By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Mar 05, 2009 at 11:26 AM

It's a safe bet that Roger Powell -- who you know most likely from his work with Todd Rundgren's Utopia -- is not the guy you think of when you think of instrumental piano music.

But that's exactly what his latest solo disc, "Blue Note Ridge" (on Fossil Poet Records), is.

The record was co-produced and engineered by veteran Milwaukee musician, producer and engineer Gary Tanin.

Tanin and Powell also collaborated -- with guitarist Greg Koch -- on Powell's 2006 disc, titled "Fossil Poets."

Utopia was prog-tastic and Powell's synthesizer explorations were a major part of the group's sound.

But despite that and the keyboardist's two acclaimed 1970 synth-fueled solo efforts -- or maybe because of them -- Tanin says Powell has long wanted to make a record like "Blue Note Ridge."

"Roger had always wanted to record a solo piano record," says Tanin from his South Side studio. "He had been experimenting with recording his newly acquired Mason & Hamlin baby Grand. The record evolved into a solo piano recording. There are a few tracks that have sound design elements that I and Roger added, but they are very sparse. You really have to listen to the record to pick up on those additions."

Tanin and Powell first met in the 1970s when the latter worked for the ARP synthesizer company. The two hooked up again in the 1980s and stayed in touch.

After "Fossil Poets" -- Powell's first solo record in 26 years -- was complete, Tanin worked to promote the record and via frequent conversations with Powell, they began working on a follow-up project.

"(We) began in early 2008," recalls Tanin. "There was already so much visibility on Roger's return and it would have been a shame not to follow that up with another release.

"The majority of ‘Blue Note Ridge' was recorded over four days in San Francisco in the summer of 2008. All of the acoustic piano pieces were recorded using new technology called Direct-Stream Digital (DSD). This is a technology designed for the Super Audio CD (SACD) and gives the recording of an instrument like the piano amazing depth."

The disc's 14 tracks are all Powell compositions, although "Take to the Sky" is adapted from the Gershwins' classic "Summertime."

The music is tender, pensive, moody and organic. It's not at all what you'd expect from a musician whose oeuvre is so thoroughly linked to technology.

It is a clear testament to Powell's skills on the ebony and ivory and, says Tanin, a testament to the pianist's improvisational skills, too.

"It's an important statement to remind listeners that the material was all a stream of consciousness improv on Roger's part," he says.

"I engineered the sessions and tried to basically stay out of his way as much as possible. I remember making suggestions on mood and direction."

Although the record is Powell's, working on it was rewarding for Tanin, too, he says.

"Roger is an amazing musician to work with. The vastness of his influences, as well as the sensitivity he brings to a project is truly inspiring. I'm honored to have worked on this second record with him."

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.