Clifford Borg's Origin
Sunday 24 May 2009 (Michael Bugeja - The Sunday Times of Malta)
'Stimulating, delicate pieces that ooze sentiment and energy applied in varying juxtaposed measures'. These are the words I used to describe the intensely engaging tracks that feature on pianist Clifford Borg’s new CD album, Origin. Listening to the album again ahead of its official Malta launch this coming Friday at St. James Cavalier, I now discover there is a depth, a feeling of timelessness to the music that is tantalizing and gives it a very intimate aspect.
Given that each of the 16 tracks on the album, although written at different periods of the pianist’s life, were all inspired by deeply personal events, emotions and encounters – some happy, some sad - this feeling of intimacy is hardly surprising. Solitude however, remains the magic ingredient that fuels this young artist’s musical inspiration. “I do sometimes get ideas when I’m out and about, but these are more likely to end up in my poetry rather than my music”, Borg says when I bring up the subject, “but to write music, I need to be alone”. He goes on to describe how when he sits at the piano by himself, he feels at ease to let his emotions come through and inspire his mind, his heart, indeed his fingers as he traces the melodies and arrangements that reflect what he is feeling.
In contrast to Drifted, his 2001 debut album, the new release is far more minimal in structure and expression. “Yes, for this album I wanted to maintain a basic approach where all the focus and all the energy would emanate from my interaction with the piano”. This is essentially true of all the tracks here, but some stand out more than others. In its intricacy and vulnerability, opening track Emergence for example, is unquestionably one of the best pieces on the album; this apart from the fact it also introduces the self-styled punctuating timbre Borg has developed as part of his signature style.
Interestingly, this unique imprint in his playing is a rebellious reaction to his father’s strict musical regimen. Born into a musical family, Borg quickly realised he had a natural flair for the piano and by age five, he was already taking lessons. “Within a year, I was playing in the family band (The Islanders) with my dad and two sisters”, he recounts with a smile. “Actually, I was originally intended to learn the drums, but once I had got close to a piano, that was it”. He goes on to explain that while he understood that discipline was essential when one is part of a band, as a solo artist he embraced the freedom of not always having to adhere to the rules religiously. “It is a freedom I cherish a lot, and it has enabled me to discover new things, new ideas…even new ways in which to apply myself, particularly when I am composing”.
Despite Origin’s minimal foundations however, Borg‘s musical vision stretches out far and wide. He is in fact currently also working on a parallel project that will practically be a remake of the new album but with a stronger electronic presence, with some vocals in places and definitely an eye on both the dancefloors and the chillout lounges at the same time. “Well, like Origin, the ‘electronica’ project also started during my time living in Brussels, so it has been a long time in the making. Half of the tracks for the electronic album were recorded in Brussels while the rest I have been working on in Malta with local producer Toby”.
Apart from the time involved to complete the projects, Borg, who had already launched Origin in Brussels and Paris last November, suffered a further setback when he broke his leg just days after performing in Paris. “I had planned to launch Origin here last January, but the injury turned out to be quite serious, so I had to postpone everything until I got the all-clear to perform from the doctors”. Given that the launch concert involves other artists, namely singer Miriam Christine and trumpet player Kevin Abela, finding a new date also posed a problem, but it was finally decided to hold the launch gig in May. “I am quite excited about it, particularly because rather than just performing the tracks on the new album, I’ve opted for a performance that has a broader appeal. Of course, I will be playing tracks from Origin, but having Miriam Christine and Kevin Abela on board means I can also project another side to my piano playing; a less serious side that also comes across in the choice of covers we’ve prepared”.
Performing in public isn’t exactly a new experience in Borg’s case either. Apart from playing in Malta countless times, including formidable presentations at Teatru Unplugged, he’s also had the opportunity to perform in several foreign countries. “Yes, I have been quite lucky. I got to play in Brussels of course, but also in Holland, France, Germany, Egypt and just recently I played at the Notte Blu event in nearby Pozzallo in Sicily”. These occasions rate among Borg’s most memorable career highs to date, but based on the music on Origin, along with Borg’s enhanced musical vision and eclectic taste, there will surely be more, bigger and better ones to be had.
Clifford Borg will launch his new CD origin with a live performance featuring Miriam Christine and Kevin Abela at St James Cavalier this Friday. The even is supported by the Malta Council for Culture & The Arts.