Steve Rivera, a composer and pianist from southern California, began learning to play the piano at age eight, taught by his father, who was also a musician. By the time Steve was thirteen he was playing at church functions and in bands ranging from punk rock and alternative music to blues and jazz. After high school and his experience with various styles of music, Steve realized that music was what he wanted to pursue in life.
Steve says “My ambition was no longer to be the best garage band player I could be, but the best musician I could possibly be”.
This decision led Steve to enroll at Hope International University, where he studied composing and conducting with Dr. Don Sewell. While attending Hope, Steve was a member of a singing touring group and served as an intern at several different churches, as an assistant to the music directors.
In July of 1997, Steve created Ya Right Productions to produce his first album, “The S Collection”. That summer over 1,100 copies of “The S Collection” were sold exclusively through Nordstrom’s Gift Gallery. Three songs from the CD were chosen by Nordstrom’s and played nationwide through their Muzak System.
Steve’s exposure at Nordstrom’s and the success of his CD manifested into several performance opportunities. Some of those opportunities led to Steve playing at such locations as: The California Club (Los Angeles), The Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey & Laguna Niguel, and The Wyndham Resort in Palm Springs. Steve has also performed solo piano concerts at the Crystal Cathedral and various locations throughout Southern California. In 2008, Steve also scored the music for the independent film “Scorned.” Currently, Steve is also a featured pianist at a restaurant in Dana Point, California.
Steve’s latest project, “Dividing The Darkness,” is his second CD, and essentially his debut album, as it is the first released for general distribution. It is dedicated to his mother and his brother. Two important things you should know about this album right up front.
First, it was recorded at Imaginary Road Studios in Windham County, Vermont, co-produced by Will Ackerman, founder of Windham Hill Records, and world renowned producer Tom Eaton. Consequently, the production quality on the album is, of course, outstanding. And moreover, there is a stellar group of professional musicians supporting Steve on the album, including Charlie Bisherat (violin), Eugene Friesen (cello), Jeff Haynes (percussion), Tony Levin (NS bass), Noah Wilding (vocals), Jill Haley (English Horn), Tom Eaton (electric bass, electric guitar, and keyboards), Premik Russell Tubbs (EMI), Gus Sebring (French Horn), and Will Ackerman (guitar).
Second, the album is, to put it simply, an exceptional work; easily one of our overall favorite piano centered albums released in 2015. Not since Fiona Joy’s “600 Years In A Moment” have we come across an album with piano as the primary voice, where it was so difficult to choose any one track as the best one on the album. And for what is essentially a debut album, it particularly stands out.
Steve’s musical style is at once innovative, sophisticated, contemplative, complex, creative; and at times emotionally intense and passionate, and at other times delicate and calming. In fact, his piano work is sometimes reminiscent of that of Fiona Joy, with a particularly strong sense of the use of variations in touch, pace, and silence as expressive of mood. But most of all, and something we always appreciate, Steve’s music is intensely personal, reflecting both his profound faith in God and his faith in humanity.
As he states, “I have journeyed amid life’s lessons, trudging through desolate valleys and exploring new mountain tops….may God continue to teach and guide me.”
The nine songs on “Dividing The Darkness” — eight accompanied and one solo piano work — vary in style, tempo, mood, and intensity, and collectively demonstrate that Steve is a pianist with masterful composition skills, and a bright musical future ahead.
The album begins with “My Way Home”, one of our favorites. With a moderate tempo, a strong, emotional, solo piano opening, and innovative and catchy piano phrasing throughout, it is one of the more melodic, deeply emotional, and reflective tracks on the album. While Steve’s piano clearly stands out as the lead voice, the accompaniment is particularly prominent throughout on this track with Bisherat’s passionate violin and Friesen’s droning cello each taking the lead at times. Ethereal vocals from Wilding near the end of the piece emphasize the contemplative qualities of the track while adding a profound, mysterious quality.
Similarly, “Help Me To Listen” has a moderate tempo, strong and prominent accompaniment, especially from Tubbs and Eaton, and a clever and distinctive melody. Also one our favorites, it is truly a magnificent work and is perhaps the best on the album. On this track in particular, one really senses Steve’s genuine faith and his passion for his craft. And I am sure we can all think of someone who is definitely in need of the same type of guidance.
In contrast, “This Ancient Road,” is a bit slower and more piano focused, with softer piano phrasing and lighter accompaniment. Nevertheless, it is at times also intensely passionate and reflective.
“Skyward”, “So Quickly Gone” and “Beautiful Years” are each outstanding tracks and easily demonstrate Steve’s innovative and powerful skills as a composer. While the first of these three is a decidedly more up-tempo than the latter two, each work displays strong piano components and clever, mellow, and memorable melodies, artfully woven together with strong accompaniment, especially by Will Ackerman’s guitar on “So Quickly Gone.”. Each work is also a powerful example of the general “intensity” characteristic of Steve’s signature style.
“Delicate Force” goes in a very different direction and as the apparent contradiction in the title suggests, is a bit of a study in contrasts. At some points, it has a much more delicate “classical piano” feel, but also reflects an intensely darker and more somber mood. With much more percussion behind it, Steve’s prominent piano eventually rising in intensity to a climax, and minimal accompaniment except for some intensely passionate and mysterious vocals from Wilding, this track is certainly the most unabashedly dramatic “force” on the album.
With a lighter, upbeat, and more cheerful mood, “Valley Of Light” then brings us out of the darkness, with Steve’s bouncy piano opening and core melody, and strong accompaniment by Gus Sebring on the French Horn, and Eaton on percussion, bass, and keyboards.
In summary, Steve Rivera’s “Dividing The Darkness” is a magnificent “debut” album from a composer and pianist who demonstrates an astonishing level of sophistication, intensity, and heartfelt emotional expressivity. The music is innovative, varied in style, and consistently distinctive and memorable. Thus, the album is an “easy listen” and will certainly leave you wanting more. That is why we give it our highest possible recommendation.