Wherever You’re Starting From is the sophomore solo album by Chicagoan pianist Rob Clearfield, whose classical purity of tone gives life to an intimate set of originals plus two renditions of renowned compositions, one classical and one jazz.
While working/touring with drummer Makaya McCraven, Clearfield formulated a new approach to music that consists in improvising complete pieces by focusing on individual moments. That same methodology is employed successfully here.
Multidisciplinary if strongly influenced by classical music, the pianist wraps his “Prologue” in an entangling evanescence, mesmerizing with the lightness of the movements, even when some dreamy uncertainty lurks around the corner. We find his left hand busy with rapid arpeggiated intricacies and the right one completely loose to create across the upper register.
Searching while exploring, he weaves “Starchild” with aural textural layers formed by melodic phrases in suspension and diffused broken chords. Controlled swirls and consecutive sweeps sketched with dexterity and emotion over several octaves of the instrument are reserved for the finale of a piece whose modernistic touch makes it more tempting than the classical inflections of the “Minor” and “Major” studies, symbols of cheerlessness and optimism, respectively, due to the nature of their contrasting modes.
Melody is passionately revered throughout the reading of Brahms’s “Intermezzo No. 2 In B Flat Minor, Op. 177”, a romantic, perfectly articulated piece set with a delicate touch. However, it was with the extravagantly unorthodox, Chick Corea-like groove of “What Was Your Name Again?” that he most excelled. A bold murmuring is well secured by the independence and dexterity of both hands.
The second ‘cover’ on the album, an inscrutable version of Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”, declares lost the jazz vibrancy of the original, which is totally engulfed by the wider abstraction of the classical confinement that better serves the performer’s intentions.
“Blues in C” comes dissimulated by enigmatic cadences and undeviating melodic ideas, while “Alice”, a graceful lyrical song, aims its gentle bends directly at our ears. The album finishes with “Epilogue”, a different narrative of the opening tune.
Sometimes squeezing his music into narrow alleys and back streets, sometimes expanding it into highways and vast lands, Clearfield always brings something very personal attached to his rides. The development of his voice is undeniable and this album can be seen as a sonic self-portrait of the artist.