Chilly Gonzales is a man who can sit underneath his piano and, without looking, reach above his head to play note-perfect passages. It is this entertaining showmanship, over any particular song or even his musical proficiency, that has remained in my memory after seeing him play at the Barbican a few years back. Since then, the Canadian composer, producer and part-time rapper has turned his hand to a variety of lucrative endeavours, from collaborations spanning Apple, Daft Punk and Jarvis Cocker to transcribing a book of piano lessons.
Chambers is a logical progression from his last album, the self-explanatory Solo Piano II, and it features Gonzales on the ivories accompanied by a string quartet and little else. It is a record devised to explore the ground between romantic music and contemporary pop, but pitches up firmly in the classical camp, a collection of chamber pieces far more than the pop songs it draws upon for inspiration. Some of these modern references are more apparent than others: the rapid arpeggios that imitate a pulsing synth on ‘Prelude To A Feud’, for example, or the perceptible common-time hip-hop swagger underneath ‘Sample This’, a tune dedicated to Rick Ross and one that Chilly invites the listener to rap to (it can be done).
Indeed, as much joy can be taken from Gonzales’ written track-by-track guide (“The string quartet takes a cigarette break… I needed a moment alone, and therefore so does the listener,” he notates the pretty ‘Solitaire’) and punning titles (‘Freudian Slippers’ is an illusory counterplay between piano and violin; and on the mournful ‘Cello Gonzales’ the “weird” stringed instrument assumes the role of a human voice) as the compositions themselves, which, for all their serenity and intimacy evoke too much Sunday-morning civility and constraint to truly stir.
Chilly sings for the first time on the final track, another wisecracker – “You’re Gonna Myth Me” – a gentle ballad that surprises with its sudden FM friendliness, but whose placement at the close of ‘Chambers’ is indicative of this album as concept. A flawlessly performed project that requests studious attention of its listeners. The payoff is amusing but slight; the music catches too easily on the breeze. If Gonzales performs it live while sat below his piano, though, I’ll be first in the queue for tickets.