Music Matters A Place for Music Fans! http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters <![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Christine Brown
2014 / Key Image Music
58 minutes

I’ve been reviewing Christine Brown’s albums since her 1997 release, "Winter Tapestry," and she has become one of my very favorite artists. A mixture of passion, exceptional  playing chops and an abundance of grace consistently puts her music in a category of its own. "Souvenirs" is a collection of fourteen breathtaking original piano solos inspired at least in part by the arrival of Brown’s new piano, a Kawai RX-7 grand. The pieces express a wide range of emotions and experiences with depth, sincerity and an elegant touch. Already nominated as “Album of the Year” by Whisperings Solo Piano Radio, I’m sure "Souvenirs" will be on my list of Favorites for the year as well. The album was recorded and mastered by Joe Bongiorno on his Shigeru Kawai at his Piano Haven Studio in Sedona, AZ - as always, impeccable!

"Souvenirs" begins with “Rhythm of the Rain,” another wonderful example of how well the piano expresses the feeling of rain, be it a wild and crazy storm or a gentle shower. This is somewhere in the middle, flowing gently but steadily with varying levels of intensity. The title track is a  beautiful, bittersweet waltz (the original title!) composed after the passing of a close friend to cancer. More reflective than mournful, it’s one of my favorites. I also really love “Shiver,” which went without a title for nearly two years. The piece is in constant motion, sometimes gracefully and sometimes more intense. It makes my fingers itch! “Prelude to Sunrise” is more ambient and descriptive, often using  rapidly arpeggiated chords to depict beams of light coming through clouds (my interpretation). “Aqua Abyss” is yet another favorite. Brown says, “I don’t recall what initiated the writing of this song, but it immediately reminded me of falling gently, spiraling downward in the water, dark and mysterious, yet calm and beautiful,” and that’s exactly how it feels. Gorgeous!!! “Silhouette” was the first piece Brown composed on her new piano, exploring the touch and dynamics of the instrument. The resulting piece sounds a bit like a classic movie theme - nostalgic, sentimental, and very beautiful. “The Hour Glass” reflects on the passage of time. Gently but relentlessly flowing, it pauses only occasionally. “Stepping Stones” happily recalls life’s milestones, what Brown refers to as the “stepping stones of life.” “Guardian Angel” is a heartfelt prayer full of love, sincerity and deep emotion. Inspired by the white field of clouds below the airplane on a recent trip, “Cashmere Clouds” is a peaceful lullaby that serenely brings us to the end of this excellent album.

Christine Brown’s tenth album could be her best music yet - truly inspired and from the heart - and I give it my highest recommendation! "Souvenirs" is available from ChristineBrownPiano.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby.

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

9/29/14]]>
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<![CDATA[ Partners is one of the best albums of 2014.]]> I love every song on this album. Barbra proves that she can take these classic songs and make them sound new and special with any partner. My favorite is “New York State of Mind”. I forgot how much warmth and wisdom Billy Joel’s voice contains. Barbra sounds great singing with the piano man. Barbra harmonizes so well with John Legend on the song “What Kind of Fool”. I absolutely love the original with Barry Gibb, but John gives this song a new soulful quality. The piano and acoustic guitar playing are so pretty on the song “Evergreen”. Babyface sounds so smooth and soulful on this classic song.

“I’d Want It to Be You” is a beautiful duet with Blake Shelton. This song makes me believe that Blake and Barbra could be the best of friends I have never heard of this song before, and it is a pleasant surprise. I love Barbra’s duet with Stevie Wonder entitled “People”. I love Stevie’s harmonica playing on this track. His vocals are superb too. It is great to hear him sing anything after such a long absence. Only Streisand could get all my favorite singers to perform on her album. “Come Rain or Come Shine” features John Mayer playing a bluesy electric guitar. This song sounds so cool because of John Mayer’s talents. The biggest surprise may be Barbra’s duet with her son Jason Gould on the song “How Deep is the Ocean”. This is a very touching and beautiful song. I can’t stop listening to this CD. It is one of the best of the year.]]>
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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Mesa Verde Soundscapes
Jill Haley
2014 / Jill Haley
58 minutes

Jill Haley’s "Mesa Verde Soundscapes" is the third in a series of albums inspired by US National Parks. During a two-week stay at Mesa Verde as an Artist-in-Residence, Haley was afforded the opportunity to explore many sites, dwellings, and landscapes while creating music. Anyone who has visited this magnificent park is forever changed by the experience of visiting the cliff dwellings and imagining the lives of the ancestral Pueblo people who lived there. The CD includes a 15-page booklet with gorgeous photos taken by Jill Haley to illustrate each of the 14 tracks. The music is exceptionally beautiful and features Haley’s family on some of the accompanying instruments. Haley performs on piano, guitar, bass, oboe and English horn (recorded by Tom Eaton at Imaginary Road Studio); Haley’s husband, David Cullen appears on guitar and bass; and her children, Dana, Graham, and Risa Cullen appear on horn, cello and viola respectively. It’s an impressive project that invites the listener to experience the sights and sounds of Mesa Verde by way of masterful musical expression. 

"Mesa Verde Soundscapes" opens with the graceful and very serene “Chapin Daybreak,” a piano and oboe duet inspired by a sunrise viewed from the Chapin Amphitheater. As the light becomes more intense, the piece expands to include the songs of various birds and insects - a lovely beginning! “Curves of Burnt Orange” depicts the color of a sunset on the walls of Mug House, one of the cliff dwellings. Piano and English horn evoke images of lengthening shadows and a peaceful calm. “Seep Spring Song” has a very light, flowing feeling, representing the life-giving water near or in many of the dwellings. “Towers and Kivas” is a spirited trio for guitar, bass and oboe that tells of the space-saving methods of building vertically within the cliff dwellings - towers that rise in the cliffs and kivas that were created in sunken areas of the dwellings. The acoustic nature of this rhythmic piece is both contemporary and traditional. “Sleeping Ute Mountain” is quietly soothing yet haunting in its beauty. The pastoral “Vibrant Mesa Blossoms” describes the plants and flowers that have graced the area for centuries. If you’ve ever visited the cliff dwellings, you have experienced the feeling that the spirits of the ancestral Pueblo people live on in those spaces. “Living Walls” expresses that feeling via a wonderful piano and English horn duet. “Far View,” a very cinematic piece for horn, oboe and piano, is named for the largest building in the community and its expansive views. The music suggests vast open space and feelings of quiet contentment. The last Soundscape is an evocative piano solo called “Mesa Nightfall.” It expresses the magical time when the many of the colors of the sunset merge and blend to become the peaceful night sky. 

Jill Haley is creating a wonderful series of albums inspired by the beauty and majesty of some of our National Parks - what an amazing tribute! "Mesa Verde Soundscapes" is available online from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

9/11/14

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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Inspired
Bryan Carrigan
2014 / Peonies Music
46 minutes

"Inspired" is Bryan Carrigan’s fifth album of original music and he calls it “a soundtrack for inspired life.” Blending the genres of ambient, new age, and positive chill out, "Inspired’s" twelve tracks take the listener on a sonic journey through hope, joy, contentment, and elation. A producer, engineer, music editor, synth programmer, scoring sound designer, remixer and composer of electronic music, Carrigan’s career has encompassed virtually all music genres while working in the recording, television and film industries, lending his skills to hundreds of diverse projects. His previous release, "Below Zero," was awarded “Best Chill/Groove” album for 2013 by Zone Music Reporter and his album, "Windows," was a nominee for Best Ambient Album in 2012. Inspired will no doubt continue this trend! While Carrigan’s music is distinctive and unique, some of this album reminds me a bit of some of Ray Lynch’s classic electronic music - mostly because of its buoyant spirit and masterful musicality. 

"Inspired" begins with “Elation,” an energetic piano-based piece that mixes strings, guitar and keyboard sounds with an infectious rhythm and soaring joy. “Hope” expresses how I  imagine floating on a cloud would feel with a repeating rhythm pattern behind ethereal washes of sound - very relaxed and soothing. “Lemon Drops” is vibrant and joyful, incorporating world rhythms with guitar sounds, voices, and layered instrumentation. I don’t think it’s possible to feel down in the dumps while listening to this one! “Floating Above” returns us to that sonic cloud and sense of blissful contentment. “Along the Path” is relaxed yet gives the impression of moving forward at a lively pace.  “Kaleidoscope” kicks up the rhythm a bit behind montages of sounds that swirl and merge as the title suggests. Bright and in constant motion, it exudes feelings of freedom and joy. “Caravan” becomes more exotic and edgy while “Really Fun Song” just about dances out of the speakers with its high energy and giggling good humor (my favorite track!). “Warm Embrace” returns us to a more ambient, ethereal feeling that surrounds the listener like a lingering hug. “Offerings” closes the album with peaceful washes of sound that gently soothe and uplift, leaving the listener refreshed and feeling positive. 

Bryan Carrigan has now established himself as one of the leading artists in the ambient, chill, and new age categories and "Inspired" will give you a really good idea of why that is. If you are new to Bryan’s music, be sure to check this one out. Fans of his previous releases will love this one, too! "Inspired" is available from www.BryanCarrigan.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

9/12/14

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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Reflections & Recollections, Vol. 1
Mark John McEncroe
2013 / Koi Music Pty. Ltd.
71’52”

"Reflections & Recollections, Vol. 1" is the debut recording by Australian composer Mark John McEncroe and is promised to be the first of a series. "Volume 1" contains thirteen original piano solos performed by Helen Kennedy, a pianist who has concertized internationally and who has been McEncroe’s piano teacher since 1999. Much of McEncroe’s music is inspired by the French Impressionist period, and while it is complex and free, it isn’t as demanding as the music of Debussy or Ravel. The idea behind McEncroe’s composing style is to express his recollections of his life experiences using a garden setting (his koi pond/bonsai courtyard) with references to water, shadows, climate, fish, etc. Without intending to “further the boundaries of musical innovation or to showcase virtuosity,” McEncroe hopes to transport listeners to a “reflection and recollection” journey of their own. While most of the music on this album is slow and graceful, there is a very interesting variety of styles and approaches from Baroque to blues. A retired chef, McEncroe does a lovely job of blending and balancing his sonic ingredients, creating a tasty and satisfying musical dish. 

"Reflections & Recollections, Vol. 1" begins with “A Lazy Summer’s Afternoon,” a gently flowing piece that expresses a peaceful kind of warmth that refreshes both heart and soul - a beautiful start! “Andante Moderato” a multi-movement work with a strong Baroque influence in its structure and constant movement. This is one of my favorites to play from the companion sheet music book, and I really enjoy listening to it as well. I love the title “A Fish With The Blues” almost as much as I like the song! A variety of themes combine to make a descriptive piece that is fun to listen to while occasionally tugging at the heartstrings. “Ghosts From the Past” is another favorite. Reflective and haunting, it expresses many moods and thoughts with grace and deep emotion. “Introspective Moments” is a lovely slow waltz with a dreamy lilt. “Shades of Autumn” weaves a variety of moods, thoughts, and feelings into a tapestry of sound that expresses the beginnings and endings that occur in autumn along with the changes of season. “Shadows In the Water” moves slowly and expressively, never hurried or anxious - very soothing. “The Pendulum” has a free-form right hand over a repeated left hand pattern, reflecting on how time continues to move at the same pace no matter what we’re doing (my interpretation, anyway!). 

Mark John McEncroe is off to a great start with his newest career as a composer! "Reflections & Recollections, Vol. 1" is recommended to those who like their solo piano music with a strong classical influence. It is available from www.markjohnmcencroecomposer.com, Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. 

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

9/17/14

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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> In the Moment
Rich Batsford
2014 / Mouflon Music
47’46”

"In the Moment" is Rich Batsford’s second solo piano album. His debut album, "Valentine Court," was released in 2009, and "Mindfulness," a vocal album, was released in England and Australia in 2012. Batsford calls his music “Classically Chilled Piano,” reflecting a variety of influences and musical experiences. "In the Moment" is a collection of ten piano improvisations composed and recorded as they were being created - in the moment! In 2012, Batsford relocated from England to Australia where he is performing regularly, composing and teaching piano. In training for ordination into the Triratna Buddhist Order, Batsford’s  commitment to meditation, study and reflection is increasingly informing his music and lyric writing. Some of the improvised recordings I’ve reviewed over the years were interesting the first time through and then lost their magic. I’m not finding that to be true of Batsford’s work at all. The improvisations run from 2 1/2 - 7 1/4 minutes and are stylistically varied. Most are quiet and meditative, but some have a more spirited rock influence and/or stronger emotional content. I’m really enjoying this album as background music while working, music in the car, and music to wake up to!

“Improvisation 1” is one of my favorites. Reflective and relaxed, its gentle flowing nature reminds me a bit of Suzanne Ciani - a lovely beginning! “Improvisation 2” uses a repeated pattern of blocked chords to set a mood and then becomes more fluid and lyrical. “Improvisation 4” is one of the bolder and more dramatic pieces, with the middle section being smoother and more melodic. The graceful and beautiful “Improvisation 5” is another favorite, expressing feelings of peaceful contentment and deep thought. “Improvisation 6” is much lighter and more playful. “Improvisation 8” conveys a mix of moods and emotions that blend into an expressive and very elegant piano solo - also a favorite. “Improvisation 10” is the longest of the improvs and the only one of the ten that has some minor edits. It begins quietly and simply, gradually building a subtle energy that keeps it moving forward while staying subdued. About four minutes into the piece, it becomes much bigger and more powerful for about a minute and then returns to a more tranquil state - a fascinating piece!

