Music Reviews

Sacred Visions

Sacred Visions

Harpist Peter Sterling (also keyboards, loops, percussion, ocarina, and recorder) ups the musical energy level on Sacred Visions, infusing his fluid melodies with healthy doses of world-beat influences, tasty but mellow grooves, and occasional side orders of chill and jazz. Frequent collaborator Richard Hardy (sax, flute, pennywhistle) and cellist Hans Christian, among others, lend their talents to the album. Track five, “Eclipse,” features notable players, including pioneering guitarist Bruce BecVar and New Age/jazz-fusion legend William Aura (leader of Third Force).

Trialogue

Trialogue

Renowned cross-genre flutist Sherry Finzer and guitarist Darin Mahoney made one of the more enjoyable albums of 2013, Transformation, a superb blend of desert ambiance and New Age melodicism. On Trialogue, the pair team up with world-class drummer and percussionist Will Clipman, and the results are every bit as spectacular as Transformation, with the added pizzazz of Clipman’s superb rhythms layered over Finzer’s flutes and Mahoney’s guitars.

The Dream Concert

The Dream Concert

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’s 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 hometown of Minneapolis years ago, and this man can put on a show!

Beyond the Waves

Beyond the Waves

Subtitled “A soulful flute journey,” Beyond the Waves emphatically shows that flutist Ann Licater deserves a spot at the top of her instrumentalist category. Over the course of her last few recordings, Licater has demonstrated virtuosity and composing ability that showcases both her versatility and her cohesion of musical vision. Joined by a very capable cast of supporting players, Licater displays her affinity for an assortment of flutes and their respective characteristic styles (New Age, Native American, etc.).

AncesTree: Gift of the Ancients

AncesTree: Gift of the Ancients

This is my first exposure to flutist Kim Bold’s music, but I hope it won’t be my last. Playing an assortment of world flutes and accompanied by gentle percussion, piano, strings, and ambient textures, Bold weaves a hypnotic web of ethnic flute journeys, transporting the listener to a variety of landscapes, each subtly aglow with subdued primal energy regardless of mood or tempo. It’s always a delight for a music critic of 19 years (yours truly) to discover an artist who possesses a special gift and a unique vision. Kim Bold has both of these in abundance.

In the Garden

In the Garden

With how tumultuous and chaotic our world is becoming every day, Seay’s new album, In the Garden has arrived none too soon. Possessed of one of the finest voices in music today (regardless of genre), Seay (who also plays piano and keyboards and did the sound design for the album) weds her magnificent voice to an assortment of life-affirming lyrics and dramatic, soulful melodies that will whisk listeners away from their trials and travails and deposit them in a land of beauty, light, and love.

Follow the River Home

Follow the River Home

Ambient guitarist Jeff Pearce’s latest release sees the Indiana resident displaying a variety of electric guitar-playing techniques, highlighting at least one new wrinkle: his talent for stinging electric leads (previously exhibited at the Zone Music Reporter Awards show in 2015). These soaring notes of electric energy are unleashed on “Snowfall,” heard over a bed of reverbed rhythm-guitar chords.

Waves of Love

Waves of Love

Waves of Love is a stunningly serene and lovely album from pianist/keyboard artist Nadama, even by the high standards of the Malimba Records label. While the 10 tracks are rooted in sublime piano melodies, Nadama’s use of an assortment of digital and sampled instruments is absolutely textbook in execution, and they help fashion these songs into relaxation masterpieces. There are some moments of gentle playfulness, but even then, the overall mood is blissfully mellow.

Zia

Zia

It’s more than a little staggering to this music critic to encounter a pianist like Alexi Musnitsky, who is one third of my age yet plays with the emotional depth and maturity of someone much closer to my years. However, it’s true—Alexi Musnitsky has only now entered his twenties. When you and your customers (in-store play!) hear this extremely gifted artist, I believe you will be as impressed as I was on my first playing of Zia.

Cosmic Connections Live

Cosmic Connections Live

Cosmic Connections Live is the polar opposite in style of the other live album reviewed this issue (Yanni’s The Dream Concert), but is its equal in every other way: superb musicianship, wonderful (as usual) vocals, outstanding instrumental performances. My assessment is, of course, no surprise to anyone who has followed the recording career of Deva Premal (vocals, tempura, keyboards), Miten (vocals. guitar) and Manose (bansuri, vocals). These three are among the best chant artists recording today.

Altered States: Music for the Journey Within

Altered States

Uma has been recording New Age music since 1982—wow! Her new release, Altered States, is a stunning display of virtuoso minimalism co-existing in the middle ground between ambient and New Age, suffused with a haunting quality borne of space-between-notes lyricism, as well as a pervasive sense of calm even amidst the atypical sparse piano melodies.

Everything in Between

Everything in Between

Everything in Between may be the most uncharacteristic recording I have heard come from Imaginary Road Studios, helmed by the production team of Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton. Guitarist Jeffrey Seeman unleashes an energetic and energizing salvo of slide guitar (and regular acoustic, too) that will grab your customers’ attention from the outset. The opening track, “5 Days Old,” is a precursor of the musical delights to come later.

