Peter Calandra doesn’t just invite you along for a keenly felt rumination on the Catskills with Ashokan Memories, he takes you into his personal, deeply emotional feelings about this special place.
Calandra, a New York City-based pianist and composer who has scored some 40 films, appeared on several signature Broadway productions (Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, others) and written countless songs for TV, weaves a moving tapestry devoted to the place where he and his wife own a summer home, bringing in a variety of textures and motifs — and creating a shared sense of wonder along the way.
Songs like “Ramblin’ Nightime,” which trickles along with a water-like sense of diaphanous surprise, convey more than words ever could about the idyllic surroundings that inspired Ashokan Memories. Calandra builds these sensitive narratives without resorting to cliche, and without slipping into the maudlin or the treacly.
Take “Frost Valley,” which begins with the hopeful uncertainty of a morning sunrise, before Calandra starts letting light in all around. By the song’s midway point, you can almost see it twinkling off a fresh dusting of snow. “Overlook” has a similar bucolic charm, with an undulating signature that echoes the slow rise and fall of open land.
The title track arrives, then, with the rush of an almost-forgotten moment — and that sudden emotion is a billowing high point for Ashokan Memories. “Tubin’ the Esopus,” meanwhile, offers a chance for Calandra to explore a few of Monk’s brilliant corners.
“Gertrude’s Nose” returns the project to its core theme of gentle reverie, before “The Ice Caves” plunges Ashokan Memories into a strangely alluring darkness. Finally, there’s the contemplative “Buttermilk Falls,” another thoughtful rumination that conveys something deeply spiritual about this place that clearly means so much to Calandra. A heart-opening experience, even if you’ve never been to the Ulster County, New York, this album is like a vacation unto itself.