"In the Moment" takes the listener to a place of creative freedom and spontaneity. The music is “rich” and very pleasant to listen to, revealing new things each time you listen. It is available from RichBatsford.com, Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

9/19/14

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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Songs of a Siren
Lea Longo
2014 / Sweet Life Music
46 minutes

Lea Longo’s "Songs of a Siren" is a very interesting collection of original and cover love songs that mix smooth jazz vocals with Indian chants and mantras - and they actually sound like they belong together! Longo’s voice is warm, clear and soothing and, with the exception of a couple of uptempo songs, this is an easy album to relax with. Not a newcomer to the music industry, Longo has released several other albums and her music has been featured in major motion pictures as well as on television. In 2004, she won the National Songwriting Competition at the prestigious Canadian Music Week Festival in Toronto. In 2006, she traveled to India and discovered music mantras and  chanting, working with some of the masters of the art. She is a certified Kundalini Yoga instructor and teaches mantra meditation to deepen her yoga practice and musical expression. These unique life experiences are reflected in Longo’s music and lyrics and her vocals are supported by drums and percussion, keyboards, guitar, bass, sitar, back-up vocalists, tabla, flute, and Fender Rhodes - quite an east-meets-west collaboration! I do wish the chants were translated to see how they relate to the songs themselves - a minor complaint. 

"Songs of a Siren" begins with Lea Longo’s version of the Peggy Lee classic, “Fever.” Her  slow, “chill” approach cools this torch song considerably and leaves me longing for the original - one of my all-time favorite vocals, so it’s hard to be fair with this one. Next is another standard, “The Very Thought of You,” which works better for me. The minimal accompaniment really puts Longo’s silky and often hypnotic voice front and center. “Love Is All You Need” is featured here and as a bonus track at the end. The first version is jazzy and upbeat with a mix of eastern and western instrumentation behind the lively and joyful vocals. “Here’s To Life” is the third of the three jazz cover tunes, and I like this one the best. Accompanied by gentle hand percussion and guitar, Longo’s voice is bittersweet and knowing. “Om Radha Krishnaya Namaha” is my favorite track. Without knowing how the chant translates, the longing in Longo’s voice expresses so much. “To Heaven” is a somewhat bigger production, with Longo’s voice altered so that it sounds like she is in the distance - haunting. The bonus track is a Ben Leinbach mix of “Love Is All You Need.” After an opening chant, sitar and tabla set a catchy, danceable rhythm that is full of infectious fun and happiness - a great way to end the album!

"Songs of a Siren" is quite a different as well as enjoyable listening experience! It is available from Amazon and iTunes. Check it out!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

9/22/14

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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Experiences
Ryan Michael Richards
2014 / Ryan Michael Richards
46 minutes

"Experiences" is the very impressive first full-length recording by guitarist Ryan Michael Richards. Produced by the legendary Will Ackerman (founder of Windham Hill Records and a world-class guitarist himself) at his Imaginary Road Studios, two of the eleven original pieces are solo acoustic guitar and the others feature an assortment of brilliant backing musicians such as Derrik Jordan, Tom Eaton (who co-produced), Jeff Oster, Ackerman, Premik, Noah Wilding, Eugene Friesen, and Jill Haley. Richards started playing the guitar at the age of fourteen and includes Alex DeGrassi, Will Ackerman, Nick Drake, Eddie Van Halen, Jaco Pastorius and Christian McBride in his list of influences. Richards’ music is smooth, heartfelt and often very romantic. To quote Ackerman, “Ryan Michael Richards is a guitarist whose heart is in every note. He seems incapable of anything that isn't true to him. This brilliant artistic honesty is the hallmark of what he has created in 'Experiences'.” That artistic honesty will also communicate to a wide range of musical ears and hearts and will undoubtedly send this delightful music soaring up the music charts. 

"Experiences" begins with “Her Garden,” a lively yet peaceful piece that features Richards on both acoustic guitar and electric bass, Derrik Jordan on electric violin, and Tom Eaton on keyboard. The optimism and joy expressed in the music brings images of warm sunshine and beautiful flowers nodding their heads to the rhythms of the breeze. “Heather Moon” is a peaceful favorite that is mostly solo acoustic guitar with subtle piano embellishments performed by Eaton. “Pathway To Love” was featured on the recent The Gathering II compilation of Ackerman-produced artists and is another beauty. It begins as a guitar solo and becomes a duet with Jeff Oster on flugel horn and muted trumpet. Ackerman steps front and center as lead acoustic guitarist on “Coastline,” which also features Premik on lyricon and Eaton on percussion. The gentle, peaceful quality of this piece will take the edge off of any day! “On the Way to the Shore” reflects the happy anticipation of visiting a favorite place and includes the haunting vocals of Noah Wilding and light percussion by Eaton. “Townbank Bay” is another favorite. Other than some backing vocals from Wilding, this one is all Richards playing from the depths of his soul. It begins with an almost percussive repeated guitar pattern and gradually becomes a gorgeous flowing melody with hypnotic vocals that send it soaring. “Victorian Love” is a tender and evocative duet for guitar and English horn (the wonderful Jill Haley) - an unusual pairing that works magically. As the title suggests, “Day of Play” is a light and carefree guitar solo that brings this excellent album to a close. I hope your “replay” button works well for this album!

"Experiences" is a truly exceptional debut with no weak tracks on the entire album. It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

9/28/14

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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Mehdi Boukharouba
2014 / mehdi-boukharouba
about 20 minutes

Mehdi Boukharouba is a young composer from Algeria who has already assembled an impressive portfolio of original music for films and theater, symphonic compositions, rock, pop and jazz music, and music for commercial use. His CD, "Ethnic Algerian and Arabic Music," is based on instrumental and vocal folk music of North Africa, Algeria and the Middle East and is Oriental in style, instrumentation, and origin. Influenced by the music culture and history of the Mediterranean region, Mehdi’s music is culturally unique in that he combines diverse musical styles with contemporary genres of music such as pop, new age, and jazz. The result of these combinations is a rich variety of musical statements that are intellectual and refined as well as very interesting and enjoyable to listen to. Additionally, this broad range of musical styles will appeal to a wide variety of ages and musical preferences.

"East Winds Blowing Towards the West" is a piece that was composed by combining the sounds of the Arabic canun (a keyboard instrument) and pop music. This piece shows the chronology of the development of Oriental music and how this kind of music adapted to  globalization. Using a unique Arabic instrument, the composer describes the destiny of an ethnically unique culture when it becomes part of the global unification of musical cultures, resulting in the disappearance of many unique musical cultures as well as ethnic songs, instruments and traditions. On the other hand, by combining ancient and newer styles of music, traditions are preserved for future generations at the same time as creating new types of Oriental music.

"Nakhwa Oriental" is traditional belly dance music combined with modern styles and instruments of the  Arabic Middle East. This music features the ethnically unique Oriental style and is performed on traditional Arabic instruments. It has an Arabic belly dance rhythm and is composed with a scale that uses 1/4 and 1/8 tones. This belly dance is an interpretation and fantasia of Oriental music, love and dance.

"Algeria" is another Oriental composition, but this one is based on the rhythm and melodic style of the traditional European waltz - a fascinating combination that works beautifully. The idea of the waltz is represented as a dialogue between the West and North-West in the South-Eastern Mediterranean cradle of civilization. This is very romantic music that has a refined Oriental melody. The waltz was born in the European culture, but Mehdi has made it sound like Middle Eastern Arabic music.

"Conquest of the East" is serious symphonic music that would be very effective as  illustrative music for a documentary or fiction movie about the history of the Roman Empire and/or other ancient civilizations. Sometimes very bold and dramatic and sometimes more melodic and graceful, it’s an outstanding composition that evokes  many visual ideas in the listener’s imagination.

"Relax Music Chill Out (Nassim Al Saba)"  is piano music that would work well in documentary and/or fiction movies. This is a fresh and unique style of new age or smooth jazz music with its melody stylistically connected to Middle Eastern music.

Mehdi Boukharouba is creating new music that is culturally unique and based on Middle Eastern Arabic music while utilizing traditional scales and instruments. He successfully combines musical genres that are Oriental or Algerian by nature with new age, pop, and jazz styles. He also applies these cultural mixes to his more serious symphonic genres, film and theater music, and music for advertising. Mehdi brings us a unique new musical voice that is both traditional and contemporary, as well and original and very interesting. Samples of his music are available on SoundCloud.

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

9/8/14]]>
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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Adam Andrews
2014 / Adam Andrews
39 minutes

"Road to Ambo" is the remarkable debut album by pianist/composer Adam Andrews. The eleven original pieces tell the very personal stories about Andrews’ family’s journey to adopting their son from Ambo, Ethiopia as well as some of the other life events he encountered along the way. A Colorado native, Andrews started taking classical piano lessons at the age of seven. After college, he founded the band Cede who toured the US playing contemporary Christian music as well as their own compositions. Over a period of five years, the band recorded and released four successful folk-pop Christian-music albums of original material: The Roots, Surrender, To You and Carried Away.  Andrews composed about 25% of the band’s material, and wrote and performed two piano solos on their last album. After leaving Cede, Andrews continued composing, occasionally performing for church services, worship groups and conferences.  He also established a successful career as a senior director at a major non-profit ministry where he contributed to the launch of an orphan care ministry and helped shape international ministries to families.  Of his music, Andrews says: “These tunes represent some of my stories, but I feel sure the emotions behind the music are universal and can be felt and appreciated by everyone.” I couldn’t agree more! The music ranges from buoyant joyfulness to more more poignant and reflective, and there isn’t a weak track on the album.

"The Road to Ambo" opens with the title track, an energetic piece that represents the strength and courage it took to make the adoption of Andrews’ son happen - a very promising beginning! “Unknown Hero” celebrates people whose selfless acts of kindness change lives. Bright and upbeat, it’s a grand celebration! “Hope and Joy” turns to love and tenderness in a piece written and named for Andrews’ two daughters - such a sweet gift from a devoted dad! The lyrical and heartfelt “We Are Brothers” was created out of grief, loss, hope, and love, touching deeply and expressing great emotion. “You Were There” is a love song for Andrews’ wife, pure, simple and very sincere. “Smoky Hill” is a favorite and was inspired by Andrews’ quest to find the brighter side of depression and discovering the beauty in what follows. “New Normal” describes the adjustments and lessons learned during and after the difficult process of adoption - and in finding a more joyful perspective on life itself. “Breathe” is another favorite. It was composed as Andrews imagined riding through the countryside and being in the moment. Lighthearted and blissful, it’s a wonderful closing to a great album!

Adam Andrews is a brilliant new voice in the solo piano realm and his debut album is outstanding. "Road to Ambo" is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

9/6/14]]>
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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Jonn Serrie
2014 / New World Music
65’ 36”

Over the past thirty years, Jonn Serrie’s name has become synonymous with space music. He recently released his twenty-third album of electronic music called "Day Star," the second chapter in his sci-fi series that began with the 2010 release of "Thousand Star." Serrie has been composing and performing music for planetariums since the early 1980‘s, and his first album, "And the Stars Go With You," was in memory of the astronauts lost in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. He has worked on projects for Lucasfilm, IMAX Corporation, NASA, the United States Navy, Hayden Planetarium, Expo Seville, and CNN, to name a few. Serrie's music is also featured in the planetarium theater aboard the Queen Mary II, the world's most advanced cruise ship. Although I have been familiar with Serrie’s music for a long time, I only recently learned that he is a US Air Force Auxiliary mission pilot with advanced instrument and commercial ratings and holds the coveted Disaster Relief Presidential award with Valor
for his flying in the Deep Water Horizon gulf oil spill. He also flies for the Civil Air Patrol as a search-and-rescue pilot.

"Day Star" is made up of seven relatively lengthy (six-thirteen minutes) tracks that are intended to tell a science fiction story in sound rather than words. Serrie is a master of creating feelings of deep, vast open space where anything (or nothing) can happen. The song titles and poem (in the liner notes) act as a guide to the voyage with timing and sound design elements that emphasize direction and space. This is music that easily slips into the background, creating a peaceful, floating ambience, but listening with full attention will send listeners on a voyage into their own imaginations. Enjoy the trip!

"Day Star" is available from www.NewWorldMusic.com, Amazon, and iTunes.

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

9/2/14]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Day_Star_by_Jonn_Serrie-450-1899800-249105-From_MainlyPiano_com.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Day_Star_by_Jonn_Serrie-450-1899800-249105-From_MainlyPiano_com.html Wed, 3 Sep 2014 02:59:37 +0000
<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Mark Catoe
2014 / Mark Catoe
45 minutes

"Vignettes and Improvisations" is the debut album by pianist/composer Mark Catoe. The project began as a creative challenge for Catoe to turn his wife’s name into a piano solo. Because of the constraints he placed on himself, Catoe found himself using a musical vocabulary he wouldn’t normally use. Having a lot of fun in the process, Catoe then set out to compose a piece based on a simple number. His next project was based on his grandfather’s CB handle and then a Kickstarter campaign was started where people could have their names or the names of loved ones encrypted within piano solos. The resulting album is a collection of seventeen piano solos, some of which were were improvised in the studio. Six pieces have titles and the eleven “Vignettes for Solo Piano” were each assigned a number, leaving it up to the listener to interpret what the music is about. The tracks range in length from just under two minutes to about 3 1/2 minutes, so they are all relatively short and concise. Some are more melodic than others, and most are on the peaceful side (a few are livelier and more playful), but all are accessible and very enjoyable.

"Vignettes and Improvisations" begins with “Journey’s Dawn,” a piece that blends the quiet calm of daybreak with the anticipation of venturing into the unknown - a lovely start! “The Winding Path” has an easy tempo that suggests the feeling of walking on a path where surprising beauty appears at every turn - and taking the time to savor it. “Quiet Repose” is a stress-melter with its slow, graceful melody and gentle deep-bass accompaniment - a favorite. “Vignette I” is quite different. Much more energetic and playful, it shows a different side of Catoe’s musicianship and is certain to bring a smile! Several of the Vignettes (tracks 6-16) show some influence from Erik Satie with their fluid ambience and gentle abstraction. “Vignette V” has a flowing left hand with an uncomplicated right hand melody that works especially well. “Vignette VI” is lighter and more carefree. “Vignette VIII” reminds me of Satie’s “Gymnopedies” although it isn’t an arrangement or imitation of the piece. The bass pattern is similar in places and the melody is simple and poignant - another favorite. “Vignette XI” is upbeat and energetic, overflowing with optimism. The album closes with the lyrical “Near or Far,” which feels very much like a love song - sweet and tender.

