CD Review, Mia Brentano, American Diary

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“American Diary”, released recently on Mons Records is the latest release featuring the music of composer Mia Brentano performed by pianist Benyamin Nuss and the German Film Orchestra conducted by Christian Köhler.

The works included on the album are eclectic, stylistically reaching into the Classical, Jazz and Pop genres with a Cinematic feel acting as the overarching tie that holds the set together. The set comprises of 24 relatively short pieces all composed and orchestrated by Mia Brentano except for the classic from the Great American Songbook, “I Thought About You” by Jimmy Van Heusen, as well as arrangements of two old East German children’s songs – “Wie ein Vogel zu fliegen” and “Sandman’s Lullaby”.

The central performer is pianist Benyamin Nuss accompanied by the German Film Orchestra conducted by Christian Köhler with Klaus Martin Kopitz providing synthesizer programming on five of the 24 tracks.

Before we get into the music let’s first take a look at the background to this album. “American Diary” is the forth album released on Mons records featuring the music of Mia Brentano. The first “Hidden Sea” was released in 2018 with “River of Memories: A Mystery Trip” following a year later. In 2021, together with the German WDR broadcasting corporation, Mons Records released “Summerhouse”, an album featuring a piano duo with Benyamin Nuss and WDR Big Band pianist Billy Test. This album received substantial critical acclaim and no doubt spanned the no man’s land between classical, jazz, pop and minimal music. With the first three releases all being couched in a chamber music setting this album breaks away, featuring a full orchestral landscape.

With that said, after after my first listening I was intrigued to find out more about Mia Brentano and a quick google search raised more questions than answers. With little or no information returned except a website providing little more information than an outline of the releases and a listing on the Broekmans & Van Poppel website, one of the largest sheet music companies in the Netherlands, stateing “You really don’t need to do any research into the composer Mia Brentano. She has concealed her identity intentionally and meticulously, and only wants to be perceived through her music.” Now somewhat more intrigued, I discovered that almost all references to Brentano also involved a reference to Klaus Martin Kopitz and after fully reading the texts published on the Mia Brentano website I discovered a statement, in relation to the “River of Memories” album, that the album was a “collaborative relationship between Klaus Martin Kopitz and his muse/friend/alter-ego Mia Brentano”. Without knowing for sure, I suspect that Mia Brentano is actually a “nom de plume” for “Kopitz”.

Turning now to the music and the inspiration behind the compositions, Brentano embarks on a captivating narrative, chronicling a journey through the vast landscapes of Canada and the USA. Across 24 impressions, she seamlessly traverses between classical, jazz, and pop, delivering a heartfelt homage to a cultural tapestry enriched with timeless films, novels, and melodies that have indelibly shaped our collective consciousness.

The music unfolds against the breathtaking backdrop of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, leading her through the enchanting cityscape of Vancouver, the rugged terrain of Alaska, and the sun-kissed expanses of California – from the bustling streets of San Francisco to the glittering shores of L.A. Notable highlights include serene days spent amidst the ethereal beauty of Big Sur, immortalized by the melancholic film “The Sandpiper,” where iconic landmarks like the majestic Bixby Bridge and the panoramic Nepenthe restaurant provide a captivating vista of the coastline.

Throughout the album, nature’s splendor serves as a poignant backdrop for Mia’s compositions. Tracks like “Our God Is the Moon Over Alaska,” “The Secret Garden,” and “Midnight in Paradise” evoke a sense of awe and wonder, while pieces such as “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” and “Talking With Trees” resonate with introspective contemplation. In Los Angeles, Mia pays homage to the legendary Laurel Canyon, a haven for musical luminaries like Joni Mitchell and Jim Morrison, immortalized in her poignant instrumental tribute. Inspired by the delicate dance of hummingbirds at the Griffith Observatory, she crafts the shimmering masterpiece “Flying Lights, Flying Colors,” infusing it with a sense of ethereal grace.

Yet, amidst moments of serenity, darker undertones emerge. Mia recounts a harrowing evening journey back from Bodega Bay, haunted by the specter of a forest fire – a stark reminder of the escalating threat of climate change plaguing both Canada and California. Channelling this disquieting experience, she channels her emotions into the haunting composition “Burning Bodega (A Nightmare),” offering a poignant reflection on the fragility of our natural world. Additionally, she pays tribute to musical luminaries through pieces like “Eisler in Hollywood,” a poignant reminder of the shadows cast by history’s darkest chapters.

As mentioned earlier in this piece, the music straddles the no man’s land between classical, jazz, pop and minimal music with the overarching tie holding it together being a profound cinematic feel. Musically there are melodic elements that elude to the language of jazz however this is largely through composed and not improvised. That said, the press release states that “Wie ein Vogel zu fliegen” and the final track, performed solely on piano, “Sandman’s Lullaby” contain improvised passages.

With an album of this nature, any attempt at trying to Pigeonhole it into a preconceived genre is fruitless. This is simply just great music performed exceptionally well. Highly recommended.

Track Listing:
1. A Cabin in the Rockies | 2. Good Morning, Good Fairy | 3. Both of Us | 4. Mad Dog in the Fog | 5. Our God is the Moon Over Alaska | 6. Wie ein Vogel zu Fliegen | 7. The Secret Garden | 8. Midnight in Paradise | 9. Wild Neighbors | 10. Laurel Canyon | 11. I Thought About You. | 12. Not All Who Wander Are Lost | 13. Talking with Trees | 14. Me and the Wizard | 15. A Bridge Across the Ocean | 16. Flying Lights, Flying Colors | 17. Eisler in Hollywood | 18. Last Evening in Carmel | 19. For Whom the Bell Tolls | 20. No Time to Stop | 21. Sandpiper’s Grave | 22. Let It Rain | 23. Burning Bodega (A Nightmare) | 24. Sandman’s Lullaby

Line Up:
Benyamin Nuss piano | German Film Orchestra conducted by Christian Köhler | Klaus Martin Kopitz, synthesizer programming

Release Date: 16 Feb 2024
Format: CD | Streaming
Label: Mons Records

Last modified: March 15, 2024