Music Reviews

Ceremony

Ceremony

The Hang drum has gained in popularity over the last several years, so it’s only natural someone (in this case, James Hood) would eventually record a Hang drum solo album. Ceremony is a double-album, which might seem excessive but surely isn’t, as the CD is varied and vibrant throughout. Hood recorded the album in a geodesic dome structure, sometimes layering and looping his performances, resulting in a true sonic marvel. The Hang drum’s notes and tones (somewhat akin to those of a steel drum but warmer) will permeate the air of any listening environment.

The Healing Path

The Healing Path

Parijat (classical guitar, electric sitar, piano, percussion, keyboards, and synth programming) takes the listener on a supremely relaxing voyage down The Healing Path, another excellent recording from New Earth Records. The artist has become one of the most consistently reliable in the New Age genre for soothing soundscapes ideally suited for massage, spa, and other contemplative exercises. Luxuriously indulgent in its cocoon-like ambience, the soothing melodies of the six tracks (each clocking in at 10 minutes exactly) envelop the listener in waves of warmth and serenity.

Forest Spirits

Forest Spirits

Residing in rural Maine does wonders for Conni St. Pierre’s muse, as she continues to evolve her unique mixture of ambient and New Age music on Forest Spirits, the second in her Nature Spirits series. St. Pierre (flutes, harp, piano, sitar, keyboards, bells, and percussion) takes the listener deep into the forest, where the leafy canopy only allows brief interruptions of light and the mood is mysterious and haunting yet occasionally beautifully serene. Some tracks feature subtle psychedelic influences while others caress the air with gentle, lilting melodies.

Sojourn

Sojourn

Sojourn is the debut from a new piano talent in contemporary music, Jim Gabriel. Produced by Gabriel, Will Ackerman, and Tom Eaton and featuring the talents of several guest artists, such as cellist Eugene Friesen, violinist Charlie Bisharat, and bassist Tony Levin, among others, Sojourn weaves an intimate, sepia-toned tapestry of captured moments, thoughtful reflections, and meditative musings.

Fight for Survival

Fight for Survival

Injunuity is Jeff Carpenter (Chickasaw) on acoustic and electric guitars, drums, percussion, and sax and Brad Clonch (Choctaw) on Native American flute, piano, bass guitar, and string arrangements … and these two are something to behold! Fight for Survival melds the sonorous quality of the Native flute with high-energy orchestral rock. One of the duo’s goals is to “… promote the introduction of Native American music and history into popular culture, helping break stereotypes about Native Americans and the music within the Indian culture,” which this album performs with ease.

Unlike the Stars

Unlike the Stars

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 he doesn’t flaunt it.

Real Romance

Real Romance

Danny Wright’s Real Romance features the stellar pianist performing both his own works and three fantastic covers (“Moon River,” “My Funny Valentine,” and “Somewhere in Time”). Playing solo (only a few tracks feature his usual tasteful string arrangements), Wright finds the right balance of full-blown drama and gentle nuance on every track (something he is always good at). His compositions flow with warmth, tenderness, and affection from the first note to the last.

Tapestries of Time

Tapestries of Time

Pianist Ann Sweeten possesses one of the most recognizable styles in contemporary piano music—gentle, flowing melodies that unwind with a hint of wistfulness, introspection, and subtle melancholy. Returning to Imaginary Roads Studios and working with Will Ackerman, Sweeten clearly shows why she has enjoyed a long, successful career. With guest artists contributing on instruments such as cello, English horn, violin, guitar, and flugelhorn, the 11 songs on Tapestries of Time are ideal for daydreaming by a window or perhaps as a soundtrack to drives through the countryside.

New Horizon

New Horizon

Matt and Rebecca Stuart are Minstrel Streams, and New Horizon is their brilliant new release. Recorded at Will Ackerman’s Imaginary Road Studios, the album flows with grace and charm from the first track, “Ancient Mariner,” to the last, “Simple Pleasures.” The duo (Matt on piano and acoustic guitar and Rebecca on flutes) are heavily influenced by the American folk music tradition, and it shows in their warm, rich melodies and expert musicianship. The CD also features such notables as cellist Eugene Friesen and English horn player Jill Haley.