"Vignettes and Improvisations" is a very impressive first effort, and I look forward to hearing what else Mark Catoe has up his sleeves! It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

8/29/14]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Vignettes_and_Improvisations_by_Mark_Catoe-450-1899682-249008-From_MainlyPiano_com.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Vignettes_and_Improvisations_by_Mark_Catoe-450-1899682-249008-From_MainlyPiano_com.html Sat, 30 Aug 2014 01:00:10 +0000
<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Susan Merdinger
2014 / Sheridan Music Studio
66 minutes

"Soiree" is the seventh album to date by internationally-acclaimed classical pianist Susan Merdinger. I have to admit that this is the first of Merdinger’s recordings that I’ve heard, but I’m blown away by the beauty of her playing, which is technically perfect yet overflowing with emotion and heart. Ms. Merdinger can execute crystal-clear, lightning-fast runs and then turn a phrase into a delicate flower. Merdinger has won an extraordinary list of awards from competitions all over the world beginning as a young adult. Her vast repertoire spans three centuries and she regularly performs as a soloist with orchestras, recitalist, duo pianist, and as a collaborative pianist with distinguished members of the New York Philharmonic, the New Jersey Symphony, and Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Merdinger received her formal education from Yale University, the Yale School of Music, the Manhattan School of Music, the Westchester Conservatory of Music, the Ecole Normale de Musique in Fontainebleau, France, as a recipient of numerous scholarships and awards. Having formerly taught at Yale University, Westchester Day School, and New Music School of Chicago, Ms. Merdinger is currently on the Piano Faculties of the Summit Music Festival in New York, Burgos International Music Festival in Spain, and the Fine Arts Music Society Festival in Indiana. She is also the Artistic Director and Founder of Sheridan Music Studio in Highland Park, Illinois.

"Soiree" includes music by Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy, and Franz Liszt - a formidable combination that works beautifully as separate tracks and as a complete album. The opening tracks are the four-movement Schubert Sonata in B major, D. 575, K. 147. Schubert is one of my favorite classical composers, but I’ve never attempted this sonata, which is lighter and more upbeat than much of his music. Composed when Schubert was only twenty, Merdinger imbues the music with youthful zest and playfulness. The two Brahms Rhapsodies (Op. 79) are pieces I dearly love and have worked on with a couple of my advanced students over the years. I have never heard them played to such perfection, with passion and power as well as tenderness where the music calls for it. Brava! Debussy’s three-movement “Estampes” is a colorful and very challenging work very different from Schubert’s or Brahms’ music, but Merdinger makes it her own with precision and energy. The two Liszt pieces are his “Concert Paraphrase on Rigoletto” and his “Hungarian Rhapsody #12 in C# minor,” and both are breathtaking!

If you are a fan of masterful classical piano music, Soiree is a must-have! I look forward to exploring some of Susan Merdinger’s other releases, as I believe I have found a new musical hero(ine)! "Soiree" is available from SusanMerdinger.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

8/26/14]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Soiree_by_Susan_Merdinger-450-1899560-248928-From_MainlyPiano_com.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Soiree_by_Susan_Merdinger-450-1899560-248928-From_MainlyPiano_com.html Tue, 26 Aug 2014 23:22:44 +0000
<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Ray Spiegel Ensemble
2014 / Simla House, Inc.
53 minutes

"Moksha" is a fascinating East meets West musical odyssey by the Ray Spiegel Ensemble. The eight tracks were recorded from 2001-2003 and are dedicated to the memory of Stephen James Stress, who passed away in 2005. Stephen James, who studied with Ravi Shankar, plays the Sarod (a 25-string Indian lute) on most of the tracks and co-composed four of them with Spiegel. Ray Spiegel is one of the few Americans who have learned the traditional style of tabla from master Ustad Alla Rakha. An extraordinarily versatile musician, Speigel is as comfortable playing tabla in a classical concert in India as he is playing vibes in a jazz club in New York or San Francisco. The album title is a term referring to liberation from the cycle of life, death, and reincarnation. One of the things that impresses me about this album is that most  tracks sound like the musicians were having a great time playing together! Although the music is based on traditional Indian ragas, there are strong jazz influences in some of the music - even a vocalization resembling scat-singing on the title track! The Ensemble also includes Ramesh Misra on Sarangi (the bowed lute of India), Ira Coleman on bass, and Tani Tabbal on drum set; additional percussion is performed by Frank Velardi, Junior Gabo, and Robert Levin. Together, the Ensemble performs a wide range of stylings from hard driving dance beats to meditative, spiritually-oriented music.

The album begins with the title track, an 8 1/2-minute piece that is probably the best example of the merging of jazz and traditional Indian music. Rhythmic and often high-energy, there is no doubt that this album will be a unique listening experience! “Once Around” is a much shorter solo featuring Spiegel on tabla drums and manjira. “Tal Sawari” is a traditional piece arranged by Spiegel as a solo, this time on tabla drums and marimba - an energetic and very unusual combination! “Wolfy’s Dream” is another amazing merging of musical styles that this time includes some rock influence as well. “Connect the Dots” is my favorite track. All percussion, this one really rocks and makes it impossible to sit still! “Wild Mushrooms At Telluride” is a 14 1/2 minute tour de force that includes nature sounds and takes the listener on a wild “trip” that gets more frenetic as it evolves, calming slightly in the final few minutes. “Farewell” closes the set with a somber yet elegant and heartfelt piece composed by Barun Kumar Pal, who performs on Hansa Veena (Hindustani slide guitar). Stephen James plays violin and other instrumentation includes bass, tabla, percussion, harmonium, drums, and harp.

"Moksha" is a fascinating hour (almost) of jazz and raga fusion. Check it out at Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

8/24/14]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Moksha_by_The_Ray_Spiegel_Ensemble-450-1899528-248899-From_MainlyPiano_com.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Moksha_by_The_Ray_Spiegel_Ensemble-450-1899528-248899-From_MainlyPiano_com.html Mon, 25 Aug 2014 23:46:45 +0000
<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Karen L. Gerig-Scott
2014 / Delved in Dreams Music
2 tracks available separately

Karen L. Gerig-Scott is the first artist to be featured by new record label, Delved in Dreams Music. Initially, two tracks are being made available for download, “Je t’aime (I Love You)” and “Dwelling Place.” Both are orchestrated piano pieces and both were composed by Ms. Gerig-Scott, who started playing the piano before first grade and has been composing music ever since. She says “I have an idea, or feeling or expression and I do it with music technology.” The Indiana-based artist attended Indiana University‑Purdue University Fort Wayne as a music major and electrical engineer, and has extensive experience with choral music as both performer and director. She goes on to say, “Music is a living Art. It has feelings, it has expression. It is something everyone can experience.” Both of her initial releases are full of passion, melodic, and very accessible. Both tracks are a bit over six minutes each.

“Je t’aime (I Love You)” is a full and rich piece performed on piano with strings and other light orchestration. Gerig-Scott says that the piece “is about Love…all types of love. There are many stories out there in all types of relationships, including those between parent and child, two people, friendships and everything in between.” The warm, contented mood and gently swirling rhythms suggest a dreamy slow dance that could be for a romantic couple, mother or father and child, or even just one person dancing on a cloud. It’s a lovely makes-you-feel-good kind of piece.

The second piece, “Dwelling Place,” reminds the composer of where thoughts and memories dwell. More fully orchestrated than “Je t’aime,” the piano is still the main focus and takes the listener to a powerful place of hope and optimism. This seems like the perfect closing theme for a dramatic film about triumph over adversity or any movie with an emotionally-charged ending. Very stirring and moving!

Karen L. Gerig-Scott is off to a fantastic start in her recording career and I look forward to hearing more music from her in the near-future. Both tracks are available from  Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

8/25/14]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-KYLGS_by_Karen_L_Gerig_Scott-450-1899527-248898-From_MainlyPiano_com.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-KYLGS_by_Karen_L_Gerig_Scott-450-1899527-248898-From_MainlyPiano_com.html Mon, 25 Aug 2014 23:21:43 +0000
<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Danny Wright
2014 / WH Sounds Studio
Disc 1: 59 minutes  Disc 2: 54 minutes

"Collage: A Timeless Collection of Medleys" is a collection of fifteen medleys beautifully arranged and performed by pianist Danny Wright. Two of the medleys were created specifically for this double-album and the others come from previous releases. This music was chosen to represent music from the greatest love stories from the past several centuries and includes classical music, film music, and some of Wright’s favorite show-tunes. A very popular entertainer in Las Vegas, Danny Wright’s playing style is warm and expressive, and he is not timid about using his very impressive and powerful  playing chops - but never to the point of overshadowing the music. A very passionate and accomplished pianist, it is obvious that Wright continues to pour his heart and soul into his music.

Disc One contains medleys that include Phantom of the Opera (three songs), Romance (one of the new medleys), Barbra Streisand, Classical Love Songs (the other new medley), Somewhere In Time, Henry Mancini, The King and I, and Salute to Freedom. All of these tracks are solo piano. Disc Two contains Porgy and Bess, Out of Africa, Les Miserables, Gershwin, Heartland, Variations on Somewhere, and another Phantom medley. All of these are solo piano except “Variations on Somewhere,” which has sound effects and some orchestration. My only criticism is that there are a few songs that appear several times - “Somewhere In Time” appears in three of the medleys, “Rhapsody on the Theme from Paganini” is in back-to-back tracks, and “All I Ask of You” is in both Phantom medleys. I listened to the two discs in the car while driving a distance and have to admit I thought my CD player might be repeating tracks. (Now, if “Summertime” had appeared that often, I would have been euphoric, so it’s a matter of perspective!)

Since this collection is made up of love songs, the mood of the music is smooth and flowing without a lot of surprises. I especially enjoy the new “Classical Love Songs” which is made up of “Fur Elise” and “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven, Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” and Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.” The other new grouping, “Romance Medley” is the themes from Love Story, Romeo and Juliet, and Somewhere In Time. No surprises there, but it’s a lovely medley.

"Collage" will thrill Danny Wright’s many fans and will undoubtedly create new fans of folks looking for solo piano film music and show tunes. It is available from www.DannyWright.com, Amazon, and iTunes. Check it out!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

8/20/14]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Collage_by_Danny_Wright-450-1899362-248784-From_MainlyPiano_com.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Collage_by_Danny_Wright-450-1899362-248784-From_MainlyPiano_com.html Thu, 21 Aug 2014 00:12:43 +0000
<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> John Luttrell
2014 / John Luttrell/Ottersong Records
54 minutes

With one of the cutest and most appealing album covers I’ve seen in awhile, John Luttrell’s "The Dream Exchange" grabs your attention, piques your interest, and then soothes your stresses and worries away with close to an hour of warm, optimistic music that works seamlessly in the background or as music that flows in and out of close listening attention. Calling his music “atmospheric music” takes it in a somewhat different direction from “new age” or “ambient” because it’s both and yet neither from a purist standpoint. With elements of prog rock, the album features Luttrell on acoustic and electric guitars as well as keyboards with twelve songs that follow the theme of exchanging dreams. In the liner notes, Luttrell explains: “Throughout our lives we share our dreams with family and friends, and they share their dreams with us. If we're lucky we can help them activate and achieve their dreams and also work on achieving our own. How wonderful it is to experience and share in this Dream Exchange.” A lifelong musician who has lived and absorbed cultural influences from all over the world, Luttrell’s music reflects many of these influences and gives him a very distinctive sound.

"The Dream Exchange" begins with “Orange Sky,” a piece that combines dreamy atmospheric sounds with a gently-floating guitar melody and a lively rhythm that comes and goes - a very effective opening! “The Sphere” contains a variety of styles and is possibly one of the more prog rock pieces. From Hawaiian guitar to electric rock guitar over ambient musical and atmospheric sounds, it has no hard edges while continuously evolving as it develops. “Dreamcast” is a favorite. Slow and graceful with a shimmering beauty, it reminds me of watching a sunset by the ocean. The title track opens with the sound of rain and thunder and then the electric guitar enters, evoking images of the sun breaking through the storm clouds. From there, guitars express tones of peaceful calm and tranquility - also a favorite. I love the title “Somnambulistic Journey,” and the misty, dreamy music is the perfect accompaniment to a peaceful sleepwalking expedition. “Ethereal Raga” combines a catchy rhythm and mysterious ambient sounds to create colorful images that dance slowly in atmospheric clouds - fascinating! “Inland Returned” is light and fanciful with acoustic and electric guitars leading the way with a gentle smile. “With You” brings the album to a close with an easy, swaying rhythm and feelings of blissful contentment.

"The Dream Exchange" is quiet, relaxing music with plenty of substance to hold your interest while letting your imagination fly. It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

8/15/14]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-The_Dream_Exchange_by_John_Luttrell-450-1899169-248663-From_MainlyPiano_com.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-The_Dream_Exchange_by_John_Luttrell-450-1899169-248663-From_MainlyPiano_com.html Fri, 15 Aug 2014 22:51:31 +0000
<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Various Artists
2014 / West River Records
1 hour 16 minutes

"The Gathering II" is the stunning follow-up to the 2012 Zone Music Reporter’s Record of the Year (with the highest rating of any record in the history of those charts), "The Gathering." Like the first release, "The Gathering II" is a compilation of artists recently produced by Will Ackerman, founder of Windham Hill Records, at his Imaginary Road Studio (most tracks were co-produced by engineer Tom Eaton). All but one of the pieces come from albums released 2012-14 and the other was released in 2010. Twenty-one artists are represented by one track from each. Some are solo instrumentals while the majority feature instrumental and vocal (wordless) support by such Imaginary Road luminaries as Eugene Friesen, Charlie Bisharat, Noah Wilding, Jill Haley, Jeff Oster, and Ackerman himself. I reviewed all but four of the albums as they were released, so it has been a joy to listen to what was selected as the best of the best for this compilation. I should note that many of the pieces were edited for length, but that process was done seamlessly and in no way detracts from the enjoyment of the music. In fact, it should give many listeners incentive to seek out the original recordings!

