Rudy Adrian – Spotted Peccary Music
Coastlines, inspired by Adrian’s childhood visits to the New Zealand coastline with his father, is classic space/ ambient music with the emphasis on “classic” since it was recorded on older electronic music devices, including a 1988 Apple Macintosh running music software. Sometimes warm and comforting (such as the title track and “Clouds Over the Horizon”) and other times more shadowy and haunting (“Tussen de Monsters”), the 10 pieces here are ideal late-night sonic explorations meant to be absorbed with lights low and no disturbances. To my ears, this is as close as a current-day recording can get to the “golden age” of electronic New Age music.
Longitudes and Latitudes
Lawrence Blatt – LMB Music
Guitarist Lawrence Blatt reaches new heights in composing, arranging, and performing talents on this fantastic collection of guitar and ensemble instrumentals. Despite the album’s title, this is not world music in any traditional sense (with a one-track exception) but instead is an infectious, breezy, and instantly enjoyable blend of light (rather than smooth) jazz and contemporary instrumental music. Some songs are cheery, some are romantic, and some are gently swinging (“Flying Over Ellis Island” reminds me of Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt), and all are superbly performed by Blatt and his assortment of talented guest artists. One of the best albums I have heard in years.
Wispers from Silence
Tom Moore and Sherry Finzer – Heart Dance Records
Gary Schmidt is one of the many pianists who have journeyed to Imaginary Road Studios to record under the guidance of Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton. Landscapes of the Heart represents just why acoustic instrumental music is making a huge comeback. Schmidt’s piano melodies are warm, accessible, and flow forth from the speakers with an unforced naturalness and sincerity. The overall mood is one of quiet reflection with hints of subtle classical influence (not counting the two Erik Satie pieces on the CD, which are more overt in that influence, obviously). Featuring the usual superb guest artists who frequently grace IR recordings, the album’s subtitle of “piano-based meditations” is solidly earned.
Whispers from Silence
Tom Moore and Sherry Finzer – Heart Dance Records
By opening with the sound of a Tibetan bell, you would correctly surmise this is an album for meditation and relaxation. Flutist Finzer (who plays a variety of flutes throughout the recording) is joined by Moore, who handles the other instruments, including the keyboards that feature prominently throughout. Some world music influences are present here, such as tamboura drone and sitar on “Toward the One,” while other songs are more closely attuned to the New Age and space music genres (“Infinite Space,” “Way of the Heart”). But, whatever particular style that Finzer and Moore dial up, the music is always quietly captivating, drawing the listener into an introspective state and quiet contemplation.
Jóhann Jóhannsson – Deutsche Grammaphon
This a stunningly gorgeous and deeply evocative contemporary classical recording from the artist whose compositions can also be heard on the soundtrack to one of 2016’s best reviewed movies, Arrival. Somber, reflective, and at times bravely adventurous, this is music meant to be intently listened to in order to absorb the deep emotional resonance and embrace the core of the feelings conveyed through the elegiac strings, the plaintive piano, the ambient electronics, and the other instruments present, as well as the vocals by the Theatre of Voices singers. Even when the mood turns dark, and it does at times, the inherent beauty of the music shines through.
Temple at Midnight Miten
Deva Premal and Miten – White Swan Records
Talk about an unexpected delight! Temple at Midnight showcases both Miten’s expressive vocals and his composing ability in the quasi-folk music genre. Known more for his work in chant, where he collaborates with Deva Premal, this album reveals a whole other side to this talented musician. His restrained yet evocative singing and his knack for crafting inspiring lyrics and memorable melodies in a folks/blues style, in addition to his wonderful acoustic guitar playing, put this CD into contention for best vocal album of 2016. If the opening “River Man” doesn’t hook you in, the Chris Rea-ish “No Goal but This” or the reggae-flavored “All Is Welcome Here” will.
In My Dreams Again
Phoenix Rising – Self-released
Phoenix Rising is pianist/ percussionist Wendy Loomis and flutist Monica Williams, and they are a formidable musical force. In My Dreams Again showcases the scope of their artistic vision, which is wide and deep. Loomis is the composer, and her mastery of so many genres, influences, and moods is truly special, as is Williams’ performing talent across a wide variety of flutes. With 16 tracks on the album, it is difficult to categorize the music in a nutshell, although there are elements of world, New Age, pop, and classical present. “Heat Mirage,” which features pan flute, kalimba, and a playful air laced with a hint of sadness, is an absolutely outstanding track.
The Fairy Garden
David Arkenstone – Green Hill
David Arkenstone’s The Fairy Garden once again displays the scope of this artist’s talent and ambition. I sometimes wonder if there is any kind of music Arkenstone wouldn’t excel at composing/performing. Here, he sets his sights on classic New Age music. A wide swath of emotions and moods are woven into the tracks: highly dramatic (the opening “Sunbreak”), gentle beauty (“Pools of Moonlight”), and whimsical playfulness (“Fire Fairy Dance”). Some songs start quietly and build into powerful, sweeping orchestrations. This motif of orchestral accompaniment, either real or via keyboards, has become one of his musical signatures, and he excels at it.
Deuter – New Earth Records
New Age music pioneer Deuter drew his influence from the names of medicinal plants for Immortelle, his latest album. What strikes me about Immortelle is how playful it is at times. While perhaps not as up-tempo as Sun Spirit (2000), there is a relaxed lightness present here on most tracks, a mood of gentle cheer accentuated by up-tempo motifs as well as the presence of rhythmic elements that elevate the mood above mere relaxation to a less passive status. This lasts for most of the album, although later tracks feature a more reflective mood.
Al Conti – Shadowside Music
After taking a break from composing (due to moving his residence), Al Conti looked inward for his next recording. He had previously “been” to the desert (Scheherazade), Scandinavia (Northern Seas), and Asia (The Blue Rose). On Mystic, he explores the universal concept of the mystic, defined as “a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute.” The resulting recording is easily his most ambitious, self-assured, and wide reaching so far. Mystic fuses contemporary chill-out with world fusion from a variety of cultures, and the results are infectious, accessible, and beguiling.