Fans of piano music have an exciting new artist to discover in Jennifer DeFrayne, a self-taught pianist and composer whose debut album, By a Wire (Little Hartley Music, 2014), has been hailed as both “an auspicious debut recording” and a “deeply moving listening experience.” DeFrayne recorded this, an instrumental piano album with a Contemporary/New Age feel, with dynamic co-producers Fiona Joy and Will Ackerman, at Ackerman’s Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont.
However, just a few years ago, achieving such a feat truly was “imaginary” for the young mother of two, who suffered a debilitating stroke in 2009, leaving her with challenges in movement, memory and speech. When DeFrayne says “I’ve waited over half my life to release this album,” she means every word of it, explaining, “Sometimes you don’t know how much you want something until it is almost taken away, and you are holding on by a threadâEUR¦or in my caseâEUR¦by a wire. For a few years after my stroke, I was focusing on getting back what I had lost, and eventually, I was able to start writing music again. It was painful to have music in my mind, and not be able to connect with my fingers to play it on the keys; I’d always turned to the piano to express myself. I focused on the piano as a healing instrument, and eventually, I could play well enough to let the piano wires soothe my soul once again.”
While two key tracks on the album – “Calling Angels” and “Hope Floats” – came to DeFrayne during that time, others have been evolving with her over the years. Growing up in Laurium, Michigan, one of the northernmost towns of the Upper Peninsula, Jennifer was – and still is – inspired by the natural beauty of the place. Both icy cold winter days and warm summer nights found Jennifer at the family’s baby grand piano, working out songs that flowed from her heart and captured the beauty around her, even at five years old. As a teen, her eyes were opened to the existence of similar-sounding pianists like George Winston, Liz Story, and the artists of Will Ackerman’s famed Windham Hill Records, unleashing her dream of recording her own music one day.
There is a bravery and an emotional rawness to DeFrayne’s work, surely related to the inspiration for her music. Renowned music writer Bill Binkelman recently wrote, “You wouldn’t think that By a Wire is pianist Jennifer DeFrayne’s debut recording, so assured and confident is her playing. DeFrayne’s music is, by turns, passionate and powerful and reflective and subtle, although she seems to favor the more direct approach, making sure the listener understands what she is trying to convey in musicâEUR¦”
But, “life happened” and with numerous family losses (three pieces on the album are dedicated to her father, uncle, and sister) and her devastating stroke, it was only recently that DeFrayne revived her dream. In 2013, she fulfilled a promise to her mother and sister by posting a self-recorded song online, which ultimately led to her connection with Fiona Joy and Ackerman. After spending several weeks together in 2013 at Imaginary Road, recording on a Steinway B piano with a team of top players, Fiona Joy was so impressed by Jennifer’s music that she offered to release By a Wire on her own record label, Little Hartley Music.
“I’m grateful to have learned my craft from such an amazing producer as Will Ackerman,” Fiona Joy says. “I have always wanted to move into producing; I find it very rewarding to share what I’ve learned along the way with others, and use my creative ability to help bring musical art to life. To end up with such a lovely, deep and musically-satisfying album as By a Wire is testament to Jennifer’s commitment and the magic of Imaginary Road Studios.”
While By a Wire offers works that are both passionate and wistful, there is also a touch of playfulness, as with the catchy “Mexican Daydream,” a tribute to Mexico, one of DeFrayne’s favorite places to visit. An array of top-notch guest artists contributed to the album, including Charlie Bisharat (violin), Eugene Friesen (cello), Fiona Joy (bass piano), Jeff Haynes (percussion), Jeff Oster (flugel horn), Jill Haley (English horn), Noah Wilding (vocals), Rebecca Daniel (violin), Tony Levin (NS bass), Tom Eaton (percussion, voice, bass guitar, electric guitar), and Will Ackerman (Hopi drum, acoustic guitar). The album was engineered, mixed and mastered at Imaginary Road Studios by Tom Eaton.
Outside of the studio, DeFrayne is embracing her life’s challenges in a holistic way. Her experience with physical healing from the stroke was so positively life-altering that she became a Licensed Massage Therapist and Reiki Master, with the hope to combine her music and massage to help heal others, body and soul.
Asked about turning her life around, Jennifer notes, “The piano is my haven amidst turmoil and loss and my happy place in times of joy. I will always run to it when I need to tap into my emotions. In some ways, it saved my life; and By a Wire is a dream I’d almost let go.”
By a Wire is available now. LAZZ Promotions is handling radio promotion for By a Wire. CPI Distribution oversees CD distribution (SRP $14.99), and digital downloads are available via iTunes, Amazon, and other reputable download sites.