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Staff pick First Play: Chilly Gonzales, Chambers plus track-by-track guide

Robert Rowat

Chilly Gonzales, Canadian pianist and entertainer, is back with his highly anticipated followup to Solo Piano II: Chambers, an album for piano and string quartet.

This is the pianist's modern take on classical chamber music, with Hamburg's Kaiser Quartett at his side.

Chilly Gonzales has always maintained he's a man of his time, and he has made music with some of the great practitioners of electronic and rap music, such as Drake, Daft Punk and Boys Noize.

"I've made a point to apply the musical and philosophical approach of these styles to my piano projects," he told CBC Music, "and now hopefully to my nascent chamber phase."

Thus, a collection of 12 pieces, each with a dedication indicating the inspiration behind it, ranging from J.S. Bach, Gabriel Fauré and Reinhold Glière on the classical side, to Rick Ross, Daft Punk and Juicy J.

Follow along below as he gives a track-by-track guide.

"Prelude to a Feud"
Dedicated to Bach and Daft Punk

"In Bach's time, a prelude would introduce a 'fugue,' but this introduces a 'feud' — a musical grudge match between artist and entertainer. The piano cascades are a live acoustic take on synthesized arpeggios, such as one might hear from my robot friends. Except this arpeggiator is not a button on a keyboard but a struggling human. Hands down (pun intended) the most technically difficult part of the album to deliver."

"Advantage Points"
Dedicated to John McEnroe

"The 'points' are staccato — clipped, insistent. I attempted musical pointillism with Wimbledon '80 as my backdrop. Try to imagine the waltzing B-section as the endorphins [are] kicking in after a marathon — the transcendence of physical technique (using a racquet or a piano) into pure bliss. This could just as easily have been dedicated to Bobby Fischer, Glenn Gould or Michael Jackson's moonwalk. It all depends on your vantage point."

"Sweet Burden"
Dedicated to Gabriel Fauré

"My Solo Piano song (and label) 'Gentle Threat' is one of many contradictory titles in my repertoire. 'Sweet Burden' is the album's first bona fide tear-jerker. A long, ambiguous melody inspired by French composer Gabriel Fauré. The viola solo is slowly joined by the cello, while the violins chime in with a single-note pattern. We all have our burdens to bear, and maybe only music can sweeten them."

"Green's Leaves"
Dedicated to King Henry VIII

"A party in the town square, everyone drank too much and there is no more mead. Luckily there are some green leaves to keep the party going. This jaunty square dance shares some musical DNA with one of the greatest songs of all time, 'Greensleeves,' possibly written by King Henry VIII ... but probably not."

"Freudian Slippers"
Dedicated to the subconscious

"Part 1 of the album closes with this two-part epic. How does one attempt to convey the unknown workings of the brain? With surrealist techniques like the violin 'doppelgängers'? With stumbling, mumbling rhythms? With chorale-like interruptions that try to impose order? It's all in vain, hope slips away. Part 2: rap on it, you'll see, it works."

Dedicated to the piano

"The string quartet takes a smoke break. I couldn't get this tune out of my head — I needed a moment alone, and therefore so does the listener."

Dedicated to Reinhold Glière

"Reinhold Glière was the Ukrainian composer with the German first name and the French last name. He is the missing link between the accessibility of Tchaikovsky and the spiky modernism of Prokofiev. This piece appeared in a simplified version as a Re-Introduction Etude; this fleshed-out version adds a controlled dose of Hollywood sentimentality and a nod to Stevie Wonder-style analog portamento (played on a violin by sliding from one note to the other)."

"Sample This"
Dedicated to Rick Ross

"There are many musicians out there in the world today. Some of them frauds, others merely mediocre, and a scant few worthy of listening. Can you tell the difference?"

"Cello Gonzales"
Dedicated to Felix Mendelssohn

"A pop song without words for the instrument that is most like the human voice. The cello stretches, struggles and breaks like our favourite singers — perfectly imperfect. This was the first piece I wrote for this album — I was still learning how to approach these new instruments with weird strings on them."

Dedicated to Juicy J

"From the theatre piece The Shadow, this piece is inspired by chord progressions from the rapper Juicy J's repertoire. There is something asymmetric and Escher-like about the chords, like watching colours from different angles. That sounds pretentious but try imagining it! This climactic piece features French horn and flute in addition to the quartet, so you know we're getting close to the end."

"Myth Me"
Dedicated to Jason Beck

"'Vanity is vanishing.' But is it? Finally, some words, traditional musical communication through the voice. I am a composer who sings, and this is my pre-tirement anthem."

Follow Robert Rowat on Twitter: @rkhr