German-born pianist Florian Hoefner enjoys challenging himself, and the evidence indicates that he is up to a good challenge. On Luminosity, his excellent quartet recording, for example, he required one composition to operate within the space of an octave. On Coldwater (Origin Records) - his latest and first solo release - he has set himself quite a different obstacle, as he explains in the liner notes: "Many of the pieces on this album consist of one or more composed islands, surrounded by a sea of open space that is left to be filled with improvisation." Where composition and improvisation begin and end is intentionally left indistinct on the album's 10 original pieces, and Hoefner has no difficulty sustaining a continuous, engaging line as he sails from one island to another - despite the fact that only one track incorporates a traditional song form with a repeating set of chord changes. The improvisation is free, restricted only by the logic of each tune's feeling and conception. The music owes as much to the European classical tradition of the late 19th and early 20th century as to the jazz tradition (and perhaps more than), but Hoefner seamlessly blends his influences as he explores the possibilities of the open sea. The tunes are inspired by his newfound home base, Newfoundland, where he moved three years ago from New York City. Auks, puffins, icebergs, sea currents, burbling brooks populate the tracks, which range from stately melancholy ("The Great Auk") to comic playfulness ("Migration") to stark and ominous beauty ("Iceberg 2). There's tenderness and touch, as well as strength, in his performances, which were recorded in the Sendesaal in Bremen, Germany (four tracks live in concert). On Coldwater, Hoefner shows himself to be a muscular poet of the piano and a daring composer.