It is impossible to choose favorites from such a stellar collection - all of the music is exceptional, as is the sound quality of each track. The playing order flows seamlessly, creating a smooth, relaxing listening experience of more than 1 1/4 hours. The pianists include Jim Gabriel, Dave Kydd, Laura Sullivan (from her Grammy-winning "Love’s River"), Kathryn Kaye, Louis Colaiannia, Masako, Denise Young, Rebecca Harrold, Heidi Breyer, Dominic Silla, Stanton Lanier, Fiona Joy, Ann Sweeten, Vicente Avella, Isadar, and Lynn Yew Evers. The guitarists are Lawrence Blatt, Matteo Palmer, Shambhu, Ryan Michael Richards, and Vin Downes - a regular who’s who of some of the best acoustic musicians composing and recording today.

"The Gathering II" will definitely be on my list of Favorites for 2014 and I give it my highest recommendation. It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby.

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

8/12/14]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-The_Gathering_II_by_Various_Artists-450-1899058-248570-From_MainlyPiano_com.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-The_Gathering_II_by_Various_Artists-450-1899058-248570-From_MainlyPiano_com.html Tue, 12 Aug 2014 17:44:23 +0000
<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Louis Colaiannia
2014 / Louis Colaiannia
49 minutes

Louis Colaiannia has released an impressive body of work over the years, but "Closer" is his first album co-produced by Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton and recorded at Ackerman’s Imaginary Road Studio. This new album reveals much of Colaiannia’s softer musical side, looking deeper within and expressing a broad range of emotions. There are still very strong jazz influences in some of the music, but as titles such as “Breathing,” “Journey Inward,” “Tears,” and “Lullaby” suggest, this album is much more reflective and soothing than some of Colaiannia’s previous releases. Two of the tracks are solo piano, but the remaining eight feature Imaginary Road regulars such as Eugene Friesen, Jill Haley, Jeff Oster, Noah Wilding, Tony Levin, Jeff Haynes and Will Ackerman.

"Closer" begins with “Aurora,” a beautiful piece Colaiannia wrote during the hours and days following  the tragic shooting at the Aurora, CO movie theater in 2012. Jeff Oster’s flugelhorn and Noah Wilding’s haunting vocals intertwine with Colaiannia’s piano to set a mood of solemn remembrance. All proceeds from this song will be donated to victims’ assistance funds. “The Way of the Rain” is a favorite and features Jill Haley and Tony Levin. Once again, the piano shows itself to be the perfect instrument to convey the feeling of rain, whether it is a gentle spring shower or a violent storm - in this case, it’s a refreshing outpouring from the heavens. Colaiannia has dedicated this piece to his first piano teacher, and I’m sure she is smiling! “Sailing” is tranquility and gentleness set to music. It starts out as a piano solo, becomes a piano and cello duet, and then a full ensemble piece - gorgeous! “Breathing” is the first of the two piano solos, and has the feeling of a free-flowing improvisation. Very spare and a bit on the dark side, it’s a good reminder to slow down breathe deeply. “Air” lightens the mood a bit, with Colaiannia’s fingers dancing on the piano keys and Eugene Friesen plucking the cello strings. About half-way in, Jill Haley enters with her soothing English horn. A soulful cello solo opens “Journey Inward,” a relaxing duet for piano and cello that later becomes a duet for piano and English horn. “Tears” is a passionate and often very powerful duet for cello and piano, expressing the depths of emotion. “Lullaby” is the second piano solo and closes the album on a very peaceful, loving note.

This is the fourth of Louis Colaiannia’s many albums that I’ve reviewed, and it’s by far my favorite so far. "Closer" is available from Amazon and iTunes. Check it out!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

8/10/14]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Closer_by_Louis_Colaiannia-450-1898916-248511-From_MainlyPiano_com.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Closer_by_Louis_Colaiannia-450-1898916-248511-From_MainlyPiano_com.html Mon, 11 Aug 2014 00:29:53 +0000
<![CDATA[ ADAM ANDREWS DEBUTS WITH SOLID CD THAT SHOWS HIS TALENT]]> If you follow the new age or contemporary classical music scenes, you know there are a lot of solo piano CDs being released each year.  And the nature of the beast is that it is difficult to tell the pianists apart.  Some offer dramatic tempo changes, and others play forcefully, while yet other ones play very light and delicately.  Of course some do all of the above.  So give up trying to spot a particular piano player’s style so that you can name them when you hear them on the radio.  Just let the music wash over you, and if you like it, if it moves you, then seek out the player and listen to some more.  Fortunately many radio programmers announce who they are playing, and many online radio channels or satellite feeds put the name of the artist and song on your screen.
 
Which brings us to a new solo pianist named Adam Andrews who has his debut album, Road to Ambo, out.  As per preceding paragraph, it would be hard to pick him out of a crowd of solo pianists, so really the criteria here should be: Is he any good?  The answer is: Yes.  He plays fairly forcefully and mostly with a fast or at least medium tempo (occasionally changing tempo within a tune), but he also works in one or two slower, softer pieces.  Most of the melodies are strong and, well, melodic.
 
The first piece, “Road to Ambo,” inspired by his family’s journey to adopt a black African baby and bring him to the United States, has a nice joyous feeling to it.  Several of the tunes (perhaps one too many) start with very high notes (“New Normal,” “Upside Down Church” and “We Are Brothers”) before he descends and starts working in the normal range, and strangely enough, when he does, several of these turn out to be his most lovely.  One of the slow numbers is “Hope and Joy” which starts slow and simple, but has a wonderful dramatic quality to it, especially as it slows way down at around the three-minute and four-minute marks.
 
Adam Andrews gets a recommendation for his debut outing.  He has created a solid recording that is definitely enjoyable to listen to.  If not highly distinctive (almost impossible in this genre), the music is at least quite captivating and well thought-out.  Probably the only way for him to create his own sound, would be to broaden out in the future and work in a few more instruments in hopes of making arrangements that sound more unique.  Meanwhile, sample what this ivory-tickler has to offer by finding some streams or excerpts online.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Road_To_Ambo_CD_by_Adam_Andrews-450-1898803-248426-ADAM_ANDREWS_DEBUTS_WITH_SOLID_CD_THAT_SHOWS_HIS.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Road_To_Ambo_CD_by_Adam_Andrews-450-1898803-248426-ADAM_ANDREWS_DEBUTS_WITH_SOLID_CD_THAT_SHOWS_HIS.html Wed, 6 Aug 2014 11:51:35 +0000
<![CDATA[ GERMAN MUSICIAN UWE GRONAU SHOWS VERSATILITY ON HIS LATEST INSTRUMENTAL CD]]>  
Gronau has a great touch on the keyboards.  He can play forcefully or so gentle you want to cry.  He can give you a Brian Auger-style organ solo.  Gronau might make his synthesizer sound like a xylophone, a guitar or some strange futuristic instrument from a sci-fi film.
 
He goes from slow numbers like “At The Beach” (it feels like lying in the sand at midnight staring up at the stars) and “Hiding Place” to uptempo rockers such as “Brazil” (with a cosmopolitan South American feel to it) and the back-to-back “Deep in my Heart” (with piano and acoustic guitar) and “Make It Happen” (featuring organ).  There are some left-field entries such as the ambient (lack of melody, random notes and beats) “Special Movement.”  One thing is for certain, Gronau will surprise you again and again.  You absolutely will not be able to predict where is going from tune to tune, or even within a given number (some instruments do not even enter the picture until he is halfway through).
 
The bottom-line is that musically there is a lot going on and it is all good stuff.  This is one you will want to check out, especially if you are one of us music junkies always looking for our fix of interesting, exciting, new music that says something some way that has never exactly been stated like that before.  Go for it.]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Thoughts_Of_Tomorrow_CD_by_Uwe_Gronau-450-1898801-248425-GERMAN_MUSICIAN_UWE_GRONAU_SHOWS_VERSATILITY_ON.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Thoughts_Of_Tomorrow_CD_by_Uwe_Gronau-450-1898801-248425-GERMAN_MUSICIAN_UWE_GRONAU_SHOWS_VERSATILITY_ON.html Wed, 6 Aug 2014 11:41:40 +0000
<![CDATA[ This is such a fun soundtrack.]]> Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the most enjoyable movies of the summer. This soundtrack reflects the humor of the film so well The songs are not in order as they appear in the film, but that is okay. "I'm Not In Love" is the first song featured in the movie. I like this song, because it reminds me of all the girls I liked in my youth. "Moonage Daydream" is probably my favorite track on this soundtrack though. This song fits the film's space adventure theme better than any other song on here. I am a David Bowie fan so that is why it is one of my favorites. "Hooked On A Feeling" is another good song. I prefer the BJ Thomas version, but this cover works just fine. "Fooled Around And Fell in Love" by Elvin Bishop is featured in one of the funniest scenes of the movie. I haven't heard "The Pina Colada Song" in years. This song topped the charts way back in the last month of 1979, but I still enjoy listening to it. I love the feisty spirit of the song "Cherry Bomb" by the Runaways. This song features a very young Joan Jett singing her first hit song. "Ooh Child" and "Aint No Mountain High Enough" are two fun R and B classics that add to the diversity and enjoyment of this soundtrack for me]]> http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Guardians_of_The_Galaxy_Awesome_Mix_Volume_1-450-1898744-248369-This_is_such_a_fun_soundtrack_.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Guardians_of_The_Galaxy_Awesome_Mix_Volume_1-450-1898744-248369-This_is_such_a_fun_soundtrack_.html Tue, 5 Aug 2014 00:35:54 +0000 <![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Matthew Schoening
2014 / Matthew Schoening
54 minutes

"Narrow Path" is the fifth solo electric cello album from Matthew Schoening (Shay-ning), a true master of his instrument. His 2011 release, "Elements," was named Best Instrumental Album for that year by Zone Music Reporter. Although the music is performed on solo electric cello, the sound is that of a full band or even a symphony orchestra complete with percussion and ambient sounds that are accomplished through a complex process of live looping. Using the technology as a compositional tool, Schoening creates layers of loops that play back instantly as he performs and become part of the pieces. His two compositional rules are that his music must be able to be performed live, with no pre-recorded sounds; and that every sound must come from the electric cello through blowing, strumming, percussive and pizzicato (plucked strings) techniques, and his proficiency with effects pedals. "Narrow Path" consists of nine original compositions, one of which is a 15-minute meditation, that represent what it means to Schoening to walk his path.

"Narrow Path" opens with “Writing on the Walls,” an upbeat, high-energy piece that exudes excitement and anticipation as we begin our journey. “Odyssey” is a favorite. It conveys a sense of adventure, but is quieter and more subtle than the first track, taking time to observe and experience along the path. Sounding more like a cello ensemble that adds players as the piece evolves, it’s soulful, peaceful and very beautiful. I also love “Structure,” with its jazzy, intoxicating rhythms and swirling vitality. The first part of “Faith” is much more ambient, but a gorgeous melody line enters later, evolving into a layered cello ensemble that expresses peace and gentleness. “Frolik” is my favorite. The juxtaposition of the lively, percussive rhythm and a Baroque-like cello opening are infectious and compelling. As the piece unfolds, the melody becomes more contemporary with the classical sound continuing in the background and the percussive effects propelling it forward. (There is a wonderful video of this piece and others on YouTube.) I keep pressing the “repeat” button on this one! As its title suggests, “Surrender (Float)” is ambient and very tranquil. Here, the cello sounds more like a guitar with strings and ambient washes of sound in the background. “Breathe” is a fifteen-minute meditation that would be wonderful for its intended purpose. Very atmospheric and silky-smooth, it provides a peaceful respite from the chaos of daily life. For active listening, it’s very interesting, but a little long.

Matthew Schoening is truly a one-of-a-kind artist who deserves a much bigger audience for his music. "Narrow Path" is available for download from www.SoloElectricCello.com and on physical CDs from Amazon. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

8/3/14]]>
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<![CDATA[ I love the voice of Jenny Lewis.]]> I love this new album from Jenny Lewis.  “Head Underwater” reminds me never to give up in life because there is always something to look forward to.  This is a very upbeat song to start the album.  “The Voyager” is a song that encourages me to explore all the possibilities in life.  It reminds me that I need to detach from all material things to spur my creativity.  Just One of The Guys is another song I really like.  This is a song about resisting going with the crowd and doing my own thing in life.  These three songs really resonate with me lyrically. “Love U Forever” has great guitar riffs.  I love the musical arrangement of this song.  Jenny Lewis shows such a sensual quality in her voice on the song “Late Bloomer”. I really like her vocal performance on this song.  “She’s Not Me” is a song about the pain that men cause women and vice versa in a relationship.   I love the sounds of the waves on the song “Aloha and The Three Johns”.  This is probably the most upbeat song about the end of a relationship I have ever heard.   I am from Hawaii.  It is ironic to hear that any Hawaiian song can drive someone crazy.  Despite of this reference, I enjoy this song very much.  “The New You” is a song about how people have to adjust to a new stressful situation every day.  The electric guitar sounds beautifully subtle on this song.  This entire album sounds terrific.
 

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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Roger Davidson
2014 / Soundbrush Records
1 hour 18 minutes

"Temple of the Soul: Rhapsodies and Meditations for Solo Piano" is the genre-defying debut solo piano recording by Roger Davidson and his twentieth album to date. Initially a self-taught pianist/composer, Davidson has traveled the world learning as many styles of music as possible and studying with masters of the many genres and eras of music that interest him. Known mainly as a jazz and classical pianist, Davidson is also known for his chamber, symphonic, Latin, Brazilian, tango, Klezmer, choral and children’s music. It is no wonder then that "Temple of the Soul" has such an international flavor with so many influences coming into play - influences that have seamlessly become a part of Davidson’s musical soul. All twelve of the tracks on "Temple of the Soul" were improvised in the studio, flowing from his heart and spirit without technical restraint or stylistic boundaries. The album was recorded on an impeccably-restored 1876 Steinway grand and was produced by Pablo Aslan, Adam Abeshouse, and Davidson. Davidson is the founder of the Society for Universal Sacred Music as well as his recording label, Soundbrush Records.