Merkaba of Sound

Merkaba of Sound

Merkaba of Sound displays Jonathan Goldman’s talent for using the human voice as a meditative, transportive tool. The concept of a “merkaba,” an audio sound (or sounds) that may serve to open an inter-dimensional passage (or even become a chariot for travel between realms), has been a project of Goldman’s for years. The album features his vocal overtones, “Divine Name” tuning, and synthesizer playing, plus the “Om” chanting of Lama Tashi (at the time of his participation, the Principle Chant Master of the Drepung Loseling Monastery), as well as some other sounds and effects.

Novella: Ukulele Mosaique

Novella: Ukulele Mosaique

Your customers will be entranced by this romantic, beguiling instrumental album from Andre Feriante, on which the accomplished guitarist performs on an assortment of custom-designed and built ukuleles. Yes, you read right—ukuleles! You and your patrons will be as astonished as I was when you hear what Feriante has crafted on this magnificent album. An assortment of world-music influences (Celtic, Spanish, Italian, Hawaiian) as well as elements of the American-blues tradition flow throughout Novella: Ukulele Mosaique, charming the wild mind and taming the savage one.

Call of the Mountains

Call of the Mountains

Pianist Masako proves the critical success of her self-titled debut last year was no first-timer’s fluke. Call of the Mountains, her second collaboration with co-producers Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton, underscores her talent for scoring and performing gentle, sensitive piano tone-poems. Four of the 16 tracks feature accompaniment from Imaginary Road artists (Premik Russell Tubbs on wind synth, cellist Eugene Friesen, and percussionist Jeff Haynes among others).

Tranquil Times

Tranquil Times

Acclaimed vocalist Darlene Koldenhoven reveals an entirely new part of her musical persona on Tranquil Times, her first purely instrumental recording—and what a stunner it is. Koldenhoven composed, arranged, and performed these eight tunes on piano, keyboards, and singing bowls. Two other artists appear briefly on flute and guitar, but the true revelation on the CD is how adept Koldenhoven is at layering her various synths and keyboards on these ear-pleasing, gentle soundscapes.

Night Visions (Desert Dwellers Selected Remixes)

Night Visions (Desert Dwellers Selected Remixes)

Desert Dwellers are experts at fusing chant and world beat with state-of-the-art electronica and ambient. Night Visions showcases their remixing ability on 13 stellar tracks. The CD rivals anything released on labels such as Waveform, Ultimae, and others that specialize in ambient, dub, hip-hop, or underground electronica. The original artists (those whose works form the basis of the remixes) include folks like Deva Premal and Jai Uttal—names your customers should recognize. Be forewarned that this is far afield from even some of the more contemporary chant-fusionists recording today.

Dreamtime

Dreamtime

A collaboration between flutist/keyboardist Kinderknecht and drummer/percussionist McCall, Dreamtime melds the melodic with the rhythmic while keeping drama and power in check. The results are uniformly soothing and relaxing, despite the presence of so many rhythms courtesy of the myriad instruments played by McCall. While tribal influences surface on some tracks via Kinderknecht’s Native flutes and McCall’s many drums, the CD’s vibe is less tied to Native fusion than to a broader and overall deeper New Age scope.

Native Son

Native Son

Native American flutist Tony Duncan (Apache and Arikara-Hidatsa-Mandan) stepped away from leading Estun-Bah to release a new solo flute recording, Native Son. The 16 tracks feature both original compositions and traditional songs. Besides being one of the finest Native American flutists recording today, Duncan is also a noted powwow and hoop dancer, but his musical abilities are what make Native Son such a treat for the ears.

Twenty Years of Discovery

Twenty Years of Discovery

Whittling his 20-year career in music down to 15 tracks for this retrospective must have proved vexing for flutist/percussionist/synthesist Nicholas Gunn. I remember when he broke onto the scene in 1993 with Afternoon in Sedona as if it were yesterday. Twenty Years of Discovery reveals the rich and varied musical road Gunn has travelled for two decades. Gunn’s track sequencing on the CD is fantastic, and the mastering by Anna Frick is startlingly crisp and clear. Some career compilations can be considered “for completists only,” but such is not the case with this one.

