In what we hope will be the first of many posthumous releases from the Prince estate, “Prince – Piano & A Microphone 1983” gives us a stripped-down stark window into the artist’s monumental talent and imagination. Recorded between his 5th album “1999” and his breakthrough 6th “Purple Rain” this intimate set brings the listener into a studio, where it is just us, Prince, and a piano, as advertized.
Throughout the songs chosen here, we are – again and again – brought face to face with both Prince’s legendary funky use of space and time and his mercurial lyrical creativity. At the same time, what is most astounding, if it is possible for a person who has listened to Prince’s music for years to still be astounded, is his piano playing. This sometimes driving, other times tender, playing is equal parts, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and even a crazed Mal Waldron once in a while. My guess is that this recording could (like the equally brilliant, and uncharacteristic of his recorded career, “Mingus Plays Piano”) easily be used to stump many skilled piano listeners in a blindfold test.
The first seven songs on this set were recorded as a medley that leads the listener through both gospel standards (a bone chilling “Mary Don’t You Weep”), soon to be favourite originals (such as “Purple Rain” and “17 Days”), and even a Joni Mitchell cover (“A Case of You”). Also included this set is the funky, sometimes sung in concert but up until now officially unreleased, gem “Cold Coffee and Cocaine”.
Increasing the intimacy on this recording we can even hear Prince at times giving some instructions to the recording engineer. This was clearly not intended to be a released performance, and was instead just another flash of brilliance from the musical journal of a then 25 year old artist, as he charted his unique musical path.
Finally this recording reminds us of both the depth of our cultural loss in Prince’s passing, and our good fortune to have snapshots like this of his blinding talent. Keep the releases coming. I personally want a solo guitar record out next !