"Temple of the Soul" begins with the title track, a piece Davidson says “felt like the beginning portal into the spiritual journey that this album is.” The piece has a Middle Eastern feeling in much of its 8 1/2 minutes,  but there are also some very strong American influences. Sometimes big and exhilarating and sometimes quiet and reflective, this piece alone is quite a journey. “Ethereal Ocean” was named for its feeling of ebbing and flowing. Very free and in constant motion, it evolves and develops organically and in the moment. Nature has a strong influence on Davidson’s music, and “Forest Prayer” expresses his connection to “trees, birds, and everything in the forest” -  a favorite. “Fountains of Life” reflects Davidson’s love of the French Impressionist composers in a piece that he refers to as a “celebration of life.” “From the Rising Sun” is based on the scale played on the Japanese Koto, a thirteen-string zither. Cinematic to meditative, it’s a beauty. “Blue Voyage” hints of Gershwin and the blues-infused popular music of that era. Peaceful yet edgy, I think this is my favorite on the album. “Freedom For All” comes in a close second with its references to African-American spirituals and gospel music - very earthy and soulful. The impassioned “Journey of Wisdom” suggests difficulties and hardships along the way to enlightenment - a struggle worth enduring. “Waves of Reflection” brings this evocative album to a thoughtful and peaceful close.

"Temple of the Soul" is an amazing musical journey. While it may be more of a listening challenge than much of the music I review, it is music that reveals new meanings and nuances the more you listen to it. Roger Davidson is an extraordinary pianist in so many ways! This album is available from Amazon, iTunes, and many other music retailers. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

7/28/14]]>
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<![CDATA[ The Million Dollar Piano Is Worth Every Penny]]>  
What can I say?  I was young.  Naïve.  Etc.
 
Anyway, they proceeded to recommend other tunes for me to explore – ones not from his pop playlist catalogue directly – and they proved me wrong.  It would seem that, like many performers do, Elton (and his longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin) has a talent for producing not only radio-friendly tracks but also an understanding of just how those accompanying vocals must be produced for the same environment.
 
Still, Sir Elton is largely known for those songs that found Top 40 fame, and there’s no better way to explore them and his exceptionally showmanship in the latest DVD release, ELTON JOHN: THE MILLION DOLLAR PIANO.  From start-to-finish, the man clearly grasps the genius of his setting, and he more than aptly demonstrates why fans come to see him again and again over the years.
 
The show’s track lists essentially is a collection of his greatest hits, performed one after another without a lot of interlude … but when he does speak to the audience, Elton does so in a way that demonstrates the fondness and affection for those who’ve listened and still do today.  He even takes a time-out to recognize precisely how much his fans have meant to him over the years.  It’s clear that, as a performer, he’s immeasurably cognizant of what the audience expects of him, and he sets out to achieve a measure of ‘thanks’ by doing what he does best: play his music.
 
Caesar’s Palace is a terrific venue, and Elton has made the best of it.  It’s a terrific stage – one accommodating a large back-up band and a small chorus of singers – as well as the usual pomp and circumstance.  There’s a series of lighting and video effects that play nearly continuously; and, if there’s any distraction, it could be that – for creative reasons – director Chris Gero felt the need to keep shifting between what seems like a billion different camera angles.  While it’s great that he tried to get everything in, there is something to be said for nuance, and I would’ve appreciated a few sequences of showing the piano man do what he does from one, two, or three specific perspectives.
 
But there’s no denying Elton’s love for the experience.  During his rendition of one of his biggest hits (“Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”), he even insists on pulling members of the audience up onto the stage to join him in the mix.
 
For those of you who don’t know it, Elton John has been an entertainer for over five decades.  He’s likely forgotten more secrets to performing than most musicians ever learn.  To see him is to see a living legend at work.  And THE MILLION DOLLAR PIANO is a must for music fans everywhere.
 
ELTON JOHN: THE MILLION DOLLAR PIANO (2013) is produced by Rocket Music Entertainment Group.  DVD distribution is being handled by Eagle Rock Entertainment.  For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a concert performance taped from his “The Million Dollar Piano” concert performed at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada.  As for the technical specifications?  Wow!  Director/producer Chris Gero went to great lengths to capture the look, presence, and mood of the venue (having been there, I think it’s one of the best places I’ve had the good fortune to see).  Lastly, the disc boasts a 20+ minute documentary on the challenges of capturing a live performance, as well as another show (from Kiev, a four-set performance) captured live.
 
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE.  So far as this music reviewer is concerned, Elton John remains one of the consummate showmen of his generation (and quite possibly ANY generation).  As any viewer can see on THE MILLION DOLLAR PIANO, Elton loves playing.  He loves the music.  He loves the concert experience.  He loves his fans.  He loves everything about being an entertainer, and, unlike so many others in the business today, he knows how to deliver a million dollar performance.
 
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Eagle Rock Entertainment, Ltd. provided me with a DVD copy of ELTON JOHN: THE MILLION DOLLAR PIANO by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.]]>
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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Yanni
2014 / YanniWorks
51 minutes

"Inspirato" is an impressive collection of thirteen pieces composed and orchestrated by Yanni  and sung by some of the biggest names in opera. I have to say upfront that I am not a fan of operatic singing, but I really enjoyed Yanni’s earlier Voce and Voices, so I thought I’d give it a try. Yanni didn’t write any of the lyrics (most of which are not in English) and the songs have been retitled, but these are some of Yanni’s best-known pieces and should be easily recognizable to long-time fans. All of the music is orchestrated and most songs include piano, strings and other instrumentation, providing a lush accompaniment to some of the most powerful singing voices from around the world. Yanni has always been an artist who dreams big and has a way of making those dreams come true, so it must be quite a triumph to make this complex project come to fruition so beautifully. With classical music becoming a dying art, I salute Yanni for bringing what are often totally opposing forces  in music (contemporary and classical) together and clearly demonstrating that music is music no matter what the genre. I can only imagine the thrill of having artists like Placido Domingo and Renee Fleming singing your songs!

The featured singers are Renee Fleming, Vittorio Grigolo, Placido Domingo, Katherine Jenkins, Nathan Pacheco, Placido Domingo Jr., Micaela Oeste, Chloe Lowery, Russell Watson, Lauren Jelencovich, Rolando Villazon, and Pretty Yende. Most appear as soloists, but there are a couple of duets and a quintet that present several of them in combinations. Placido Domingo Jr. wrote the lyrics for six of the pieces and Nathan Pacheco wrote words for four.

This is not one of my favorite Yanni albums, but it is still very beautiful and well worth a listen. Inspirato is available from Amazon, iTunes, and just about any other music outlet.

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

7/23/14]]>
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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Written in the Key of Me: Notes from My Audiobiography
Christine Bustos
2014 / Christine Bustos
42 minutes

Writing a review of Christine Bustos’ "Written in the Key of Me: Notes from My Audiobiography" is a very special pleasure because it is the first CD I’ve reviewed by a former piano student of mine. Christine found me sometime ago on Facebook and when she asked if I’d give her new CD a listen, I agreed, not really expecting to be blown away by the music. I was and am! A very gifted musician even as a child, Christine started playing the piano for her church when she was quite young, often improvising hymns and making up songs as she played. As far as I can remember, that was in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, so it’s been awhile. 

Written in the Key of Me... Notes from My Audiobiography" is a group of unpolished personal recordings that were not originally intended to be released. Bustos was recording a diary without inhibition, “finding herself in imperfection.” The eleven original piano solos were often inspired by her two daughters as well as other events and  people in her life. The music is very melodic with a lovely, flowing quality, and each piece comes from a special place in Christine’s heart, played very expressively and with deep emotion. 

"Written in the Key of Me" begins with “Behavior,” a somber, melancholy piece that gradually lightens as it evolves, telling its story with great feeling and sincerity. “Crimson Tide” has a dark intensity and passion that make it compelling. I’ve often said that the piano is the perfect instrument for depicting rain, and Christine figured out the secrets for making “Raindrop Reflection” percussive without being harsh. The slow tempo and poignant melody give it the feeling of watching or listening to the rain late at night. “Keiki Lullaby” is my favorite track - so simple and yet so evocative and soothing. “Train to Tachikawa” picks up the tempo and spirit a bit with lots of deep bass accents and a sense of moving forward. “Midori” is another favorite. Slow, introspective, and  passionate, it’s beauty! “Beyond the Limit” has the graceful flow and warmth of a romantic slow dance. “The Fragile Child” feels very spontaneous - an outpouring of deep emotion, perhaps late in the night. “Footprints to Forever (A Walk With Gail)” is a tender tribute to a dear friend who recently passed away. Overflowing with love and hope, it’s a wonderful memorial that comes from the heart.

Christine Bustos is off to a fantastic start with her recording career and has touched me deeply with her music! "Written in the Key of Me: Notes from My Audiobiography" is available for download from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

7/22/14

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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Mark Freshwater
2014 / Mark Freshwater
46 minutes

"Trees of Life" is the third solo CD from keyboardist/pianist/composer Mark Freshwater. The twelve songs on the album were inspired by family members and friends, making this music a very special and personal expression of love and appreciation. The music is mostly piano-based with keyboard orchestrations and embellishments and occasional nature sounds. A few of the pieces are light and playful, but most are reflective and meditative. Mark Freshwater has had an eclectic life in music with strong influences from classical, choral, folk, Christian, rock, new age, and smooth jazz genres. He started playing the piano at the age of five and has been at it ever since, although he took a 38-year break from composing until a couple of years ago. Hopefully, now that he has some momentum going, he’ll continue to compose and record!

"Trees of Life" begins with “Winter Reflections,” one of my favorites on the album. Chilly atmospheric sounds blend with haunting ambient music to create a feeling of icy calm. “Rhapsody,” composed by Dan Siegel, lightens the mood considerably with a gentle but catchy rhythm and easy sway. “Debbie’s Waltz” is Freshwater’s first composition in 3/4 time and is dedicated to  his wife. With a tender and delicate keyboard touch, the piece moves gracefully like the dancer who inspired it. “Native Meditations” is another favorite.  Peaceful yet poignant, piano narrates the story as flutes, strings, and other instruments add colors and intensity to the mix. As its title suggests, “Solace” was designed to be a comforting piece to commemorate the loss of family members. Quietly reflective, it gives the listener room to be with his or her thoughts and emotions at one of life’s most difficult times. “Blood Brothers” is rather dark yet very evocative, composed with a spiritual connectedness in mind - I really like this one, too. “Etude No. 1 in C Minor” is very classical yet very in the now, smoldering with a quiet intensity. “Snoqualmie Suite”  is the most upbeat and joyful track on the album, ending it with a smile and warm sense of satisfaction.


With three new albums to his credit in the span of less than two years, Mark Freshwater is producing an impressive body of new music. "Trees of Life" is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very nicely done!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

7/21/14]]>
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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Kevin Mongelli
2014 / Mongelli Music
54 minutes

"Insperato: Take the Journey" by pianist/composer Kevin Mongelli is a combination of one new release (the 19-minute title track), four tracks from "Fort Lonesome" (2012) and two from "Ascension" (2009). Like Mongelli’s earlier work, this album is bold and dramatic with moments of tenderness and grace. A classically-trained pianist with a music degree from Duquesne University, Mongelli plays with strength and confidence without being overly showy, telling stories and expressing emotions by way of his fingertips on the piano keyboard. His previous release, Fort Lonesome, garnered a number of awards and nominations from the Indie Music Channel Awards and the Global Music Awards, so  Insperato is something of a “best of” album as well as a showcase for Mongelli’s dazzling new piece. All seven tracks are solo piano.

The album begins with the title track, a pianistic tour de force that is both powerful and eloquent. A multi-movement work, “Insperato” begins with a dark octave progression in the bass of the piano that expands into the treble as it unfolds. The second theme alternates between a soft-spoken melody and darkly mysterious responses that build in intensity, eventually becoming one voice. Mongelli chose the cover artwork of a ship in turbulent seas for a reason! Over the course of the 19-minute journey, we encounter challenges that seem insurmountable, moments of shimmering beauty and calm, passion, danger, frustration, peaceful reverie, and triumph. Several themes recur throughout the piece, keeping it cohesive as it goes through many changes in color and intensity. Well done! “Beyond the Heart” is more of a  passionate ballad. “Darker Days” is Mongelli’s best-known and most-celebrated piece (so far!). Intense and very classical in styling, it brings to mind what Liszt or possibly Beethoven might be composing if they were alive today. I also really like “Train To Despair,” a potent emotional expression that pours out from somewhere deep within. “The Sunrise Waltz” is much lighter and more flowing while remaining very expressive. “Unafraid” was my favorite track from Fort Lonesome and makes a great closing for this album. Strength and fierce determination are the words that come to mind while listening to this piece and it seems to be offering hope and encouragement. Powerful stuff!

If you are new to Kevin Mongelli’s music, check this one out! "Insperato: Take the Journey" is available from MongelliMusic.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby.

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

7/20/14]]>
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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Steven Vitali
2013 / Steven Vitali
78 minutes

"Language of the Soul" is the latest release from Canadian composer/multi-instrumentalist Steven Vitali. Vitali has been composing music for more than 35 years, and has written a large body of music for films, television and radio in addition to his own recordings. The lush orchestrations and cinematic sweep of much of this music give it an evocative, visual quality that can conjure up images in the mind of the listener and create a soundtrack for those images. Some of the seventeen tracks are uptempo  and have a strong rhythm while others are quieter and more subdued. It’s a fascinating mix that works well in either the background or with full listening attention. Despite the larger scale of some of this music, it appears from the liner notes that the music was composed, performed, arranged, produced, and orchestrated by a team of - ONE! Impressive! Vitali plays piano, keyboards, guitar, drums, and percussion, so that covers just about everything! A self-taught musician and composer, Vitali’s music is melodic, accessible, and varied enough to appeal to a broad listening audience.

