Dove Award-winning pianist Paul Cardall has released a new album, Return Home, honoring his heritage and the multi-GRAMMY winning audio engineer Michael Bishop on September 8, 2023.
Paul planned to record with Michael Bishop until the unexpected passing of Michael who died as result of a tragic accident. Because of the nature of Michael’s injury, Michael was life-flighted to the main campus of University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio where he received highly skilled medical attention.
Prior to Michaels passing, the two met in 2019 after being encouraged by John Jennings, Vice-President of Royer Labs Microphones to work together. Jennings heard Paul improvise music at a dinner party in Nashville and suggested he record an album of improvisations. Paul’s previous recordings debuted on top 11 Billboard charts with more than 3 billion lifetime streams. The idea of improvising a record was foreign to Cardall who carefully prepared compositions before entering a studio. But the chance to work with Michael was a risk the pianist was willing to take.
Bishop made arrangements with Ohio’s Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio. They recorded for two days in the Clonick Hall premier recording studio, which educates some of today’s finest piano technicians. The studio has 3 Steinway & Sons concert grand pianos. Cardall was recognized by Steinway for his distinguished career in music and outstanding loyalty to the Steinway piano. He was included on a roster, a list of the most accomplished and discriminating artists in the world.
The resulting album, Peaceful Piano (Anthem Entertainment), featured 18 songs from the session. The album was featured in Mix Magazine and Forbes Magazine. Michael and Paul discussed recording a series of improvisational pieces inspired by Paul and his wife’s heritage. Unfortunately, it was during the Covid-19 Michael Bishop passed away. Not only was this tragic for his family, but the recording academy (GRAMMYs) who respected his work and his colleagues at Four/Five Production company. Shortly after Bishop’s passing, his colleague Thomas Moore, who assisted Bishop on Peaceful Piano also passed away.
When the pandemic came to a close, Paul reached out to Bishop’s surviving business partner and fellow GRAMMY-winning engineer Robert Friedrich. They discussed doing something like Peaceful Piano to honor Bishop and the legacy he’d left behind for his children and grandchildren. The idea tied into Paul’s desire to compose songs about the legacy of his own forefathers.
Friedrich booked time at Ohio’s Baldwin College University’s Gamble Auditorium in the Kulas Musical Arts Building. Baldwin is known as the birthplace of America’s first annual Bach competition. To capture the experimental recording session on film, Paul hired Think Media Studios to send a film crew. Music performance videos were produced and edited for Paul’s YouTube channel so fans could watch the recording as it was happening live for the album.
Sitting at a Steinway & Sons model D concert grand, surrounded by cameras, in an empty theatre with Friedrich behind the stage recording every sound in the venue, Paul began improvising. The pianist utilized his familiar left hand arpeggio style that are more commonly used on instruments which serve the role of melodic lead or ornamentation. Beethoven used arpeggios in Moonlight Sonata. Today, pop artists like The Eagles (Hotel California) and Coldplay (Clocks) incorporate this style. Paul has been using this method since his first album Sign of Affection was released on cassette in 1995. After improvising several pieces Cardall shifted towards minimalistic chords allowing the listener to be aware of gradual changes. In addition many pieces incorporated germanic and polish styles of counterpoint, harmonic, with motivic organization familiar in Bach and Chopin’s simple piano pieces. Patterns were repeated to create an atmosphere – and introspective, causing the pianist to go deep into a personal reflection of exploring lands of his heritage.
Paul’s wife Tina is a first generation Slovenian American whose parents fled communist Yugoslavia as teenagers. Paul and Tina returned to Slovenia in 2016 with his mother in law Christine to do a concert encouraging the Slovenian government to help families affected by congenital heart disease. Christine had not seen her native land in 42 years. Paul walked beside his mother in law into the village of Tisovec where she was born. These experiences inspired the songs Ljubljana – Heart of Slovenia and Castles and Cathedrals. Paul had noted that many of the castles were abandoned and in ruins. Whereas Cathedrals not only remained, but regions continued to restore them to their glory.
During several songs Friedrich and Paul noticed the chirping of birds coming from the roof of the auditorium. Remembering a romantic dinner with his wife in Paris, the couple was surrounded by birds anxious to grab crumbs underneath the dining table. Cardall told Friedrich to keep rolling. That moment led to recording An Evening in Paris with the faint sound of real birds performing outside the venue.
Paul continued playing several pieces and felt his abilities draining. Nothing beyond his heritage was pouring through. Friedrich and Cardall took a break. Paul went on a walk and called his wife Tina. When he returned to the piano, Paul thought of his grandfather, Alan W. Layton, was an artillery captain in World War II. After allies landed on the shores of Normandy, his grandfather went into France where he was wounded at the Battle of The Bulge. The Shores of Normandy became the tribute to his grandfather and all men and women who endure the tragedy of war.
The composers mind drifted to thoughts of his daughters Eden and Eliza, along with the recent passing of his father-in-law. He composed Fathers and Daughters and Eliza’s Theme. The session ended.
A month later, Friedrich mixed a rough draft of 23 pieces and delivered them to Paul to do the final mix. Though the album was intended to be a solo piano record but he felt the music needed additional cinematic depth. He hired Nashville string arrangers Josée Weigand and her husband Gideon Klein to create arrangements. They were hired previously for Cardall’s December album. The string ensemble brought more depth to his piano pieces.
The resulting album titled Return Home is an introspective album featuring 13 pieces for piano that take listeners on a cinematic journey through the lands of his ancestors. The uniqueness of this album is that Cardall entered the studio without any material. All of the songs were improvised.