The Unchanging

The Unchanging

Let’s get this out of the way right now: Donna De Lory has a fantastic voice! Put her together with some truly ace instrumentalists, most notably keyboardist/drum programmer Mac Quayle, and watch (or, rather, hear) the magic happen. The Unchanging sizzles, sears, and serenades into your conscious and unconscious, whether percolating with uptempo energy (“The Offering”), slinking along back-alley style (“Be the Change”), or soul stirring with sweet-voiced purity (“The Unchanging”).

Nocturnes

Nocturnes

Pianist Kevin Keller goes solo (as opposed to recording with his ensemble) on Nocturnes, yet another amazing album from this under-appreciated artist. Inspired by photographer Seth Dickerman (in fact using 10 photos for inspiration and track titles), Keller composed 10 piano tone-poems, occasionally altering the sounds from the piano via studio magic to produce ambient textures or effects. As on his last CD, The Day I Met Myself, Keller concentrates on darker, somber musical motifs (although not exclusively).

Found

Found

Found concludes the trilogy by musicians Jon Jenkins and David Helpling which began with Treasure and continued with The Crossing. Once again, the duo juxtapose their powerful, cinematic works featuring guitar, keyboards, and drums drenched in reverb with quieter, ambient soundscapes of atmospheric eloquence and beauty. When I saw Jenkins and Helpling perform live in New Orleans, Jenkins referred to their music as “bringing the thunder,” which they do many times on Found. But, it is a beautiful thunder full of majesty and awe, not fear and foreboding.

Timeless

Timeless

Hopefully, Timeless, the latest release from electric cellist Jami Sieber, will finally convince ambient and New Age music fans she is an artist worthy of everyone’s attention. Timeless was intended to be “a soundtrack for healers and healing”—it’s all that and much more. Sieber’s ethereal, undulating cello flights and wonderful, wordless vocals create an atmosphere akin to a musical cocoon within which the listener can retreat from the chaos and clutter of our world.

Waking the Muse

 Waking the Muse

On Waking the Muse, pianist Michele McLaughin displays complete mastery of her passionate and powerful piano playing. Never one to shy away from letting her emotions channel through her playing, McLaughin states she was having difficulty composing new music. However, the 13 tracks on this album clearly indicate she has tapped into a wellspring of inspiration (or her muse has awoken, if you prefer). Michele loves to play around with time signatures and styles/moods within pieces, speeding up tempo and then slowing down in an instant.

Dream Time

Dream Time

Master multi-instrumentalist Deuter takes a broader musical approach on Dream Time than on many of his meditative releases of recent years. From the opening cheerfulness of “Harlequin & Pierrot” (on which he plays banjo for the first time), it’s obvious this New Age music pioneer is setting the bar higher still for his contemporaries, both from a variety of music styles approach and the sheer virtuosity on display.

The Chants of the Holy Spirit

 The Chants of the Holy Spirit

There is no denying this collection of Gregorian chants, brought to life through the angelic voices of the Gloriæ Dei Cantores Women’s Schola, will resonate most deeply with those for whom the chants’ religious aspects hold spiritual significance. However, the breathtakingly beautiful singing of these women, meticulously recorded in the venerated Church of the Transfiguration with its marvelous acoustics, should also appeal to vocal music lovers of all persuasions.

Beyond Grand Canyon: Music of the Great Southwest National Parks

Beyond Grand Canyon: Music of the Great Southwest National Parks

Originally released in 2006 on his own label, Gemini Sun, flutist and multi-instrumentalist Nicholas Gunn’s Beyond the Grand Canyon has been given new life by Spring Hill Music (along with better artwork), and that is a very good thing. Gunn excels at painting sonic pictures of both vast and intimate landscapes, crafting music that is cinematic in scope and feel (listeners will likely want some visuals to accompany the splendid music).

