Reflected in a Flowing Stream
Kathryn Kaye – Overland Mountain Music
Pianist Kathryn Kaye has emerged as one of the leading artists in her particular subgenre of contemporary instrumental music. She weaves together a gentle sense of nostalgia with uncomplicated, subdued melodies, creating reflective tone poems that showcase her subtle nuanced playing and the depth of emotion she conveys without resorting to histrionics or pyrotechnics. The opening song, “A Lark in the Last Light of Day,” is a perfect example of this. The album’s 11 songs include two solo numbers and nine with accompaniment from an assortment of Imaginary Road Studios’ “usual suspects” (e.g., Friesen, Jill Haley, et al). Gorgeous yet minimal cover art should be displayed prominently.
Nancy Shoop-Wu – Lei Hoku Music
Mirroring the gorgeous photography of her resident Hawaii, which graces the digipack cover, Nancy Shoop-Wu’s Rainbow Road features 12 instrumentals anchored by her beautiful violin playing. She is accompanied by some truly talented guest artists, including producer Derek Nakamoto, who plays piano and keyboards. The music is a hybrid of Hawaiian, classical, and New Age, with a flavorful dash of jazz. The presence of two slack-key guitarists also helps lay the foundation of the island’s influence. However, whether her violin is front and center or her guests take the lead, it is Shoop-Wu’s warm, rich, emotive melodies that make the CD so memorable.
Russ Hewitt – Saulito Music
One of the best Spanish/Latin guitarists recording today, Russ Hewitt turns up the heat on Cielo Nocturno (Night Sky). However, there is more going on here than Nuevo flamenco stylings. Joined by a great rhythm section as well as guests on keyboards, accordion, and percussion, Hewitt displays a mastery of various offshoots of straight-up flamenco with more than a few jazz and world influences scattered here and there (“North of Home” features Hewitt joined by jazz guitar legend Larry Carlton while “Persian Sky” finds a meeting point between Mediterranean and Middle Eastern motifs). From first to last note, Hewitt and company will enliven you and your customers’ days!
Of Sea & Stars
Terra Guitarra – Earthsign Records
The flamenco-fusion guitar duo Terra Guitarra (Bruce Hecksel and Julie Patchouli) once again show they are a musical force to be reckoned with in their respective genre. Having seen these two live, I can attest to how much fun they have when playing, and it will be obvious once you begin listening to this excellent album. Hecksel and Patchouli also play bass, keyboards, flute, drums, and percussion. While occasionally the music slows down, the overwhelming majority of the tunes are rev ’em and let ’em loose. Of Sea & Stars will grab you from the first minute and have you wishing you were in a cantina under a full moon, dancing up a storm.
Michael Whalen – Valley Entertainment
In 1996, pianist/keyboardist Michael Whalen released a fantastic album of electronic space music entitled Night Scenes: Music for the Evening. It became one of my all-time favorites. Now, 20 years later, he has returned to similar (with some new wrinkles) territory on Dream Cycle, nine tracks of exquisite and melodic “dreamy” electronic music. Featuring three superb vocal tracks (including an amazing take on The Cranberries’ big hit, “Dream”) and a collection of stellar instrumentals, Dream Cycle represents Whalen’s unique vision of night music—not necessarily subdued or “quiet” but never too energetic either. It’s ideal for late-night drives through deserted city streets. In-store play in the evenings is recommended.
Shambhu – Acoustic Shine
The third album from talented guitarist Shambhu is his most self-assured and densely textured release so far. Co-produced by Todd Boston (who also engineered and mixed it), the recording sounds gorgeous. The album could also be titled “Smooth,” not because of the occasional smooth jazz influences but because whatever style/genre Shambhu and his guest artists are playing (e.g., world, New Age, folk, pop, or mixtures of those), the music always goes down smoooooooooooth! At times reminiscent of recordings from groups such as Spyrogyra (at their least urban/funky) and Oregon, Soothe is a surefire cure for the blues so give it in-store play on cloudy, gray days.
Jim Gabriel – Self-released
Pianist Jim Gabriel’s follow-up to 2013’s Sojourn is another exploration of sublime pianos capes that, for the most part, evoke a feeling of reflection and remembrance (no doubt intentionally so, since the album is dedicated to his mother, who passed on in 2016). As he did with Sojourn, Gabriel turned to Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton for the production and engineering of the album and, of course, the recording quality is textbook. A liberal helping of guest stars adds depth and fleshes out the piano melodies. Thanks to Gabriel’s nuanced technique and gentle way with the ivories, Into Eternity is an ideal late-night soundtrack and would complement massage, too.
Jonn Serrie – New World Music
Electronic and planetarium music pioneer Jonn Serrie takes his legions of fans even deeper into the dark reaches of outer space on The Sentinel. Liner notes detail how a series of illustrated science fiction books from the 1970s served as inspiration for the album’s music, and it sure sounds like it! Not as outwardly melodic or warm as some of his earlier “romantic-era” albums (e.g. Tingri, Midsummer Century, Lumia Nights), this is still vintage deep-space exploration music, ideal for stargazing or inward journeying in dark, quiet spaces. While the mysterious “Ghost Ships” surely earns its title, other tracks are gentler excursions into the vast backwaters of distant galaxies.
Ojos Como Estrellas (Eyes Like Stars)
Mirabai Ceiba – Spirit Voyage Records
Ojos Como Estrellas is somewhat of a departure Mirabai Ceiba (Angelika Baumbach on vocals, harp, guitar and Markus Sieber on vocals, guitars and ronroco). The duo is joined by their esteemed producer Jamshied Sharifi (keyboards, piano, bass, and more) and three other musicians as well as a children’s choir of five kids. The songs (almost all are sung in Spanish with English translations in the liner notes) were inspired by the artists’ love for their children. The music itself has no overt Spanish influences but instead blends some world elements with gently playful variants of folk and New Age music. The album is a sheer delight from beginning to end.
Perpetual Motion – Swallowtail Music
Perpetual Motion (guitarist Tom Carleno and violinist Josei Quick, who also plays mandolin and percussion) looked back at their musical career of 25 years and culled 13 tracks that showcase their musical virtuosity, varied composing and performing influences, and incredible sense of simpatico (besides playing together in Perpetual Motion, they are also married). Buoyed by an assortment of rhythm section players on bass, drums, and percussion through the years, Quick and Carleno swing, sway, waltz, and pirouette across a number of musical genres—instrumental folk, jazz, world, and assorted hybrids of those three, always emphasizing the fun aspect of each.