"Language of the Soul" begins with “Everything Happens For A Reason,” a beautifully-flowing piece with an easy rhythm and gentle spirit - one of my favorites. “Guitar Of Soul” has the graceful sway of a slow dance and the warmth of a very pleasant dream. “Be The Miracle” invites comparison to some of Yanni’s music, partly because of the instrumentation and partly due to the scope of the piece - another favorite. “Creative Soul” begins with a really heavy beat like someone tapping on a piece of wood with something harder than a knuckle - really ear-catching and interest-piquing! Guitar, keyboards, strings, and other percussion add their flavors to this very compelling piece - love it! The cinematic “A Sign Of The Dragon” would be fantastic behind footage of China’s landmarks and countryside. Voices, Chinese instrumentation, and a driving beat create feelings of majesty and beauty. “Forever Germaine” is a gentle, loving tribute to Vitali’s mother. The bright and light-hearted piano-based “Red Piano” includes pizzicato strings, a strong beat, and voices. “Soul Healing” is more mysterious and a bit darker in the first couple of minutes, gradually brightening and lifting to an intense and vibrant theme that eventually returns to the opening theme to close - another favorite. “Tomorrow Starts Here,” a swirling dance of life, overflows with energy and celebration. “Piano In Paris” is a light, romantic piece that brings the album so a warm, contented close.

"Language Of The Soul" is a great choice for those who like more orchestration and an uplifting emotional experience. It is available from Amazon and iTunes. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

7/15/14]]>
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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Steven Chesne with The Luminous World Orchestra
2013 / Brahmasong Records
48 minutes

After listening to "Moments From the Life Stories of Strangers, Part 1," it came as no surprise to learn that Steven Chesne has been composing music for television and films for more than twenty years. His fourth release with The Luminous World Orchestra is a fascinating mix of vibrant world music and more subdued ambient styles. Strings, flutes, voices, an assortment of ethnic instruments, and full orchestration offer the feeling of a soundtrack recording - diverse, but unified by a common theme. Most of the nine tracks are 5-7 minutes long, giving the music time to evolve and tell its story. Quite a bit of the music has a strong Eastern influence, both in instrumentation and in style. "Moments From the Life Stories of Strangers" takes the listener on a colorful journey of spiritually-inspired moments that include joy, contemplation, reflection, playfulness, and the transcendental.

"Moments From the Life Stories of Strangers" begins with “Invocation,” an ethereal and mysterious piece that features wordless vocals as well as strings, harp, and Eastern instruments that give much of this piece its exotic flavor. “For When the Love Will Rain Down Upon You” is much more ambient with a shimmering guitar providing an atmospheric background, percussion (gongs and drums), and a gorgeous cello combining to make musical magic. “Flicker of the Glistening” is perhaps the most cinematic of the pieces, beginning with a quiet theme with a smooth and graceful flow that gradually builds to a bigger and livelier second theme and then returns to the first.  Strings, horns, and a soothing female voice give this piece a pleasurable sweep. “Glory Story #2” sends us soaring heavenward with flute, strings, and gentle wind chimes - a favorite. “Morning Hocket” is quite different. By definition, a hocket is a medieval practice where a single melody is shared between two (or occasionally more) voices such that alternately one voice sounds while the other rests. This piece includes an interesting assortment of instruments that sound individually and with one or more of the others to create a vibrant, colorful mix. “Change, Your Oldest Friend” is a bit more haunting and melancholy. My favorite piece on the album is “Lumiere du Soleil.” Light and breezy, this mostly guitar piece expresses playfulness, freedom, and joy, bringing the album to a warm and satisfying close.

"Moments From the Life Stories of Strangers, Part 1" is available from Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Check it out!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

7/12/14]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Moments_From_the_Life_Stories_of_Strangers_Part_1_by_Steven_Chesne_The_Luminous_World_Orchestra-450-1897954-247879-From_MainlyPiano_com.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Moments_From_the_Life_Stories_of_Strangers_Part_1_by_Steven_Chesne_The_Luminous_World_Orchestra-450-1897954-247879-From_MainlyPiano_com.html Sun, 13 Jul 2014 00:12:13 +0000
<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Ricky Kej & Wouter Kellerman
2014 / Listen2Africa Series
78’52”

"Winds of Samsara" is a glorious collaboration by keyboardist/composer Ricky Kej, flutist Wouter Kellerman and a crew of about 120 musicians from five continents. With musical instruments and stylings from all over the world, this is clearly a world music album. Several of the tracks have a very strong Indian influence, reflecting Kej’s cultural background, but there is also a gorgeous arrangement of “Greensleeves,” a track by Australia’s wonderful Fiona Joy, and a Nocturne by Chopin. Impossibly diverse? In less capable hands, perhaps, but this album works seamlessly and beautifully from the first note to the last. With themes of peace and global harmony as well as musical tributes to Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi, Winds of Samsara is a richly rewarding experience from an emotional and spiritual as well as a musical perspective. I predict that this one will shoot up the charts very quickly!

"Winds of Samsara" begins with “Mahatma,” a piece with diverse musical elements that come together as one to symbolize the late visionary’s message of world peace, non-violence and love. Guests artists on this track include guitarist Ciro Hurtado and vocalist Prakash Sontakke, but it is Kellerman’s flute that makes it soar. “New Earth Calling” scales back the production a bit, but not the beauty or effectiveness of the music. “Crystal Moon” is the first piece Kellerman ever composed. Haunting and graceful, it features Kellerman on flute and fife, accompanied by guitars, keyboards, and percussion. “Madiba” is the family name of Nelson Mandela, and this piece expresses the feelings of gratitude the two composers have for the great leader. Both powerful and very gentle, it’s a favorite. “Heaven Is Here” is a new arrangement of “Pieces of Heaven” from Kej’s 2013 release, Shanti Orchestra. It is also the first piece Kej and Kellerman worked on together. With ethereal vocals and the universal spirit of love, it’s a deeply emotional stand-out. “River of Time” remembers a lost loved one and was composed by Phresh Makhene and Kellerman in a distinctive African style. “Remembrance” is set to the old English folk song, “Greensleeves.” Inspired by the universal and timeless quality the song, it is sung here by Indian and African voices. “Journey to Higher Grounds” is another favorite. An ode to positivity, progress, and resilience, Kellerman’s flute goes heavenward as strings, piano, and keyboards give it wings. “Grace” brings in one of my favorite artists, Fiona Joy, with her original composition and playing her new Stuart and Sons grand piano. Backed by Kellerman’s flute, Kej’s keyboards and bass, santoor and vocals, the song elegantly  enchants as it touches the heart. “Nocturne” was a real surprise! (This is Chopin’s C# minor Nocturne, not the better-known Nocturne in Eb.) I don’t generally like my classics messed with much, but this arrangement is stellar with Michael Lewin on piano, Kellerman on flute, an Indian choir, and the Seattle Pro Musica choir. What a stunning ending for an incredible album!

"Winds of Samsara" is amazing and certain to be on many Favorites lists for the year! It will be released on July 15, 2014, and is available for pre-order from www.WindsOfSamsara.com, Amazon, and iTunes. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

7/4/14]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Winds_of_Samsara_by_Ricky_Kej_and_Wouter_Kellerman-450-1897732-247740-From_MainlyPiano_com.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Winds_of_Samsara_by_Ricky_Kej_and_Wouter_Kellerman-450-1897732-247740-From_MainlyPiano_com.html Fri, 4 Jul 2014 22:28:43 +0000
<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Stephen Peppos
2014 / Sonic Bear Music
68 minutes

"Still" is the fifth independent release from pianist/composer/multi-instrumentalist Stephen Peppos. After starting his music career playing keyboards and guitar in popular east coast cover bands, Peppos has built a very impressive body of original music used in television, commercial jingles, and music libraries all over the world in addition to his own recordings. Still is a collection of fifteen original piano-based pieces (several of which are solo piano) that invite the listener to take some quiet time to relax and reflect (while listening to this music, of course!). Because of the peaceful quality of the music, this is an album that is equally at home as music to get lost in as well as a soothing backdrop for other activities, such as reading, working, or driving. Some of the pieces are more orchestrated than others, but strings are the main addition to the piano. This is an emotionally-rich album that flows easily from one track to the next - quite possibly Peppos’ best work to date.

"Still" begins with “To Watch a Pond,” a mesmerizing piece for piano and strings. Effortless and blissful, Peppos beautifully describes the glassy surface of the water with an occasional burst of ripples or sparkles. “Silhouette” is a melancholy piano solo with just a hint of mystery. “Remembering” is a favorite. Melodic minor key arpeggios and strings (especially cello) evoke feelings of loss and sadness that really touch the heart. “The Essence Of” is a quietly passionate piano solo that feels introspective and possibly searching for answers - beautiful! The light, fluid “Butterfly” gently glides from place to place, stopping here and there to flutter its wings. In “The Ballet,” the piano and cello express heartbreak with soulful grace and great emotion - also a favorite. “Prelude Always” is all strings and very cinematic. That segues into “Always,” another favorite. Piano and strings build passion and intensity as the piece evolves. Often dark and mysterious, it’s a standout! As its title suggests, “Above the Clouds” is a light and dreamy duet for piano and cello that floats on air. “Tranquility” isn’t quite ambient, but the piano and cello flow so freely and easily that it comes close - very lovely and soothing. The title track comes last and is a quiet piece that is not without a pulse. The interesting left hand rhythm and uncomplicated right hand melody are graceful and magical, bringing this excellent album to a close.

Stephen Peppos is definitely one of the more interesting composers out there. MainlyPiano.com’s Michael Debbage refers to him as “the Indiana Jones of New Age music” with good reason! I expect this release to generate some major buzz! Highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com  

7/4/14]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Still_by_Stephen_Peppos-450-1897731-247739-From_MainlyPiano_com.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Still_by_Stephen_Peppos-450-1897731-247739-From_MainlyPiano_com.html Fri, 4 Jul 2014 19:41:11 +0000
<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Carl Weingarten
2014 / Multiphase Records
53 minutes

"Life Under Stars" is the follow-up to Carl Weingarten’s 2012 ZMR “Best Chill/Groove Album,” "Panomorphia." Long regarded as one of ambient music’s most innovative guitarists, Weingarten infuses a lifetime of musical experience into the unique sound that he continues to explore, allowing it to evolve organically. On Life Under Stars, Weingarten appears on acoustic and electric slide guitars, dobro, looping, keyboards, and sound design. His very impressive group of collaborators includes Michael Manring on electric bass, Celso Alberti on drums and percussion, Jeff Oster on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Kit Walker on keyboards. While the ten tracks are varied in style and instrumentation, the album holds together as a flowing unit that can be savored with full attention or as a colorful backdrop for working, relaxing, driving or whatever else you choose. Weingarten’s  instrumental music has been described as “Cinematic Jazz,” which seems very appropriate. Also an avid photographer with a college degree in cinema production, Weingarten’s music is evocative and visual.

Eight years in the making, "Life Under Stars" opens with “I Remember Summer,” a piece with an easy-going rhythm and a lazy attitude. “Evie” might fit in the smooth jazz category (if you have to categorize), and features some beautiful flute playing by Barbara Else. “A Different Rain” includes a repetitive rhythm as well as the sound of thunder behind electric guitar and layers of other instrumental sounds - a favorite. I also really like the serenity and gentle motion of “Mr. Sundance.” “Nightwalk” conveys a sense of dark mystery while Oster’s muted horn gives it a taste of film noir. Guitar, bass, and various sounds of the night paint a story in deep shades of gray and blue. “Code Blues” expresses more of a party spirit with laughter in the background and some funky guitar blues. “Sundial” brings us back up to the light - ethereal and peaceful. My favorite is the closing track, “Three Will Pass By.” Cool and aloof, it has an easy-going mood at the beginning that darkens and becomes more intense as it unfolds.

Although Carl Weingarten is based in the SF Bay Area, this is my first exposure to his music. I’m intrigued and will be looking for more of it! "Life Under Stars" is available from www.mphase.com, Amazon, and CD Baby. Check it out!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

6/28/14]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Life_Under_Stars_by_Carl_Weingarten-450-1897481-247638-From_MainlyPiano_com.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Life_Under_Stars_by_Carl_Weingarten-450-1897481-247638-From_MainlyPiano_com.html Sat, 28 Jun 2014 23:41:31 +0000
<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Christopher Boscole
2013 / Christopher Boscole BMI
46 minutes

I never know what to expect when I get a CD with the terms “new age” and “classical piano” juxtaposed since quite a few compilations are arrangements, often simplified and shortened for listeners with “on-the-fly” listening preferences. Much to my delight, Christopher Boscole plays this collection of classical favorites mostly as originally composed with a few personal touches here and there. His "A New Age of Classical Piano" consists of ten solo piano classics and two stunning originals. The classics include four by Debussy, one by Satie, four by Chopin, and one by JS Bach. All of these pieces are familiar and easily accessible, and Boscole chose his selections for the music’s relaxing and uplifting qualities, performing them to perfection on a 9’ Steinway D grand piano. Mastered by Joe Bongiorno at Piano Haven, the piano sound is warm, clear and pristine. In short, I LOVE this album, and am almost certain it will be on my list of Favorites for 2014.

The first four tracks are by French Impressionist composer Claude Debussy: “Arabesque #1,” “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum,” “Claire de Lune,” and “Reverie.” In most of his compositions, Debussy wanted the piano to sound like it didn’t have hammers hitting the strings, and Boscole captures that velvety sound beautifully. Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie #1” is a haunting piece that most people don’t know the name of even though they’ve heard it many times. Often used in films and advertising, it is by far Satie’s best-known and best-loved piece. Boscole keeps it slow, graceful, and simple as it was originally composed. The first of the Chopin pieces is “Prelude #1,” a short flowing piece that livens the mood. His “Mazurka Op. 17 #4” has a dreamy, sighing quality and Boscole plays it from the heart. Bach’s piece is his ever-popular “Prelude in C” with a few small changes that extend the piece a bit. Despite my deep love for these classics, the piece with the biggest “wow!” factor for me is Boscole’s own “Prelude in C Minor.” What a compelling and passionate piece! I hope there will be sheet music for this one soon! Chopin’s “Valse Op. 64 #2” is one of my favorite Chopin pieces to play and I always love hearing others play it well - Boscole does an exceptional job. “Playing Rain” is the second Boscole original. Slow and on the melancholy yet peaceful side, the piece expresses different kinds of rain while staying soothing and relaxing - love it! Chopin’s “Minute Waltz” (which is never played in just a minute) brings this wonderful album to a playful and lighthearted end. Encore!!!