Bliss of Being

Bliss of Being

In the liner notes, pianist/keyboardist Richard Shulman recounts listening to Robert Haig Coxon’s Silent Path (2000) and starting work on Bliss of Being the next day. A few minutes into the first track, I discerned Coxon’s influence. Working with cellist Adriana Contino, flutist Kate Steinbeck, vocalist Dielle Ciesco, and crystal bowl artist Bob Hinkle, Shulman has crafted a supremely relaxing album which blends classical music motifs with the soothing qualities of New Age and trace elements of ambient.

Deep Theta 2.0

Steven Halpern

Apparently in the music world, lightning strikes not just twice, but multiple times. Steven Halpern has again harnessed the soothing qualities of the Rhodes electric piano’s bell-like notes, this time fusing their tones with world flutes (bansuri and shakuhachi) played by three very talented performers. Mixing in some ambient keyboard textures amidst the Rhodes and the flute melodies, Halpern and his accompanists (Jorge Alfano, Ronnie Nyogetsu, and Schawkie Roth) have fashioned some of the most relaxing and beautiful music released this year.

Day of Life

 Day of Life

Day of Life is one of pianist/keyboard player Bernward Koch’s best albums to date. Besides piano/keyboards, the artist also plays melodica, bass, guitar, glockenspiel, and percussion. Other artists contribute on wind instruments, as well as a variety of harmonic percussion and bells/bowls/chimes. Koch has always excelled at layering synthesizer strings and textures with romantic, plaintive piano melodies, and this CD exemplifies that specific talent. Many tracks combine a flowing gentleness with a pastoral sense of gentle beauty and a dash of romance.

One Creator

One Creator

Krishna Kaur injects soul, jazz, and R&B musical influences into the chant genre. The artist possesses one of the best voices in chant, and the CD puts the singer front and center while surrounding her with talented instrumental accompaniment. Three songs are chants while the other four are devotional-lyric, English language compositions. Check out the smoky sax that kicks off “Oh My Foolish Mind,” on which Krishna Kaur’s vocals are silky smooth.

Scotland: Grace of the Wild

Scotland: Grace of the Wildv

Bill Leslie (guitar, whistle, keyboards) usually features some Irish/Celtic music on his albums, but on Scotland: Grace of the Wild, he goes full bore. Inspired by his third trip to the land of his ancestors, Leslie worked with pianist/accordionist/co-producer Bill Covington and a handful of supremely talented guest artists in capturing the special beauty and enchantment of the Scottish landscape, as well as the warmth and charm of its people.

Hokulea

Hokulea

When your store lacks energy on a cloudy day, just slide AOMusic’s latest release, Hokulea, into your store’s CD player—voilá, problem solved. If your customers and employees aren’t twirling up and down the aisles wearing big grins, check their pulses! The nonprofit, music consortium AOMusic (headed by Richard Gannaway, Miriam Stockley, and Jay Oliver and featuring guest artists and children’s choirs from across the globe) once again has crafted a musical celebration of global diversity, beauty, love, and life.

The Blue Rose

 The Blue Rose

Having visited the Arabian desert (Scheherazade) and the home of the Vikings (Northern Seas), keyboardist Al Conti now travels to the Far East, a land of mystery, enchantment, and ultimately, romance on The Blue Rose. Based on a Chinese folktale about a princess whose emperor father commands her to wed, The Blue Rose presents Conti at his most self-assured and creative. The CD displays Conti’s musical mastery, as he interweaves an assortment of Asian musical influences and instruments among the New Age melodies and occasional bouncy, chill-out rhythms.

The Space Between

The Space Between

Pianist Chad Lawson renews the promise of his solo debut CD, Set on a Hill (2011), with The Space Between, an exquisitely beautiful exploration of minimalism, sometimes accented with contributions from cellist Rubin Kodheli and guitarist James Duke (both heard sparingly but to solid effect). Lawson’s delicate shadings, masterful control of nuance, and starkly emotive performance are all in ample evidence throughout the disc. The title is reflective of how the pianist explores “the space between” the notes on songs, allowing these pieces to breathe with a sublime patience.

