One aspect of New Age music is its timelessness. With very few exceptions, recordings from the genre’s inception, e.g. Ray Lynch’s No Blue Thing, Constance Demby’s Novus Magnificat, or George Winston’s December, not only stand the test of time, but like fine wine, get better with age. As someone who has been listening to the genre since the mid- 1980s, I can attest to the fact that the brilliance of this music never, ever gets old. For this column, I look back at the recent past and cherry pick some of my faves from the last few years. If you missed them first time around, check ‘em out now.
Nadama – Malimba Records
Sometimes, it is all about crafting an environment of relaxation and serenity, Ocean Within is one of those recordings, as are many releases on Malimba.
Nadama currently resides in Hawaii so it follows that his music is influenced by the ocean, being surrounded by it. Featuring nine tracks played on piano and an assortment of sampled instruments (flute, oboe, clarinet, strings, and “ethereal sounds”), Ocean Within is yet another ode to serenity and inner peace from an artist who crafts beautiful, flowing melodies, perfect for relaxation, spa time, or massage. This is music designed to help the listener float away from her or his cares and worries, either figuratively or even literally. Natural pairing with spa and bathtime products in your store is a must. The album is sumptuously luxuriant with superb melodies.
Michael Hoppé & Harold Moses – Spring Hill Music
From the earliest day of the genre, New Age has been compared to Classical. No recording embodies this more than the following.
Talk about an album deserving its title! Renowned keyboardist Michael Hoppé and respected violist Harold Moses combine their prodigious talents and the result is one of the most heartrendingly beautiful works you will hear this year. Guaranteed sales if you play this one in your store. The CD’s twelve tracks, one for each month (per liner notes) and a final thirteenth song for “A New Year,” are incredibly moving. This is some of most soothing neo-classical music released in the last few years. Incredibly, this music was not “pre-scripted” and was, instead, recorded in one pass with no edits or re-recording!
Sherry Finzer & Darin Mahoney – Heart Dance Records
More and more, artists are collaborating with each other, eschewing the more natural ideal of completion. Witness this amazing collaboration.
Flutist Sherry Finzer teams up with acoustic guitarist Darin Mahoney on Transformation, an excellent album of relaxing, introspective instrumental music. After just a few minutes of the opening track, “Alger St.,” the listener will realize she/he is in for a rare treat, a special musical pairing of simpatico artists that yields true musical magic. Mahoney’s guitar melodies intertwine with Finzer’s floating flute meditations and the results are songs that perfectly blend a somber and reflective sensibility with a serene and soothing evocation. Transformation is music to get lost in, becoming immersed in the world that Finzer and Mahoney create.
Across the Water
Bill Leslie – Greycliff Music
While piano seems to dominate the New Age music genre, acoustic guitar is as emotive, evocative, and reflective as the ivories. Witness this superb release from Vin Downs.
Acoustic guitarist Vin Downes’ third release is his first collaboration with Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton at Imaginary Road Studios. Unlike the Stars will beguile the listener with its graceful, warm melodies and breezy accessibility. Downes possesses superb technique and artistic chops galore but doesn’t flaunt either. The music has an outdoorsy feel to it and the CD would be a great traveling-down-country-highways disc with enough impetus and energy to blend with passing scenery but not so much drama as to become intrusive to a pleasant, meandering mood when one is out searching for adventure on the open road.
Heart of Silence
Peter Kater & Michael Brant DeMaria – Sounds True
It would be superficial to dismiss Celtic music’s appeal as cyclical in nature, but the fact is that Celtic/Irish music has universal and timeless appeal, as the success of Bill Leslie’s album shows.
Wow! I expected something special from a union of pianist Kater and flutist DeMaria, but even with my high expectations, Heart of Silence impressed me to no end. Wholly improvisatory, the eight tracks on the album truly embrace the title, as minimalism and the silence between notes is explored on more than a few songs. As introspective and subtly expressive as any recording I have heard in years, Heart of Silence invites the listener on a journey inward, to the core of one’s emotional being. Sonically beautiful (Kater engineered and mixed the album), this is an album to escape into and bring no predeterminations along.
White Sun II
White Sun – Self-released
The chant genre is filled to brimming with sincere, genuine talents and heartfelt recordings. However, even in this well-populated genre, an album can rise to the top in ways that are self-evident. This is one of those examples.
There are so many aspects of White Sun II to appreciate and compliment that it’s difficult to know where to start. The cover art is ridiculously beautiful so display it prominently. Gurujas’ vocals anchor this fantastic chant recording as her voice soars, caresses, and delves deep into the mantras, but the accompanying music is equally appealing. A mixture of Eastern and Western influence is present, whether displayed in powerful, passionate motifs (as on “Gobinday Mukunday”) or softer, more soulful ways (“Chattra Chakkra Varti”). The blending of traditional chant with both New Age and contemporary instrumental genres is graced with superb production qualities—this is one fantastic album, sonically speaking.
Songs from the Aqua Lounge
David Arkenstone – QDV Recordings
There are only a handful of artists who can command attention across a variety of genres. David Arkenstone is one such artist. He can seemingly do no wrong.
Walk in the door of the Aqua Lounge, slide into a red leather booth, order a vodka martini, and immerse yourself in the album’s cool grooves, infectious beats, and smooth-as-black-silk melodies. David Arkenstone reveals just how broad his versatility is on Songs from the Aqua Lounge, showcasing his talent in the lounge, chill-out, funk and jazz genres Besides the presence of vocalists Nahara and Charlee Brooks on a few tracks, also joining Arkenstone in “the lounge” are Jeff Oster (flugelhorn), David Crozier (sax), Luanne Homzy (violin) and Nicholas Gunn (flute). The CD is perfect for late-night cruising, especially in urban settings. Relax, man, and enjoy the chill!
The Dream Concert
Yanni – Portrait Records
I don’t know if anyone puts on a live show like Yanni does (having seen him perform). Watch this DVD and listen to this CD and appreciate what he brings to the party: superb musicianship and ultimate entertainment. What a combo platter!
You have to hand it to Yanni; he is a fantastic live entertainer. The new age maestro has released a number of live albums, but The Dream Concert, recorded in front of the Great Pyramids and the Giant Sphinx of Egypt, may just be his crowning achievement (and that is saying something!). The two “disc” album features not just the music but also a fantastic DVD of the concert and it’s easily one of the most essential recordings I have ever reviewed. I was lucky to go to a Yanni concert in my home town of Minneapolis years ago and this man can put on a show! ‘nuff said—this is a killer album.
Wayne Gratz – Wayne Gratz Music
Some artists just “get it” and Wayne Gratz (one of the founding artists for the landmark Narada label) does. He continues to release album after album that enchant, delight, and entertain in timeless fashion.
I’ve loved Wayne Gratz recordings since first hearing Follow Me Home in 1993. His composing/performing style is strikingly unique—he blends a relaxed, soothing New Age feel with splendid pop music accessibility, while never sounding overtly commercial. Here he plays piano and keyboards (he is one of the best in the business at using textural keyboards flawlessly) and is joined by former Narada label-mate woodwind virtuoso Nancy Rumbel (here playing English horn), and Paul Fleury on cello. As a title, Safer Places infers a soothing, peaceful collection of instrumentals and the trio of musicians delivers all that and more. Pure magic!