"A New Age of Classical Piano" is excellent from the first note to the last! It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

6/26/14]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-A_New_Age_of_Classical_Piano_by_Christopher_Boscole-450-1897406-247587-From_MainlyPiano_com.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-A_New_Age_of_Classical_Piano_by_Christopher_Boscole-450-1897406-247587-From_MainlyPiano_com.html Thu, 26 Jun 2014 23:06:05 +0000
<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> EVI
2013 / Edward Von Ichter/ Edward Blumenthal
43 minutes

When EVI contacted me about reviewing his debut solo piano album, "The Way The Story Goes," he mentioned that his playing was “clumsy” and “inconsistent,” so while I accepted the CD for review, my expectations were not high. My hope was of perhaps discovering an artist who plays with a raw, visceral style and an original approach to the piano. Untrained musicians are not uncommon, but I was shocked at the beauty and fluidity as well the deep emotional expression in EVI’s music. He explained to me that he bought a baby grand piano some thirty years ago and although he couldn’t play anything on it, he discovered that “if I let my fingers drift along the keys, I could express pieces of songs, that over time, I could express to their completion. And so it began.” Over the years, EVI composed quite a number of pieces and apparently recorded them so he wouldn’t forget them. Two years ago, his wife converted a number of old tapes to CD format, reminding EVI of some of the music he had forgotten and rekindling the flame. With the encouragement of family and friends (some classically-trained musicians), EVI relearned his music and recorded it as "The Way The Story Goes." Interestingly, EVI hears his music as orchestrations, not solo piano, and this music is in the process of being recorded with a full string ensemble. I love it as solo piano and am more than impressed with the music as is!

EVI also explained to me that the musical composition, from start to finish, is a story that expresses a drama of life and that the song titles are a poem describing the drama. “Life dramas are fraught with mistakes, so I left many of mine in as well because it felt more raw and real.” I have listened to this album quite a number of times, and although I’ve heard a few discordances, I couldn’t identify anything that sounded like a mistake.

"The Way The Story Goes" begins with “From Across the Room,” a romantic prelude that sets the tone of the album. Some of the phrases from this piece appear in the other pieces in one form or another. The graceful, dreamy “At First Sight” expresses the hope of new love. At this point in the album, I was hooked! “That Night” is a tender love song that seems to be dancing on air. “Be Home Soon” is a bit more melancholy and full of longing. “Another’s Smile” goes somewhat darker and more dramatic, but is still very smooth and soothing - one of my favorites. I also really like “All Is Lost,” which isn’t nearly as bleak as its title. It seems to be looking inward and working something out. “Missing Laughter” seems to be reminiscing, again with longing and deep emotion and “Ever After” is the happy ending to the story.

If you like graceful, passionate solo piano music that comes from the heart, you need to check this one out! "The Way The Story Goes" is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

6/23/14]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-The_Way_The_Story_Goes_by_EVI-450-1897259-247523-From_MainlyPiano_com.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-The_Way_The_Story_Goes_by_EVI-450-1897259-247523-From_MainlyPiano_com.html Tue, 24 Jun 2014 00:10:24 +0000
<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Tobin Mueller
2014 / Tobin Mueller
67 minutes

A week ago, I was writing a review of Tobin Mueller’s hard-driving "Come In Funky" collaboration with Ron Carter and Woody Mankowski. Today I’m writing about "Impressions of Water and Light," Mueller’s jazz interpretations of the music of his favorite Impressionist composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I have mentioned before that Mueller is an artist who never fails to surprise - a true original - and that is certainly true of this album. Mueller isn’t the first musician to give classical music a jazz makeover, but he sought (and succeeded) to forge a balance between Impressionism and jazz in what he calls a “Neo-Classical post-Impressionist Pastoral Jazz hybrid.” Love it! Classical purists may find some of this music a bit jarring, but those who appreciate a fresh take on (mostly) familiar classics will be fascinated by Mueller’s exploration of the “intimacies” between jazz and Impressionism. The harmonies and discordances as well as the freer rhythms of Impressionist music were certainly a precursor to jazz and, in a way, Mueller is taking that early evolution several steps farther. Some of the pieces are arrangements of the originals while others are new songs that quote passages from the originals; a few are in a theme and variations format. The CD contains a gorgeous 12-page booklet that includes Mueller’s thoughts and intentions along with an Impressionist painting to illustrate each piece. (These notes and illustrative paintings are also available on Mueller’s website.) It’s a very beautiful package!

Eight of the thirteen tracks are based on music by Debussy, two by Ravel, and one each by Faure, Carpenter, Ibert, and Satie (which also refers to Debussy). The first is based on “The Girl With the Flaxen Hair,” #8 of Debussy’s Preludes. Flowing and delicate with a jazzy edge, it’s a beautiful beginning. Next is an expressive take on Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” retitled “Leur chanson se mele au clair de lune (Their song mingles with the moonlight).” Some of the passages are played close to the original and others are given a new “impression” that is still recognizable. “Dance for a Princess Gone” is based on Ravel’s “Pavane pour une infante defunte.” Dark, mournful and very poignant, Mueller obviously has a strong personal connection to this piece. When I first started studying ragtime piano, I was surprised at how often Debussy was mentioned, and Mueller shows why with his interpretations of “Le Petit Negre” and “Golliwog’s Cakewalk.” In “The Petit Negre,” Mueller goes beyond ragtime and includes a boogie woogie section based on riffs used in Debussy’s original music. In “Golliwog is Steppin’ Out,” his playful side emerges with lighthearted left hand syncopation and a swinging melody - definitely a favorite! Debussy’s “Reverie” is played close to the original - dreamy and gently flowing. “Blue Prelude,” again based on a Debussy Prelude (#4), goes very dark and dramatic with some fascinating left hand passages in the deep bass of the piano. Faure’s “Pavane” is another favorite with the lyrical melody given a series of variations including Faure’s original piano version quoted in the final verse. Mueller closes with “Sitting with Satie: Conversation & Life,” a medley of Satie’s “Trois Gymnopedies” and “Gnossienne,” Debussy’s 6th Prelude, and Mueller’s own music. Mueller uses extra reverb to give the piece a sense of space and openness in homage to Satie. It’s a fascinating piece and a great way to end this exceptional album.

Samples of the music on "Impressions of Light and Water" are available at http://www.tobinmueller.com/impressions/. The album is available from Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

6/15/14]]>
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<![CDATA[ "Platinum" Retains A Freshness Despite Some Lyrical Familiarity With What Lambert's Done Before]]>  
If anything, what Platinum does for me is it establishes that she’s a force to be reckoned with, whether she’s penning her own tunes or putting her individual ‘stamp’ on something written by someone else.
 
Girls (4.0 out of 5.0) – Miranda’s voice takes on a terrific lyrical quality in this tune exploring the horribly mismatched battle of the sexes.  Why is it men can never truly tap into why women do what they do?  Of course, it’s probably as universal from the ladies’ perspective, but – as a man – I tend to think we’re horribly much more predictable than the fairer sex.  It’s as true today as it was when it was first uttered: “You don’t nothin’ about girls.”
 
Platinum (3.5 of 5.0) – Terrifically poetic lines about the trials and tribulations of being a true individual, especially when that individual is a platinum blonde.  A song that’s probably cleverer than it is anything else, and it undoubtedly means more to platinum blondes than it does to this bald-headed male.  An impressive stretch but perhaps not the most interesting tune here.
 
Little Red Wagon (3.5 of 5.0) – Playful, sexy, innovative, snarky, and probably the most fun Miranda’s had with a tune in years.  It’s a covert celebration of one powerhouse’s pronounced femininity, and no doubt it’s the kind of song ladies will be dancing amongst themselves to in bars all over Texas tonight.
 
Smokin’ and Drinkin’ (Featuring Little Big Town) (5.0 of 5.0) – Miranda pairs up with Little Big Town, some of the best ‘harmonists’ working in the entire world of music today; quite frankly, they could produce an album once a year, and I’d still argue it’s not enough.  Terrific to see them paired here alongside Miranda’s vocals, and they sound like they’ve been singing together for years.  “Here’s to all those nights …” A wonderful easy-listening tune with a wonderful, head-shakin’ refrain.
 
Priscilla (5.0 of 5.0) – Amazing toe-tapper that typifies a certain type of country tunes, those telling a story about a particularly fortunate (or unfortunate) soul and the struggles of being that person.  “How do you get the love you want when everybody wants your man?”  The bridge has some excellent guitar work.  It might be a bit of an honest reflection on her own life, compliments of one of the best singer/songwriters working today.  “It’s a difficult thing bein’ Queen of the King.”
 
Automatic (5.0 of 5.0) – This is what our lady has done exceedingly well since her professional career began.  Miranda spends a few minutes reminiscing about the way things used to be not all that long ago and how we’ve changed as a consequence of it.  Terrific vocals highlight a song that has an even more terrific refrain.  “It’s only worth as much as the time put in …” A lesson that’s sorely lost on a whole generation of fans thanks to the digital revolution.
 
Bathroom Sink (4.0 of 5.0) – Miranda uses a daily object to wax on poetically about the trials of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  And why not?  Is there any place as private?  Aren’t we hardest on the face we see staring back at us?  That sink is where we stand much of the day.  We primp there.  We clean there.  And – like she says – we still have to wash it all down.  So don’t waste too much time there.  A surprising backwoods rocker.
 
Old Sh!t (3.5 of 5.0) – Opens up like any whimsical little ditty and then turns full-blown hillbilly bluegrass, somewhere Miranda isn’t too proud to go.  Creatively, she backs it up with the sound of a needle running on an old record at just the right volume to remind you that that’s the point of the song.  A solid listen, but then isn’t all bluegrass?
 
All That’s Left (Featuring the Time Jumpers) (5.0 of 5.0) – Every album of Miranda’s has a song that excels entirely on the strength of her vocal performance.  This isn’t meant to malign any or all of the other efforts; rather, it’s only to underscore that there’s always one tune that manages to claw its way to the top when compared to the other tracks.  Here it is.  Enjoy it in all of its twangy glory.  Perfection.
 
Gravity Is A Bitch (5.0 of 5.0) – Opens with a player-style piano putting out the impression of an entirely different era, and then Miranda shows up to remind you that those days are long gone.  A big, brash, fun song that reminds you that you can’t stop aging so you may as well buckle up and enjoy the ride as best as you can.  A brilliant musical commentary for life.  Bravo!
 
Babies Makin’ Babies (4.0 of 5.0) – The song plays out like an anthem for middle-America where these kinds of things – erm – ‘happen.’  (Maybe not every day, but it still happens.)  If nothing else, it plays out a bit predictably, but Miranda backs it all with a powerful refrain the way lesser singers might ignore.
 
Somethin’ Bad (Duet with Carrie Underwood) (4.0 of 5.0) – Sure, it’s a good song, but Miranda’s done this kind of thing much better on previous albums so far as I’m concerned.  However, it’s more an event number, primarily because it takes the two biggest and best country/pop divas at work in the recording studio today.  They sound terrific together, and I’d love to hear ‘em do it again.  Soon.
 
Holding On To You (4.0 of 5.0) – The song gives a nod to classic country tunes of a woman standing by her man, but it does so by sounding more contemporary as opposed to cashing in on the past.  As she sings, we never quite understand why love does what it does to us, but it still manages to transcend any other experience we have this side of Heaven.
 
Two Rings Shy (3.0 of 5.0) – Another thing Miranda has a solid track record is she explores what it’s meant to be a woman in a relationship – the good and the bad.  ‘Two Rings Shy’ is clearly about the bad.  As she tells it, why waste mascara just to watch it running down?  A bittersweet slow-movin’ rocker.
 
Hard Staying Sober (3.0 of 5.0) – Relationships put each of us through a share of heartaches, and country girls love to remind the men who are listening that they are one of the primary reasons drinking is so appealing.  Like the track before this, ‘Sober’ is a bit too predictable for my learned tastes.  It’s good, but I’ve heard far better from Miranda.
 
Another Sunday in the South (3.0 of 5.0) – A few years ago, I wrote something about how performers tend to these days love to close out their albums with something easy-listening and reflective, and that’s pretty much what you have here.  It’s a good experience with some great lyrics; still, near the end of Miranda’s career I’d imagine this won’t be one of the tunes she’s remembered for.
 
 
 
 ]]>
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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Tim Neumark
2014 / Tim Neumark
46’45”

"Storm" is Tim Neumark’s fifth solo piano album and goes in a somewhat different direction from his previous releases. Wanting to step outside of his comfort zone, Neumark challenged himself to write music with a different emotional depth, including anger and heartbreak, and pieces that are mostly in minor keys. Although the music has been influenced by events in his own life and the lives of others around him, Neumark says that this album is not autobiographical, but is dedicated to anyone who has experienced any of life’s difficulties and set-backs. The music describes “a journey from hope to disappointment, and ultimately to healing” (from the liner notes). It’s no secret that I often prefer music that is on the dark side, so this could easily be my favorite of Neumark’s recordings (so far). Don’t get me wrong - this is NOT a depressing collection of piano solos. The emotions vary, and the feeling is often more of looking inward for answers rather than plunging into the darkest depths or feeling completely hopeless. I would say that the overall feeling of the album is one of compassion and empathy, although there are several very turbulent and “stormy” moments. Fellow pianists will be happy to learn that there is also a companion sheet music book available.

