Making a crossover album is never an easy, nor often rewarding endeavor. More times than not, the performer in question is attempting to meld two different, and sometimes very distinct, genres in order to capitalize on fan bases in both genres. While some artists, George Benson for example, have had great success bringing together genres, others have seen their careers suffer greatly for it. Chris Gaines is a painful reminder of a crossover gone horribly, horribly wrong. With her new album Piano and the City: Dreamway Russian pianist Olga Stankevich crosses multiple genres, including European House, Techno and Classical music, with the result being much more in line with “Breezin’” than “Lost in You.”
One of the reason this album is so successful is that Stankevich didn’t try and do Techno or House arrangements of classical works, or vice-versa. Instead, she lets her classical training breathe through her compositions, mixing old and new, combining dance rhythms with classical arpeggios, harmony and melody in a manner that is as enjoyable to listen to as it is to get up and dance to. “Etude” is a great example of this approach. Here, Stankevich mixes dance beats and, at least at the beginning of the song, a house-based melody, with more classically influenced techniques such as melodic development, traditional harmony and left-hand arpeggios. By melding two distinct styles into a composition, rather than forcing one genre onto the other, Stankevich can highlight the best of these musical worlds, resulting in a hard-driving groove that serves as the foundation for a memorable melody and intriguing harmonic progression.
Other tracks, such as the album opener “Contiguity,” have a dark and brooding feeling to them, but with the same excellent piano work and funky rhythms to go along with the change in atmosphere. The song reminds one of the melodic-based piano work from Orbital’s 1996 album In Sides, though with a backing beat that is more Techno than House. What both artists share is a keen sense of when to break things down and when to really crank it back up again. After setting the tone of the song, and establishing the melodic content and harmonic tonality, Stankevich takes a chance by slowly stripping the song down, removing each instrument until all that is left is a solo piano line. As soon as she has relaxed the listener’s ears, and feet if they’re up and dancing, she kicks the beat back up, driving the rest of the song with a hard-groovin’ pace that provides the perfect climax to a well-written, and creatively conceived, House track.
Many people will have stopped reading this review when their eyes glanced the word “Crossover,” or maybe they stuck around until “Techno” when they flipped the page, and this might be a similar reaction that many listeners have when checking out the opening few tracks on the record. Those who discard the album because they hear a classically sounding piano and Techno beat working together will surely be missing out on an album that deserves a second, third and fourth listen. While the crossover genre has had many flops over the years, Dreamways definitely isn’t one of them. The songs are well written, Stankevich’s piano playing is first rate, there is groove to spare and most importantly, it’s just a fun album to listen to. So, give this record a chance, regardless of past experiences with Techno or crossover albums, it might just change your mind about a genre that is often discarded before it’s given a proper chance.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)