Where Butterflies Dance

Where Butterflies Dance

I have written it time and time again, but it still bears repeating: Ann Sweeten has one of the most instantly recognizable piano “voices” in contemporary instrumental music, characterized by a fluid melodicism wedded to a discernible melancholic/tragic romanticism. Where Butterflies Dance, her latest effort, co-produced by Sweeten and Will Ackerman, features terrific contributions from folks such as violinist Charlie Bisharat, cellist Eugene Friesen, and flutist Trisha Craig.

Winter Symphony

Winter Symphony

If you seek music to fit the lively, joyous, and celebratory nature of holiday gatherings, reach for Jennifer Thomas’ terrific Winter Symphony, one of the most ambitious Christmas albums I have heard. Playing piano and violin, and featuring three different orchestras and The Ensign Chorus, Thomas pours her heart and soul into these 12 selections, which include traditional carols, originals, “seasonal” music (“Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”), and even the John Williams’ penned “Somewhere In My Memory” from Home Alone.

Christmas Lights

Christmas Lights

Pianist Doug Hammer’s second holiday release is a beaut! Seventeen carols and one wintry/seasonal original performed on piano in a relaxed manner make Christmas Lights a fantastic backdrop for quiet relaxing during this ultra-busy time of year. While his arrangements of these time-tested classics sometimes spin off into original improvisation, he does so with style and grace. Some carols get an energetic treatment.

I Heard It Was Christmas Day

I Heard It Was Christmas Day

In a field dominated by piano and piano-based releases, it’s refreshing to hear a holiday music album from a guitarist. Tom Caufield’s I Heard It Was Christmas Day is a real treasure. Ten carols, including one original, get enjoyable and interesting treatment without losing their trademark “feel.” Besides his guitar, Caufield also plays bass and keyboards, but it’s his stellar guitar playing that shines brightest on this album.

National Park Soundscapes

National Park Soundscapes

For her fourth National Park-inspired recording, Jill Haley (piano, oboe, and English horn) switched her attention from one park to many, composing/performing musical portraits of 12, including Acadia (Maine), Everglades (Florida), and Yosemite (California), thereby sampling from the entire country. Joined by her husband David Cullen (guitars and bass) and children Graham and Dana (cello and horn, respectively), as well as percussionist Tony Deangelis, Haley shows once more she is so much more than a sought-after guest artist for Imaginary Road Studio recordings.

On Eagle Mountain

On Eagle Mountain

Owing to the presence of his imrat guitar, as well as a unique compositional approach, Todd Mosby’s On Eagle Mountain is distinctly different from most of Will Ackerman’s Imaginary Road Studios’ recordings. The imrat guitar has a decidedly Indian sound (at times sounding like a sitar), and Mosby uses it to instill a sense of mysticism, further enhanced with Indian percussion and tamboura drone on some songs.

Transmigration

Transmigration

To paraphrase a famous line from the James Bond film Casino Royale, “There is fusion music, and there is fusion music. This is the latter.” Al Jewer and Andy Mitran, both true multi-instrumentalists, invited 22 (!) artists to join them for Transmigration, which is subtitled “… a journey with friends.” No matter what type of music you like—jazz, world, ambient, New Age—you will find it here.

Dreamwalker

Dreamwalker

Native flutist Mark Holland’s long career spans many years and many styles of music. Dreamwalker is yet another addition to his illustrious discography. Sound-healing artist Pati Pellerito, who performs on a variety of tuned instruments (bowls, gongs, chimes, bells, and Kaizen drum), fuses her mystical tones and textures with Holland’s assorted flutes, including not just Native but also bansuri, Anasazi, and Buffalo Horn flute. The result is soothing, meditative music of the highest order.

Inner Passion

Inner Passion

Pianist Peter Kater and cellist Tina Guo met over lunch one day and decided to record an album together. However, what’s unique about Inner Passion is that it is a wholly improvised recording. The two had no prior rehearsals—they walked into the studio, had the engineer hit “record” on the board, and musical magic happened. Of course, there have been dozens of albums featuring piano and cello over the years, but seldom do you hear music as soulful and selfless as this, as if it sprang from one person.

Moksha: The Path to Inner Peace

Moksha: The Path to Inner Peace

Bansuri maestro Rajendra Teredesai’s latest release on Real Music features the supremely talented artist pared down to just his trademark instrument (and tamboura drone), performing six Indian ragas aimed at providing meditative backdrops for specific times of the day (“Dawn Ritual,” “Sunset Ritual,” and “Twilight Ritual”). The album is subtitled “… the path to inner peace,” and truthfully, I think these words capture the mood of the music perfectly.

A Bridge Between

A Bridge Between

I don’t often describe a CD as “fun” in my column, so it was enjoyable to listen to (Liza) Carbe and (JP) Durand’s A Bridge Between and feel a big grin break across my face. It’s not just the duo’s great guitar playing (they both play acoustic guitar on the album—and that’s it). It’s the obvious joy they experience as they cover a wide variety of classic tunes: “Time After Time,” “Classical Gas,” “Paint It Black” (!), and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” among others, as well as some nicely done originals.

