If you get out to see live music in Denver, chances are that you've seen James Han perform. The soft-spoken, unassuming keyboardist regularly provides the tinkling shimmer of piano and the haunting murmur of organ for Bela Karoli, the Wheel and Recess, and occasionally appears with other acts as well. His tasteful, tuneful presence always adds beauty and complexity, without ever being flashy or taking focus away from shining stars like Bela Karoli's Julie Davis or the Wheel's Nathaniel Rateliff. Though Han has always been a sideman, I bumped into him a couple nights ago, and he handed me a solo CD of original instrumental compositions that expose a whole other side of this exceptional talent.
The EP, titled Holiday Pills, packs eight tracks into less than 19 minutes of listening. It was written and performed entirely by Han, using classic electric pianos, organs, a Clavinet and the trusty Nord Electro, with the occasional addition of the Hammond Auto-Rhythm Machine. The compositions explore a variety of genres -- from the minimalism of "Pill #20 (for the Sudden Urge of Plight)" to the playful waltz of "Pill #23 (for Sleep and Union)" and the jazzy swagger of "Pill #19 (for a Comic Death)" -- and could provide the score to a particularly heady independent film, probably one shot in black and white. In fact, the liner notes say: "short pieces for film...and for peculiar holiday inconveniences." You can stream five of the record's eight tracks on Han's MySpace page.
Though I'm not an aficionado of instrumental music, this brief collection's imagination-stirring, brain-tickling ups and downs are positively captivating. Han, who started performing with the Wheel after Rateliff hired him to tune an old upright piano, long ago proved himself as a musician. However, with this little CD, he has also distinguished himself as a one-of-a-kind composer.