CD Review: The Dream
By: Dan Brisebois
One of Canada’s most acclaimed jazz pianists, Steve Holt has just released his first disc geared for a pop audience. The native of Montreal is a past Juno Award nominee and has recorded four discs prior, building a loyal following on the jazz circuit in Quebec and Ontario – performing both solo and with many of the businesses’ best. Steve also has the distinction of being probably Canada’s only recording artist to have worked in the stock markets for 15 years, specializing in entertainment and consumer related companies. He gave it up in 1999 after building his own recording studio to fulfill pop music full time.
The result is THE DREAM, which Steve co-produced with Darius Szczepaniak, whose credits include Barenaked Ladies, Chantal Kreviazuk and Jann Arden. Steve assembled a great group of musicians for the recording, utilizing The Sovereign Voice Choir. Rique Franks and Liz Tansey provide the perfect accompaniment with their backing vocals, while drummer Jorn Andersen – noteable for his time in Fludd, one of Canada’s most under-rated acts during the 70’s keeps a tight backbeat.
One of the first things you can’t help but notice is the obvious passion Steve’s brought to his latest project. This shouldn’t be mistaken as an accomplished musician venturing outside his realm – fact is THE DREAM is one of the most diverse AOR albums I’ve heard in a very long time. The lead track “Soon” is complete with Sean Baillie’s guitar-work that you can’t help but think of being ‘Santanaesque’ – but with Steve’s fingerprints on it.
The extraordinary musicianship on the disc will be no surprise to those familiar with Steve. A graduate of McGill University, he holds the distinction of being the first person to hold a Bachelor of Music majoring in jazz performance. One of the two covers is the Beatles’ “Let It Be”. It takes courage to tackle the project of re-doing such a classic and putting your own spin on it. Steve takes on the assignment and passes with flying colours, delivering a haunting rendition. Traffic’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” is the other non-original – complete with piano solo. Steve’s influences seem wide and many. Hints of Winwood, Joel, Marsalis … they all subtly come to mind while listening to THE DREAM. “We Need You” is indicative of the CD – a very well-thought out arrangement – harmonious and tightly-woven. You can hear Steve pour his heart into the soulful “When”, a ballad showcasing his love for the piano. The disc closes with the moody two-part “Surrender”, a tender love song that is as good as anything on the airwaves at the moment.
It’s obvious THE DREAM is something Steve has wanted to do for a long time. The passion he exhibits to the craft is rare – and a welcome change. There really isn’t a bad cut on the disc – and several are just plain exceptional. With a little something for everyone, you’ll have your own favourites. Steve describes THE DREAM himself as ‘a sleepy giant that slowly took shape’. The beast has been unleashed … and it’s going to quietly make you re-think your views on modern adult pop music.