Jim Wilson,
Cape of Good Hope
(Hillsboro, 2001)

This second album by "piano-tuner to the stars" (Elton John, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, etc.) turned acoustic pianist Jim Wilson mixes smooth jazz and new age styles with hints of Celtic, pop and classical music to create a soothing yet expressive sound. With the exception of "Can't Find My Way Home," a Steve Winwood tune, all of the pieces on Cape of Good Hope are original. Although Wilson receives strong musical support from a variety of musicians on instruments such as saxophone, guitar, Irish flute and percussion, which give the album texture, the piano is always at the forefront of the mix, as it should be.

With a romantic style at times reminiscent of Jim Brickman or George Winston, Wilson is hardly breaking new ground in this genre, but for the most part Cape of Good Hope sounds more fresh than derivative. In addition, his arrangements are always tasteful and smooth, avoiding certain cliches, such as the overuse of synthesizers, that have made new age music such an oft-ridiculed genre.

The tracks on this album tend to flow together, making it difficult to distinguish the end of one song from the beginning of another. This could be either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on your point of view. However, a couple of tracks do stand out, including the title track, inspired by explorers sailing past the stormy Horn of Africa, which features more vigorous, intense piano playing than is usual for this genre. The wordless male vocals (provided by Dan Fogelberg and Casey Stratton) on "Picasso's Midnight Stroll" make the piece sound simultaneously haunting and earthy.

With those who enjoy new age or smooth jazz, it seems guaranteed to be popular. Indeed, Wilson's first album, Northern Seascape, did quite well on the Billboard new age charts, and Wilson has already been the subject of a PBS special spotlighting the pianist's life and music. Although this album might well have some crossover appeal for people simply looking for something soothing to wind down or study to, whether or not you'll enjoy Cape of Good Hope depends a great deal on whether or those genres are your cup of tea.

[ by Erin Bush ]
Rambles: 6 July 2002

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