The piano has long been the ideal vehicle for distilling complex multi-instrument pieces of music into solo settings. At least since Liszt did his Wagner transcriptions, talented pianists have gravitated toward ambitious group compositions as a kind of solitary musical version of scaling Mt. Everest. If any one instrument can approximate the dynamics, color and range of an orchestra or a full band, a piano is maybe one's best shot.
In recent years pianists like Christopher O'Reilly have tackled artists like Radiohead and Nick Drake on the piano. Classically trained pianist Holly Bowling is doing something similar, but with American music that is a little more jubilant and playful.
Bowling has been making a name for herself by, among other things, playing a solo rendition of Phish's famously thorny "Tahoe Tweezer." She's also collaborated live with some of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead. Her engagement with the music is pretty deep, as can be heard on her recent record "Better Left Unsung," an album of solo piano versions of songs by the Dead. These songs have been covered by a cappella groups (the Persuasions), big band jazz outfits (David Murray) and bluegrass combos (the Grass Is Dead), so it's fitting that Bowling is taking them on this particular leisure drive. In her hands, shades of the baroque, of Chopin and Ellington come out in this repertory that looks more and more each year like it may very well be timeless.
Holly Bowling will play at Fairfield Theater Company's Stage One, 70 Sanford St., Fairfield, on Thursday, Oct. 19, at 7:45p.m. Tickets are $20. 203-259-1036 or fairfieldtheatre.org.