The Piano Guys 2

 The Piano Guys 2

The Piano Guys are at it again! Once more these ultra-talented guys (Jon Schmidt on piano, Steven Sharp Nelson on cello, and Al van der Beek on percussion, all of whom composed music for this recording) have smashed genres together, fusing them into an explosion of creativity, musical artistry, and flat-out fun. The Piano Guys 2 continues on with their delightful merging of popular music (here typified by themes from Mission Impossible, Lord of the Rings, and the Charlie Brown television specials) with classical, jazz, and pop influences, yielding 42 minutes of grin-inducing enjoyment.

Awakenings

Awakenings

Much sought-after flute maker and premier flutist Stephen DeRuby (joined by some very talented accompanists) has recorded an outstanding world fusion album, Awakening. Melding his wide assortment of wooden and world flutes with ethnic percussion, guitars, and other world beat instruments (e.g., kalimba and dulcimer), DeRuby infuses the music with exotic yet accessible influences from the Far East, India, and the Middle East. DeRuby showcases his own versatility by also playing guzheng, guitar, and orchestral string keyboards.

Ark of Love

Ark of Love

Chaitanya is Koriander (vocals, harmonium, guitar, keyboards), Rishi (tablas, frame drum, congas) and Tom Aldrich (bass). Ark of Love features kirtan chants dressed up in somewhat sparse but engaging instrumental accompaniment that sometimes reminded me of the San Francisco music scene of the late ’60s. The harmonium is a nice change of pace, in particular, and on “Sita Ram Salsa” I heard distant echoes of the seminal band It’s a Beautiful Day.

Yoga Moods 2

Yoga Moods 2

The second release in the Yoga Mood series is an excellent collection of chill-out/downtempo tracks compiled by Beth Shaw (founder of YogaFit), and mixed by David and Steve Gordon. Seven selections are by the Gordons themselves. Also featured are Helene Horlyck, Jaya Lakshmi, Opera to Relax, and Peter Mergener. Yoga Moods 2 unfurls its musical gifts as if softly urged by a gentle breeze, with beats that infuse just the right level of energy, but don’t overpower the album’s laid-back groove. The CD is a continuous mix collection (with no separation between tracks).

Be the Light

Be the Light

Culled from five previous releases of ace multi-instrumentalist Shastro (guitar, flute, kora, clarinet, percussion, santoor, synth programming), these nine tracks represent (per the liner notes) “… some of Shastro’s most mystical music.” I would add that it also amply demonstrates his versatility at and talent for melding New Age and world beat music in a variety of ways, displaying an affinity for numerous influences, including Mediterranean, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Native American, as well as some pop/folk flavors sprinkled here and there, which only adds to the accessibility quotient

A Deeper Light

 A Deeper Light

To paraphrase a line from Star Wars, “The groove is strong with this one.” Chant superstars Deva Premal, Miten, and frequent collaborator Manose brought in Maneesh de Moor (keyboards, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3, wah-wah guitar, clavinet, and Wurlitzer) to add some seriously funky touches to their wonderful chants, and he really delivered. These eight tracks bring the funk and the groove while still retaining the inner heart and soul of the mantras themselves. Reggae/dub influences anchor some songs while others are spiced with lounge, soul, or late ’60s jazz flavors.

The Shimmering Land

The Shimmering Land

After a twelve year absence, Meg Bowles, one of the best ambient/spacemusic artists in the genre, triumphantly resurfaced in 2011 with A Quiet Light, heralding her return to releasing music. Now, a scant two years later, Bowles has released a fantastic follow-up. The Shimmering Land reemphasizes the artist’s well-deserved place alongside such luminaries as Steve Roach and Jonn Serrie when it comes to crafting vast, cosmic soundscapes that surround the listener with smooth, ethereal flows and occasional gentle rhythms.

Gypsy Heart

Gypsy Heart

Master multi-instrumentalist Ashik (violin, viola, charango, Irish whistle, guitars, keyboards, and more) displays his amazing versatility and abundant talent on this passionate collection of both traditional gypsy music and a few artist originals. Gypsy music typically follows a motif of starting off slow and building in both intensity and tempo, becoming a fiery explosion of melody and rhythm. Joined by drummer/percussionist Rishi S.

