With its distinctive renditions of songs by DJ Shadow, My Bloody Valentine, Fleet Foxes, and more, Walt Wagner's Reworks shows how three Seattle institutions - Wagner, the city's renowned Canlis restaurant, and Sub Pop Records - have evolved over the years.
When veteran pianist Wagner first landed at Canlis in 1996, he started out performing a set heavy on the Great American Songbook and the occasional pop tune.
As young staff members recommended new artists and songs, Wagner's repertoire grew deeper and more varied - especially after the next generation of the Canlis family took over in 2003.
Yet whether the source material was Pink Floyd, Prince, Metallica, or the Weeknd, the challenge remained the same: "To distill the vibe on a record, the very essence of a song, into solo piano playing." One fateful night a couple years ago, a crew from Sub Pop were dining at the restaurant when they recognized melodies by Adele and Daft Punk wafting through the restaurant and decided to investigate.
Canlis co-owner Mark Canlis offered the Sub Pop crew a full tour, and when he pulled out a vintage copy of the 0s LP "Live At Canlis", an idea was born.
With Wagner preparing to retire, the time was ripe for a recording that captured his inimitable gifts in their natural surroundings.
In preparation for the big night, Wagner sat down with the Sub Pop team for more ideas.
"I wanted them to feed me tunes that they loved and could imagine hearing me play." Sub Pop alumni Fleet Foxes and Band of Horses were already staples of Wagner's sets, but what magic could he work with DJ Shadow, Phoenix, or My Bloody Valentine? He had three months to find out.
The album's opening selection, "Building Steam with a Grain of Salt," provides a glimpse into Wagner's modus operandi.
"The first time I listened to it, I said ell what can I do with that?'" He recalls. "But the more I listened, the more I noticed these signature moments in the song, and through messing around with those and improvisation, I ended up with my version." Recorded before a packed house on October 9, 2016, "Reworks" is more than just a souvenir of a very special evening; it captures decades of musicianship that forged Wagner's distinctive style.
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