John Burke, acclaimed pianist and Atlanta native, released a new solo piano album at the
beginning of the month. The album was called “Orogen” after the belt in the Earth’s crust which
causes mountains to form. In Burke’s own words, the album “unveil[s] a symphonic mountain
range.” Though the album does offer a series of highs and lows, I wouldn’t compare the climb to
The album starts off with “Arise,” a beautiful track with a warm opening - the high notes give
the track a feeling of brightness right away, which definitely was the perfect way to start the
album. Even though the track’s faster tempo leads into an incredible crescendo that leaves the
listener excited - like they could climb a mountain, the staccato beats at the end sound recycled
and add an unnecessary abruptness to an incredibly light track.
This sort of recycled nature comes back throughout the album. Though the layering of pitch and
tempo in each track as a separate piece is beautiful, the tracks don’t come together to create a
challenging album to listen to. For the most part, the tracks have a similar tempo and structure so
that, unless you’re actively listening for shifts in the melody, it all begins to blend together with
the exception of a few tracks.
“Spring Tides,” for example, is very similar in structure to the majority of songs, starting off soft
and slow, much like “Arise,” and, yet, Burke manages to capture an entirely different emotion.
Where “Arise” is bright happiness, “Spring Tides” is gentle whimsy. It sounds almost like a
track from the “Animal Crossing” series. It has this instantly calming effect.
The peak of the album, however, is in “Foot Traffic.” This, to me, is the track that really stands
out because it is the only track, with the exception perhaps of “Earth Breaker” which is also high
tempo, that breaks what ends up being a monotony of piano ballads. “Foot Traffic” feels so much
more crisp and more modern than the rest of the album. It feels like something out of a spy
movie, and anyone who’s lived in the city can tell you, going through Atlanta traffic sure can
feel like an action adventure.
While the album not being as much of a climb as he intended, Burke enjoys what he does and it
comes across in his music. There is no doubt that Burke has mastered getting emotion across in
his tracks. Even in his live performances, Burke maintains a huge stage presence despite never
leaving his seat. Burke’s energy certainly sets him apart, though, I would be interested to see
some more theatrical elements, like lighting changes between different tracks to highlight the
emotion, to add another dimension to the performance.
Top Tracks: “Foot Traffic”
Verdict: The album is solid technically but lacks an identity. To me, there is little to set it apart
from other solo piano albums, although we do see a bit of Burke’s personality and influences
coming through in “Foot Traffic.” Burke is a very talented artist, but I would love to see his work
embrace a more modern approach, not just modern stylings, in conjunction with his more