There Was a Time

There Was a Time

This is pianist Kathryn Kaye’s fifth release helmed by producer Will Ackerman and recorded at Ackerman’s Imaginary Road Studios. Like its four predecessors, the album is a warm, engaging collection of piano-based instrumentals (with two solo piano numbers) that emphasize Kaye’s gentle way with the piano. There are no pyrotechnics here (a few choice moments of drama, though), just wonderful music—simple and straightforward, yet beautiful and emotionally resonant.

Sensuous Chill

Sensuous Chill

It would seem a natural fit to set Yanni’s gorgeous piano/keyboard melodies against a backdrop of chilled beats and shuffling rhythms, yet this is the first time it has been done (to my memory)—and done very well. Seventeen tracks that infuse romantic piano melodies (with some subtle world music influences now and then) are mixed with a healthy dose of smooth sensuality, courtesy of midtempo/downtempo beats and a scattering of electronic textures and synth effects.

Subcontinental Drift

Subcontinental Drift

Subcontinental Drift embodies three “Rs”—rambunctious, rowdy, and rousing. The five members of Sultans of String, joined by sitar virtuoso Anwar Khurshid, play their collective tails off throughout this album’s 10 tracks, and boy, do they cook up a storm! The recording blends Indian influence with folk, blues, jazz, and, especially, country swing (play “Enter the Gate” in your store and watch your customers start to grin like crazy). Every now and then the guys take a break and slow things down, but for most of the album, it’s full speed ahead!

Celtic Fairy Lullaby

Celtic Fairy Lullaby

2002 (originally Pamela and Randy Copus) have had a long and highly acclaimed career, going back to 1992’s Wings. With the addition of daughter Sarah (now all of 12 years old!) on lead and backing vocals (first heard on 2014’s Trail of Dreams), the trio has reached a height that eclipses all their previous accolades. Celtic Fairy Lullaby is a magnificent recording, rife with deep mysticism, heartbreaking beauty, and many moments likely to have you catching your breath in wonder.

Golden Spiral

Golden Spiral

Dean Evenson (flute and keyboards) joins with guitarist Scott Huckabay, violist Phil Heaven, and bassist/percussionist Jeffrei Willson to weave a mesmerizing sonic web that leads the listener to a place of quiet rejuvenation and serene contentment on Golden Spiral. Liner notes address the album’s theme, which involves the concept of the Golden Mean (a universal sense of beauty). I’m not much of a scientist, so I can’t explain how that translates into music, but I can tell you the results are quite beautiful.

Unbroken Dreams

Unbroken Dreams

Mother and daughter Trine (Celtic harp) and Josefine Opsahl (cello) join forces to create a startlingly beautiful album with Unbroken Dreams. This is the duo’s second collaboration (the first was 2008’s Leaving My Silent Empty House), and it’s even more emotionally rich and soul stirring than its predecessor. Both mother and daughter are consummate musicians, in full command of every nuance and note from their respective instruments. This is not your run-of-the-mill relaxation harp album, though.

Beyond the Clearing

Beyond the Clearing

Acoustic guitarist Robert Linton’s third release solidifies his place as the top purveyor of “autumnal” music recording today. By autumnal, I mean music rich with delicate nuance, deep introspection, and a somber beauty that is emblematic of the season where red leaves are lit by orange sunsets, birds on high head south before the snow flies, and frost glistens on pumpkins and corn stalks. Linton plays with the most uncommon grace and beauty I have ever heard. He is joined by a stellar cast of guest stars, and together they will hold you spellbound and enraptured.

Yoga Meditations: A Musical Journey

Yoga Meditations

Yoga Meditations is one of the finest Indian-fusion recordings in recent memory. Sublime tones and drones from Tibetan temple bells and gongs meld with Indian instrumentation (bansuri, sitar, tanpura, santoor, sarangi, and esraj) as well as piano and cello, and the result is a recording perfectly suited for deep relaxation, creative imaging, or massage. Ocean wave sounds between the seven tracks serves as a wonderful bridge from piece to piece.

Healing Ragas III: Music for Meditation, Relaxation, and Beyond

Healing Ragas III

Based on two ragas (Basant Mukhari and Malkauns, the tracks titled “Awakening” and “Solitude,” respectively), the third volume in the Healing Ragas collection on Malimba Records offers convincing proof that Malimba is a top-notch New Age label. Manish Vyas plays santoor, tabla, swarmandal, percussion, and keyboards, and is joined by virtuoso bansuri flutist Milind Date. The pair intertwine their instruments in a musical dance of grace and beauty.

Royal Harp Strings

Royal Harp Strings

Royal Harp Strings is a deeply personal album for harpist Claire Jones. Named Official Harpist to the Prince of Wales in 2007, the stress of worldwide performances soon wore her out, and she developed chronic fatigue syndrome. During her recuperating period, she listened to these (and other) songs that guided her recovery, so she decided to “pay it back” and record them herself. Accompanied by The London Mozart Players and English Chamber Orchestra, this collection encompasses a little bit of everything: classical, film, folk, and English airs.

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