Borge-like comic appearances on The Muppet Show and various talk shows, it took him until later in his life for him to be recognized for his musicianship. His film soundtrack work includes Staircase and Six Weeks, and this album is a tribute to a beautiful soul.

It’s difficult for me to say that I have favorites among these selections, because the entire album is rich with chord progressions that would have made Duke Ellington and George Gershwin smile with delight. Most of the selections flow like water in a warm spring, honey with sun glinting through it, champagne reflecting delicately in candlelight. Moore’s touch on the piano brings to mind the precision and control of Dave Brubeck mixed with the sensitivities of Liz Story. In his liner notes, Moore refers to “synthesizer carpeting” behind his piano tracks. I think this bit of self-deprecation conceals the truth: He has mixed acoustic and electronic sounds so perfectly that the overall effect is mesmerizing.

Having now given proper enthusiasm to all thirteen tracks simultaneously, I’ll violate my comment in the above paragraph by holding out one very special work which never ceases to enthrall me. Whatever I may be doing at any given time that the selection comes up on my randomized playlist, the complex harmonics of “Anemone” always makes me stop and listen. The piece can only be described viscerally, and to this Moore perhaps owes an artistic nod to Claude Debussy, whose music epitomized and scandalized the 19th century with its unapologetic freedom of emotional expression over any sort of regulated structure. Listening to “Anemone” transports me to some brilliantly blue place amid the coral reefs off the Australian coast. The opening cords allow me to sink gently into the water without a ripple. I breathe warm, liquid air and listen to the water transmitting the stories of the reef’s inhabitants as a distant sun, somewhere above the fluid canopy, flickers across the storytellers. It is a tale of many parts, dissonance and deep harmonics, but as with all stories, there is a moment of resolution, and I float back into my rooms again, whole, warm, and dry, with memories of ten thousand sea creatures softly laughing harmonies in my comforted mind…

This description probably helps no one at all, in that it doesn’t tell you about the music itself. I could perhaps launch into some descriptors of suspended augmented fourths, of brilliantly suffused diminished chord harmonics, and of the electronic ether of sound in which the acoustic piano is so luminously suspended. I could even get into Rolling Stone slanguage about riffs, rhythms, and hot runs. It would defeat the purpose; Moore’s album title explains all. These songs have no words, perhaps because none could do them justice. How do you sing a kiss? How do you mouth a chimera? How do you describe feeling sounds, hearing colors, seeing velvety softness? Could there possibly be a truly representative thousand words for each of the thousand pictures that are woven in tapestries of black and white keys, colored in infinite variation by Moore’s tender touch?

From Moore’s liner notes: “The title SONGS WITHOUT WORDS comes from the fact that I have always felt that lyrics often put too much specificity into music that needs no hint of particularization. There have, of course, been much more than a handful of wonderful lyrics written – but I tend to write music that creaks painfully under the yoke of added words.”

Naturally enough, I’m using a good thousand words to describe a work with doesn’t really need any. Perhaps I should attempt to still my long tongue and let that one paragraph say it all… or better still, let the music express itself to you. Still, I have just a few more words to add. Bear with me.

In his liner notes, Moore speaks of his self-deprecation, his shyness, his uncertainty. None of this is false modesty. I’ve read other interviews wherein the man has admitted insecurity of monumental proportions. What is encouraging is the way that he kept performing, kept himself in the public eye, and finally produced this amazing recording. He dreams awake. Although “talent will out,” no matter how much one might fight oneself or the uncaring world around us, it still takes guts to go against that instinct that promotes self-preservation through hiding safely away. For this reason alone, I count Moore as one of my personal heroes.

You may fairly say that I like this music.

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