Pianist Steve Million has been connected to the Chicago jazz scene for twenty years and started issuing albums in the mid-90s, but Remembering the Way Home is Million's first solo piano venture. Although Million has worked in different settings, including a Monk tribute band, Remembering the Way Home finds Million returning to his classical roots, performing a dozen pieces firmly fixed in a third stream classical/jazz vein.
Most of the music offers technically brilliant originals tendered with a wide aural landscape built on detailed nuances. Most pieces are brand new, a few others are older works that fit the project's overall aesthetic. Million also includes a Scriabin prelude rearranged for improvisation, which admirably and securely suits his contemplative inclinations.
Million starts with the freely-improvised "Remembering," formed by restive fragments that expose Million's recollections and has a feeling of longing and watchful expectation. The tune has a pastoral perception akin to seasonal changes, particularly the dispirited slide into cold winter extremes. "Remembering" serves as a thinking conception, as the slowly shifting movement gives the sense of time descending cautiously, as do other songs in this collection.
Million employs a light hand throughout the album that allows him to blend introspective jazz with his classical sensibility. This artistic sensitivity is best exhibited during "Nomadrigal," which echoes the English form of a short lyrical poem. Indeed, a listener could easily conceive of a softly-spoken voice reciting irregular but complimentary lyrics to Million's subtly fluctuating phrases. This version of "Nomadrigal" is obviously dissimilar to the full-group rendition Million released a decade ago: here Million stresses a restful side of his personality. Million also reinterprets two other compositions he issued previously. Million recasts "My Explanation," which was initially done in a post-bop quintet framework, by contracting the song to a minimal core, emphasizing the central melody, and adding increased, deliberate weight on the keyboard than he imparts to other tracks on Remembering the Way Home. The other remake is "Missing Page," which Million also endows with a fresh-sounding reading, translating it into an articulate standard in the making.
While Million's classical affirmations are always implied, the classical presence is most outspoken on his re-adaptation of Scriabin's "Prelude Op. 16 No. 3." While Million does not stray far from the familiar theme, he adds an exploratory perceptivity that uses the fundamental melody as a seed for spontaneous musical expansion. Using a similar temperament, Million also includes three independent, succinct etudes to the proceedings: "Mannequin Ballet," "Azusa Dreams" and "A Heart So Full," which showcase Million's virtuosity and creative technique, as well as several facets of his melodic and harmonic talent.
The record's most elaborate communication is "The Company You Keep," where Million overdubs four pianos into an agile and lightly experimental construction. During the six and a half minutes, Million broadens his musical canvas, painting a varicolored illustration of family, friendship and empathy.
For this recording, Million chose to use an exceptionally fine sounding nine-foot Grotrian piano, and engineer Larry Hinds does a remarkable job capturing the full spectrum of the piano's vibrant sonority, as well as including Million's occasional Keith Jarrett-esque vocal counterpoints that furnish a low humming resonance: more of a discrete background accent than an irritation. Remembering the Way Home may not become a top pick or purchase by traditional or standard jazz fans searching for solo piano material, but Million's performances here produce a distinguished and acutely personal excursion.