There and Gone

There and Gone

Ed Gerhard’s latest release (his ninth by my count) reinforces his standing among the best acoustic guitarists recording today. There and Gone displays his virtuosity across a number of music styles and instruments, including lap steel and 12-string. Gerhard’s impressive composing ability is showcased, as well as his tasteful choice in cover tunes. His take on the Hank Williams’ classic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” is an album highlight. Most of the tracks reflect a relaxed mood, perfect for either lazing around or afternoon cruising.

4am Plum Mood

4am Plum Mood

Conceived as the soundtrack to late-night/early-morning wanderings—both physically and emotionally—4am Plum Mood is the latest offering from DJ/re-mixer DJ Drez. Featuring music inspired by the artist’s mood as he leaves clubs in the pre-dawn hours, the 16 tracks excel at creating a mellow, down-tempo groove laced with subtle jazz influences, as well as exotic world-beat motifs and plenty of contemporary electronics. Infectious in the best possible sense, 4am Plum Mood flows with cyber-sensuality as it careens from one engaging track to another.

Path of the Divine

Path of the Divine

Bansuri flute virtuoso Rajendra Teredesai’s follow-up to his acclaimed Real Music debut, Divine Dimension, is the sublime Path of the Divine. Once again collaborating with Rasull Soon (keyboards, chant, percussion, synth arrangements), the pair explore the deep, meditative heart of the Indian raga, notably the improvisational alap phase, fusing the traditional (bansuri, tabla, tamboura drone, bowls) with the ultra-contemporary (assorted electronic and ambient shadings and textures).

Awakening the Fire

Awakening the Fire

When you have artists as consistently praised and well established as Native flutist R. Carlos Nakai and his frequent collaborator, drummer/percussionist Will Clipman (here playing more than 20 different instruments), there’s not much to do but stand back, wait for the two to weave their musical spell, and follow wherever it leads. In-store play is a must for this masterwork, which combines the haunting beauty of the Native American flute with a veritable world of rhythm.

For the Asking

 For the Asking

For the Asking is singer/songwriter Celia’s seventh album. It showcases her talent for composing thoughtful lyrics wrapped inside engaging melodies and sung in a tender, sincere style that conveys the personal meaning each song has for her. Besides singing, Celia plays guitar, keyboards, and, in a nod to her Irish heritage, the bodhran.

Dream Space

Dream Space

Having explored (musically) the rainforest, the desert, the sea, and many more environments, it was natural for Dean Evenson (flutes, keyboards) to turn his attention to the cosmos. On Dream Space, he’s joined by wife Dudley (harps, Tibetan bowls, tamboura) and violist Phil Heaven, as the trio traverse the vast reaches of outer space. Space for Evenson is friendly, warm, and inviting, albeit expansive and awe-inducing.

Soul Tones

Soul Tones

Despite having more than 100 albums in his discography, ambient superstar Steve Roach continues to explore sonic territory and evolve his music, refusing to sit still for even a moment. Soul Tones, however, invites the listener to do just that: sit perfectly still (or better yet lie down) and fully absorb the all-immersive experience of these deep, smooth, warm expanses of synthesizer textures.

WolfLore

WolfLore

In somewhat of a change of pace for New Age music artist Llewellyn, the keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist explores a more vibrant and powerful aspect of his musical persona by delving into his affinity for the wolf on WolfLore. Energetic, sometimes fueled by propulsive rhythms, the music has multiple influences, such as Native American, Celtic, orchestral, and ethno-tribal, but probably slots in closest to chill-out with its mellow beats and lush synthesizers. WolfLore aptly demonstrates how Llewellyn’s talent spans a broad spectrum of subgenres.

Drum Cargo: Rhythms of Wind

Drum Cargo: Rhythms of Wind

Drum Cargo: Rhythms of Wind is the third in a series of drum/percussion-only recordings from David and Steve Gordon, with guest stars Bobby Cochran and Kim Atkinson. Listing the dizzying plethora of exotic hand drums and ethnic percussion on this CD would take the rest of this review. Instead, I’ll focus on the energizing power unleashed while listening to the album’s eight tracks, with considerable variety between songs.

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