Cantus, the all-female vocal group/choir from Norway, have released earlier seven albums, yet their fame increased exponentially when their recording of “Vuelie” was selected as the opening musical number for the smash-hit movie, Frozen. That song opens their eighth recording, a spectacular collection of twelve tracks, each one displaying the heartrending beauty of their assembled voices (along with some excellent instrumental accompaniment on strings and wind instruments). These traditional Norwegian melodies and vocals will soothe you even while leaving you awestruck at the beauty of the women’s voices. In-store play will almost certainly help this one fly off your shelves.
I first discovered flutist Suzanne Teng’s abundant talents about 20 years ago, but I lost track of her career until Kingdom of Mountains arrived in my mailbox recently and thank goodness for it doing so. Teng is a master-class flutist and Mystic Journey is Teng and multi-instrumentalist Gilbert Levy (ethnic drums and percussion, keyboards, et al.). On this album, the pair are joined by guitarist Dann Torres and bassist Jon Osman. Some of the ten tracks are sensual rhythmic explorations, tinted with mystery, while others feature a more playful, innocent mood. Nothing here is overly rambunctious so this would be perfect music for low-key yoga.
My generation of rock fans grew up in the era of the “supergroup,” e.g. Blind Faith, ELP, West, Bruce and Lang. Well, what goes around, etc. Here is the first contemporary instrumental supergroup: pianist Fiona Joy, guitarist Lawrence Blatt, flugelhorn/trumpet maestro Jeff Oster and pioneering guitarist Will Ackerman. Just stating that these four monumental talents are assembled on this disc should be inducement enough to order multiple copies for your store. The eleven tracks aptly show why these four musicians are revered by their many fans. A smattering of talented guest artists serve to further flavor this musical feast for the ears.
Stefan Strand records as Between Interval and he’s been releasing great spacemusic/ambient albums since 2005. After a seven-year hiatus, he has returned with a vengeance with Legacy, a moody mixture of ambient, spacemusic, Berlin electronic music, chill, dub, techno…well, a little bit of everything electronic it would seem. Yet, the musical vision and artistic statement of Legacy is remarkably cohesive and also executed flawlessly. The album has a science fiction orientation (track titles include “Fields of Neptune” and “Gravity Core”) and features gorgeous front/back cover artwork/graphics (a hallmark of all Spotted Peccary recordings). Some tracks flow with dark beauty, others percolate with sly playfulness.
Noted Spanish/world beat guitarist Stubblefield digs deep into his musical toolbox on Guitare Mystique, an exploration of mysticism, magic, and fantasy dressed in Nuevo flamenco colors. Stubblefield, a big fan of fantasy in film and art, wanted to infuse this album with his affinity for the genre. He does that by incorporating a lot more than just Latin-flavored guitar melodies and rhythms. There are trace elements of chill-out, progressive rock, and Middle Eastern/Arabic flavored world beat. More than anything else, though, as he has done throughout his storied career, Stubblefield wields his guitar like a true virtuoso, accompanied by some talented guest stars.
Pianist/keyboardist Peter Calandra has been composing music for film, TV, and Broadway for a long time but his solo recording career took off in 2013 with the solo piano release, Ashokan Memories. After Inner Circle (2014) and First Light (2015), both of which showcased his versatility across multiple genres, The Road Home sees the artist narrowing his focus, resulting in his most cohesive release to date. Most tracks are either cheery, jazzy tunes, reminiscent of, e.g. Dave Grusin’s work in the late ‘80s to early ‘90s, or dreamy, hauntingly beautiful cinematic orchestral soundscapes with densely reverbed piano. The Road Home is easily one of 2017’s best releases.
From the opening bluesy sax solo on “Ong Namo” to the cheerful, trippy, rhythm-infused closing “Aadays Tisai Aadays,” Krishna Kaur’s Longing is not your typical chant release on Spirit Voyage—and that’s an understatement. Lead vocalist Kaur’s intent is clearly spelled out in the album’s dedication: Longing is aimed at helping the “many teenage women and men in under-resourced communities” everywhere. What better way to reach out to them than with a non-traditional approach to chant. Some tracks are closer to English-language folk songs than mantras, while others are chant-based but with a jazz-influence front and center (especially with Katja Rieckermann’s sax playing a substantial role).
Guitarist Jack Gates and his mates (on drums/percussion, bass, harmonica, and cello) do indeed “bring the flavors” to this musical feast. Jazz influences run through the fourteen tracks like a laughing brook wending through a forest glade. So many styles and moods are on display on this recording that singling them out would take the rest of the review! Some songs wear world beat touches more prominently, while others rock a bit with some nice fusion elements. In the forefront are superb performances by all the players. This should be a hit with your customers who counted Paul Winter’s Consort and the follow-up group, Oregon, as among their favorites.
This appears to be a sequel album of sorts. Voices from Heaven Volume II picks up where the 2015’s Voices from Heaven left off. Three long tracks (16 to 20 minutes long) flow peacefully from start to finish. Syversen performs on piano and keyboards while Halonen adds his superb wordless vocals. Guest vocalist Helene Edler Lorentzen appears on the track “Rainbow Bridge” singing and playing some subtle shaman drum. Of the original Voices from Heaven, I wrote “…a beautiful voyage into a sonic landscape of flowing electronics and wordless vocalizations that caresses the listener with warmth and serenity.” Ditto here. I can’t imagine there is a better massage recording out there.
Christopher James was co-founder of the groundbreaking jazz/new age fusion group, Val Gardena (their 1995 album On the Bridge is a must have). After an extended break from composing music, he returned in 2013. His latest, The Sad Waltz, features fourteen tracks, all but one instrumental in nature. A wide assortment of styles, moods, and influences can be heard, some resembling his Val Gardena phase and others as different from that sound as you can imagine. The excellent musicianship of the dozens (!) of guest artists and James’ composing bravura and fearlessness make this one of the more fascinating albums (as well as highly enjoyable) I have reviewed in the last few years.