Michael Brant DeMaria – Ontos Music
Multi-instrumentalist DeMaria took a five-year hiatus from recording to help his mother transition to the next realm and Ama (which means mother in many languages) is dedicated to her memory. It is far and away the best work this artist has ever done and that is saying a lot. Whether he is playing one of several flutes, keeping time with ethnic percussion, or crafting contemporary electronic soundscapes, what permeates Ama is the depth of feeling at its core. DeMaria poured his soul into this album and it is simply stunning in every way possible—a veritable masterpiece of artistry and imagination.
Songs of Changing Light
Kathryn Kaye – Self-released
Kathryn Kaye’s piano music always glows with a soft, nostalgic, sepia-toned light. For Songs of Changing Light, a career retrospective of sorts, she isolated the piano track from fourteen previously released songs. These songs “…reflect my love of the forest, of solitude and mystery, of changing light, and the passage of time.” By stripping away the accompanying instruments which appear on these pieces’ original versions, the piano melodies are distilled to their essence, which is pleasurable indeed, like coming upon a sunlit glade in the woods, sitting for a while, and absorbing the serenity and tranquility that exists in that setting.
Gerhard Daum – Tone Work Records
German composer/performer Gerhard Daum absorbed inspiration from both the American and German countryside, resulting in him composing and recording these twelve pieces which reflect his affinity and fondness for the rural side of life. Playing guitar (acoustic and electric), piano, keyboard strings and rhythm, Daum eschews typical “nature-inspired” motifs and instead carves out these tunes influenced by jazz, blues, rock, and classical. I described this album elsewhere as a blend of Craig Chaquico, Eric Tingstad and David Arkenstone, which means songs may be uptempo and energizing, laid-back and bluesy, or dramatically orchestral in nature. Rural Renewal presents an unusual and entertaining blend of styles to be sure!
Add Colours To My Sunset Sky
Trine Opsahl – Heart to Heart Records
Celtic harpist Trine Opsahl goes solo on her latest recording (her previous album, Unbroken Dreams, was a collaboration with her cellist daughter, Josefine), the hauntingly beautiful Add Colours To My Sunset Sky. Besides her usual exquisitely nuanced harp playing, Trine adds wordless vocals for the first time and also plays monochord on a few tracks (the instrument produces drones similar to a tamboura). These thirteen soundscapes are ideal for journeying inward and healing the mind and body. Opsahl sometimes performs for patients in Denmark’s palliative care system where her music promotes physical and emotional healing as does this album through its entirety.
Moonlight in Empty Rooms
Heidi Breyer – Winterhall Records
Pianist Heidi Breyer’s husband, Alexander Vokov, paints in an exquisite neo-realistic style and his many beautiful works influenced/inspired Breyer to record these twelve self-composed pieces. The marriage of these piano and violin duets (violin performed by Charlie Bisharat) with the images present in the liner note booklet, as well as on an included DVD, is something special beyond capturing in words. Easily Breyer’s most ambitious and accomplished release to date, the music deserves the listener’s utmost attention. Most pieces are delicate, somber and reflective in nature and every song is performed with deep feeling and superb musicianship.
An Eagle’s Zen
Wayne Gratz – Wayne Gratz Music
Wayne Gratz has been releasing his wonderful piano music for decades, but I never tire of hearing his new albums as soon as they come out. An Eagle’s Zen is subtitled Ambient Piano Solos, which intrigued me when the CD arrived in the mail. While it is true that this is one of Gratz’s rare solo piano recordings, and it is more minimal than much of his previous work, there is still no disguising his rich, warm melodicism or his carefully nuanced control of tone, volume, and mood. The amount of sparseness/minimalism varies track to track, but everything on this disc underlines Gratz’s immense musical talent.
Various Artists – Real Music
I’ve written it often but it bears repeating: I can’t think of any label that releases better compilations than does Real Music. Their latest, Forest Bathing, (the translation of the Japanese practice of shirin-yoku, meaning spending time in nature), is one of their broadest yet, exploring many musical facets of the label’s immense catalog of artists and releases. All the music selected is gentle and flowingly melodic, meant to instill peace and serenity. Piano, guitar, flute, keyboards, harp—you name it, the instrument will occur somewhere on this magnificent collection, which I frankly consider their best yet.
In the Name of Stillness
Áine Minogue – Little Miller Music
Many of Irish harpist Áine Minogue’s earlier albums are solo recordings (thirteen to be exact). On In The Name Of Stillness, the talented artist is joined by guest stars on cello, oboe, clarinet, guitar, as well as “soundscapes” (mostly orchestral keyboards). Minogue also contributes on vocals on one track. Having loved her music since I heard Celtic Meditation Music years ago, hearing her harp accompanied by other instruments on these ten Irish traditional songs (arranged by Minogue) is a revelation that cannot be overstated. Some songs wear a more pronounced Irish influence than others, but each will transport you to the lush green hills and rugged landscapes of Eire.
We Have Only Come to Dream
Terry Lee Nichols & Rebekah Eden – Soundscape Productions
“Ambitious” seems an understatement when examining Terry Lee Nichols and Rebekah Eden’s We Have Only Come to Dream (subtitled A Resonance of Human Migration to the Americas). The album’s theme plays out in its eleven songs, like dramatic cinematic soundtracks to epic periods in history. The CD is a blending of lush orchestrations, piano, and an assortment of ethnic influences (depending on which period of history the track encapsulates) as well as Eden’s wonderful wordless vocals. From the arrival of the Anasazi to this continent through the opening of the West and the evolution of the National Park system, We Have Only Come to Dream is an amazing and unique achievement in recording.
Lisa Hilton – Roby Slippers Production
Here is the latest release from the First Lady of Jazz Piano (a title I fully believe she deserves). Escapism showcases all the things I love about Hilton’s many albums: her ability to play across as wide a spectrum of jazz styles as anyone in the business (the cheerful freneticism of “Meltdown,” the wistful flow of “Another Everyday Adventure,” the snaky sensuality of “Mojave Moon”), her unselfishness as a band leader (allowing other musicians to share in the spotlight), her imaginative way with cover tunes (only one is present here, “On A Clear Day,” but she puts her usual intriguing spin on it), and, of course, her abundant talent with control of nuance and tone that is almost surreal.