Robert Thies (piano) and Damjan Krajacic (flute) have something truly special going with their Blue Landscapes albums series. Their third installment continues what came before but also evolves their signature contemplative soundscapes which are created solely through their two instruments. All but two of the fifteen selections were recorded spontaneously in the studio over five days of recording. The sound is organic without being aimless, rich with emotional resonance without resorting to melodrama. In short, this is a sublime release, as were the first two chapters in the series. Tracks vary subtly in mood and tempo, but these variations are not intrusive, but instead add to the “whole” of the album itself.
This latest effort from Eric Bikales strikes me as one of the cheeriest, friendliest, and likable piano recordings in a while, comparable to release from artists such as Wayne Gratz and Jim Chappell (high praise from me). On the first playing, I found myself smiling at the melodies, and I felt myself slip into a better mood than before. There is a hint of jazz, a smattering of New Age pop, and a whole lot of charm. The last two tracks, “Reasoning With the Wind,” and “Kansas Wind” benefit from a light application of keyboards, the former some lovely bell tones, and the latter what sounds like organ, emphasizing the blues/ragtime nature of the melody.
The trio of 2002 (Randy, Pamela, and daughter Sarah Copus) have, over the last several albums, slowly evolved into showcasing Sarah’s angelic vocals as well as highlighting their affinity for Celtic influences. I stated in a previous review that Sarah is poised to become her generation’s Enya, and Celtic Fairy Dreamcertainly underscores that evaluation for me. Sarah’s voice, as it matures, develops an ethereal beauty that, to me, equals Enya’s. With Randy (piano, guitar, keyboards, percussion) and Pamela (harp and flute) providing superb instrumental accompaniment (as well as some vocals too), this album is best described as thoroughly beguiling and enchanting.
Pianist Masako continues to impress me with her particular style of playing piano, which emphasizes a minimum of “fuss,” i.e. pointless pyrotechnics. Instead, her melodies are laid out gently as they unfurl at seldom more than a midtempo pace, and frequently more sedate than that. While not truly a minimalist, she allows her notes to “breathe,” all the same. Recorded at Imaginary Road, under the guise of the production team of Ackerman and Eaton, with guest stars typical of albums helmed there, Masako also finds the right balance of stepping into and out of the spotlight when other artists appear on a song. Seeking a relaxing yet not overly somber piano album? Here you go!
Peter Sterling, one of the top New Age artists recording today, always finds something “new to say” musically on his recordings. Sanctuary of Light finds him operating solo and in a gentle, flowing musical vein. As one would expect, his harp playing takes center stage, but he also displays his talent on keyboards, piano, Native flute, recorder and even more! There is a delicate gentleness to the melodies throughout the album’s eight tracks, making this one of Sterling’s more relaxing and contemplative releases. Sanctuary of Light will make your cares and stress a distant memory as it insulates you from the chaos of the outside world.
Not many artists in the instrumental field can match Michael Whalen for his combination of composing and performing talent across a wide swath of genres, styles, and moods. Sacred Spaces, his latest, continues in the same vein as previous electronic keyboard recordings such as Dream Cycle and Nightscenes, both among my personal favorites. Whalen excels at “layering” his assortment of keyboards, textures, rhythms, and melodic lines, forming cohesive wholes for each track. “A Metaphysical Morning” kicks off the album is wonderful fashion with an assortment of twinkling tonalities and infectious rhythms. Each of the other nine songs carve their own respective ear-pleasing musical niche.