"Storm" begins with “Anticipation,” a beautifully-flowing piece with a variety of themes that feel anxious and restless. “Ice” is a favorite - this chill is definitely on the inside, expressing loss and hurt. “See You Soon” seems to be smiling through tears, trying to be strong but unable to hide the sadness. “Setting Sail” turns up the intensity and drama with a lively pace and a sense of excitement. “Stolen” is heartbreaking - a close friend or loved one unburdening and speaking from the heart. “Transitions” steps up the tempo and energy level to one of action and moving forward - I really like this one, too! Neumark always includes a shorter meditation piece on his albums, and this time it’s “Calm.” Again looking inward as acceptance of the situation and healing begin, it’s a soothing beauty. The title track starts out slowly and menacingly, becomes turbulent, calms, builds intensity, becomes ferocious, calms, and then races to a very dramatic ending. (I’m looking forward to seeing Neumark play this one live!) The first couple of themes of “Adrift” are slow and very sad, expressing loss and pain as anger seems to build. Suddenly, we’re in extreme darkness, lost in swirling emotions. A catharsis seems to take place, taking us to a much calmer place. The last two tracks, “Forgiveness” and “Peace” take us to the other side of the storm, once again able to see the sun and feel the gentle breezes - healing and ready to go on.

Tim Neumark has created quite a story without words with "Storm"! It is available from www.timneumark.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

6/9/14]]>
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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Tobin Mueller with Ron Carter & Woody Mankowski
2014 /  Tobin Mueller
59 minutes

"Come In Funky" is the twelfth release from Tobin Mueller (I’ve reviewed them all!), and I have to say that this is one artist who never fails to surprise. I can think of very few artists who come close to Mueller’s versatility and drive in so many artistic pursuits. Musically, he is all over the map from solo piano to jazz to vocals to musicals, folk, classical and progressive rock - and he does them all exceptionally well. Mueller has included original funk-influenced tracks on some of is earlier recordings, but this is the first full album of jazz and funk. Mueller collaborated with legendary bassist Ron Carter and sax player Woody Mankowski to create a collection of thirteen upbeat, often carefree tunes - five with Carter and six with Mankowski; one is just Mueller and there is a bonus track that includes the late Fran Dagostino on guitar. Mueller appears on electric piano, organ, and synth. Some of these recordings go back fourteen years and some go back eight. Finishing touches on the album were being done in 2011 when life got in the way and the project was shelved until Mueller’s son, Woody, recently heard the tracks and loved the sound. Several of these pieces are in a classic funk “big band” style from the 1970’s while others are a bit more subdued. All convey playfulness, humor and the unbridled joy of making music. It is interesting to note that the layout of the album is unusual in that the bigger funk pieces with Mankowski are alternated with the four much cooler jazz “Interludes” that are duets featuring Mueller and Carter.

"Come In Funky" begins with the title tune with Carter’s fingers tapping on the bass (like a knock on the door) and Mueller’s laugh. Then Carter leads off with a catchy bass line that conveys pure fun(k). Organ and sax come in - cool and breezy - and then the trio gets cooking. “Frankenfanny” also features the trio in an infectious jazz groove. “Deconstruction of a Glance” sounds like a huge band of saxes and brass as well as organ and percussion - driving and very danceable. “Interlude I: Grandfather Clock” is the first duet with Mueller (organ) and Carter (bass) - what a duo! “Hitchhiker Tales” returns to the big funk sound of a full band and a really smokin’ organ. I can’t imagine anyone being able to sit still through this one - or not cracking a smile - my favorite! “Interlude III: Prowl” is a slinky little number for organ and bass guitar - intoxicating! “Beam Up the Funk” all but dances out of the CD player, strutting around with a major (good time) attitude - fantastic party music! “Blue Tats” is based on Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.” Quite a bit more stripped down than the big funk pieces, it’s a nice contrast with keyboard and sax and a little bass guitar. The bonus track, “What I Was Thinking While You Were Talking” features Mueller on organ and Fran Dagostino on acoustic guitar (“wonderfully mangled through the magic of electronics” - liner notes). Sometimes cool and aloof and sometimes sparkling and bright, it brings this unique and exhilarating album to a close.

I’m sure you can tell that this isn’t music for massage or meditation, but it can certainly give the spirit a big lift while providing an hour of swirling musical fun. "Come In Funky" is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Check it out!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

6/8/14]]>
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<![CDATA[ Ain't it Fun? Yes!]]>
As it turns out, Paramore isn't some out-of-nowhere success coming along in the last year. While their current self-titled album is looking like a definite mainstream breakthrough, Paramore had a very real career long before the release of Paramore. This new self-titled album, in fact, is the band's fourth album, and while most seem quite ecstatic about it, the band's loyalists actually seem to be pretty pissed off with them. In their time in the music business, Paramore has undergone musical evolution which included a couple of personnel shifts. For this self-titled album, the band actually had to endure the departures of their longtime creative stalwarts Josh and Zac Farro. The common story is they got put off by the media's constant emphasis on lead singer Hayley Williams. That should set off a nostalgic twinge for anyone who came of age in the 90's. There's no way we can avoid recognizing Paramore for what they really are: They're No Doubt with a better vocalist and no ska section. Also, their Facebook page is about to hit 30 million Likes.

Although the band has a poppy sound, make no mistake; they're not some studio-manufactured product created by a sleazy manager to cash in. They do all their instrumentals and songwriting themselves. Normally the departure of the band's creative geniuses can slow them down, but Paramore seems to be surviving just fine without the brothers Farro. Paramore the album contains several songs which seem to have sprung up from the inner strife, be that from the usual stuff or Williams's onetime relationship with Josh Farro. (Another No Doubt parallel.) The overall sound of Paramore isn't as tight as it was during the Farro years - and I tracked down two of the band's three previous albums in order to be a better reviewer, so I can say that - but other than that, there's not a great lot of trash to be said about them. They HAVE matured. While Farro and Farro might have been responsible for Paramore's sound on All We know is Falling, Riot!, and Brand New Eyes, those albums also tend to lean into kiddie punk territory. Think Avril Lavigne, but a hair harder. So, considering just how much real credibility Avril "Sid Vicious was One of My Biggest Influences but I've Never Heard of the Sex Pistols" Lavigne has now, you can see why a jump in style was necessary.

Maturity is everywhere on Paramore. This 17-song, hourlong behemoth includes songs like "Grow Up" and "Interlude: Moving On." (There are three "interludes" on Paramore. All three are full-fledged songs, so why the band saw it fit to refer to them as interludes is completely beyond me.) Three guesses as to their subject matter. "Fast in My Car," the opening song, is about how the three remaining members of the band - Hayley Williams, Jeremy Davis, and Taylor York - managed to tough out the storm.

Okay, we're getting the message. But in between the lines, we're listening to a band that isn't a kid, but not quite mature either. With the poppy punk clearly in the past now, Paramore is free to move in any direction they want, but they haven't quite decided on a particular direction to go in. So on Paramore, they're allowing themselves experimentation in a bunch of different directions, but never committing to one. The first few songs are filled with gimmicks - the stuttering chorus in "Now," the stuttering CHORDS in "Grow Up" - which are fun and work well for a band which is basically recovering from an old ethos, but they're gone before long and never heard again. Hayley Williams is using studio depth for her vocals often. They don't hurt anything, but she just doesn't need them. There are choir singers in a couple of backgrounds, including lead single "Ain't it Fun."

The songs after "Ain't it Fun" start to flow rather than stutter, and it's really here that the first signs of Paramore's musical maturity start to emerge. It's the pop-rockiest part of the album. The songs here are still catchy and fun, except for "Last Hope," whose acoustic strums against a very generic background don't do it for me. Williams is also holding back through a lot of the song. However, "Last Hope" is followed up by one of Paramore's singles, "Still Into You," which for my money is the best single on the album. It's another stutter punk song, and although the style is pure pop, the stuttering doesn't stand out quite enough to damage the rest of the song.

"Anklebiters" is introduced by one of my longtime musical banes: The distorted guitar, and it brings in the choir. The song doesn't mix well. It's easily the most punk song on Paramore, but the band tries to mix it with a jangling guitar, and the song's sheen doesn't go with the speed of a proper punk song.

Hayley Williams mainly uses the interludes to gives us a real feel for what her pipes are capable of. They're all instrumentally minimal, and they don't use a lot of studio tricks to enhance Williams's singing. If anyone believed Hayley Williams was in any way in inferior version of No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani, they need to hear Williams sing one of these pretty interludes and track down an instrumental minimalist piece with Stefani. Stefani is a very effective singer - that much can't be argued. But her vocals at best tend to be very-good-not-great. I've always thought Gwen Stefani was held back by a rough sandpaper voice which usually sounds like it's slamming against her nasal ceiling. Although it made Stefani sound extremely hard on No Doubt's records - and we forget that, despite the upbeat sound, No Doubt's iconic "Just a Girl" was a very ANGRY song - it was her band which was able to give Stefani her backdrop. Although I don't like to downplay the great work done by Davis and York on Paramore, Williams's soaring voice is easily the element which will jump out to most listeners.

If you hear one of Paramore's earlier albums, one thing that always seems to stick out is how out-of-place the slower, more balled-like songs appear. It's a weird irony that Paramore, while not being quite as tight or musically coherent as Paramore's other three records, does have a smoother flow because the band doesn't commit to a particular sound. When the record's wind down time begins with the third interlude, the hiccup isn't so noticeable. The slower songs are faster than before. Unfortunately, they're also a little bit weaker. There's none of the catchiness of, say, "Brick by Boring Brick."

Yes, there are some strong, catchy songs on Paramore. There are also some weak ones. I'm hoping to see if Paramore picks a way to go musically. Until then, there's almost certainly something on this self-titled record to catch your ear at least a few times, but you might want to preview it before committing to the record or download.]]>
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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Psychic Equalizer
2014 / Hugo Selles
28’01”

"Madrid (or Suite For The Solitary Contemporary Citizen)" is the second EP released by Psychic Equalizer, following the 2012 debut release, "Memories of a Cold Place." Founded by Spanish pianist/composer Hugo Selles, Psychic Equalizer now includes guitarist Quico Duret, from Madrid. While the first album was inspired by the countryside around Selles’ homeland of Cantabria, this second work focuses on the loneliness of living in a big city. This new project incorporates elements of rock and jazz as well as the influence of electronic and ambient music established by the previous album. This five-track EP continues to develop the idea of theme-based recordings and includes additional musicians on violins, viola and cello in addition to Selles on piano, keyboard and percussion and Duret on acoustic and electric guitars. Sometimes smooth and very graceful and sometimes dark and edgy, this is music that tells a story. It should be noted that Psychic Equalizer’s piece, “While You Were There But Not Here” has been nominated by the 2014 Hollywood Music In Media Awards in the New Age/Ambient category.

"Madrid (or Suite For The Solitary Contemporary Citizen)" begins with the sounds of heavy footsteps walking into a room, the creaking of a chair and then a cough to announce “Here Am I.” The music that follows sounds like it could be an old phonograph record or an old piano playing a bluesy piece - a very intriguing start! “Where Past and Present Collide” begins as a rhythmic piano solo with a swaying dance feeling. The piano continues the beat as guitar takes the melody and keyboards supply background washes. About two minutes in, the intensity increases dramatically. After a frenetic passage, strings enter, but not too smoothly - agitated and intense. As they gradually wind down, the viola comes in with a heart-rending solo before the piano and guitar return with the original dance beat, letting that theme evolve for several more minutes before fading out with a simple keyboard melody. At over 8 1/2 minutes, this piece tells quite a story! “(Interlude) Beholding” is a beautifully ambient piece that suggests solitude and loneliness, growing darker and more mysterious as it develops - great film music! “Gran Via at Sunset” begins as a passionate, bluesy piano solo, gradually building in dynamics and improvisation to a wild explosion of sound. As the piece quiets and other instruments are added, subtle street sounds are also included - another amazing bit of musical storytelling. “Epilogue) Walking Alone” is a fascinating duet for electric guitar and keyboard with lots of reverb for atmospheric effect. Very dark and moody,  it just sort of trails off at the end.

Psychic Equalizer is definitely one of the more interesting musical projects out there, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing much more from them! "Madrid (or Suite For The Solitary Contemporary Citizen)" is available from iTunes and www.HugoSelles.com. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

6/2/14]]>
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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> J.M. Quintana Camara
2014 / J.M. Quintana Camara
55 minutes

"Timeless" is the follow-up to J.M. Quintana Camara’s 2012 release, "Feelinks," which was nominated for Best Solo Piano Album of the Year by SoloPiano.com in the category of “Classical/Modern Classical.” Quintana Camara is a very versatile composer who also writes music for soundtracks, documentaries, and television commercials. Born in Spain in 1984 and conservatory-trained from the age of nine, Quintana Camara started composing music at the age of twelve. With advanced degrees in music (piano) and computer science, Quintana Camara also teaches piano and music theory. His music is melodic, passionate, elegant, and sometimes quite energetic, reflecting life experiences in a very personal way. Classical influences with contemporary sensibilities gives the music a genre-crossing appeal that makes it difficult to classify (I really like that!). "Timeless" is mostly solo piano, but there are other instruments included in some of the compositions. Two of the thirteen pieces are presented in two different versions. Hopefully this excellent and very colorful music will bring Quintana Camara the more international following that he deserves.

"Timeless" begins with “The Challenge.” Starting with a slow, mysterious piano introduction, strongly rhythmic percussion and orchestration enter and send the piece soaring. Passionate and very dramatic, we can immediately hear why Quintana Camara is working in film soundtracks. “Fighting Against the Unknown” is fully orchestrated behind the piano. With a melancholy tone, the piece is sometimes light and determined, and other times burdened and a bit lost - beautiful and very expressive. “Sleep Paralysis” feels very much like a night of tossing and turning - agitated and frustrated, on the verge of falling asleep, but not quite there. It is fascinating how Quintana Camara expresses the quiet stillness as well as the turbulence of a restless night. A great piece! “Wonders of Earth” is an enchanting piece that seems to soar above the earth, awed by the beauty and drama below. “Stop Hunger!” comes from the soundtrack to the documentary The Third Rider, about hunger and malnutrition on our planet. Very dark and powerful, I love this one! The vibrant rhythms give the piece a sense of urgency while the slower sections reinforce the peril of the world and its inhabitants. A wonderful solo piano version of “Stop Hunger!” comes later in the album. “Welcome Back” is a warm and tender piano solo that overflows with love - another favorite. “Frenetic World” again picks up the pace with a spinning and twirling piano spurred on by agitated strings. “The Magic of Christmas” is a sweet piano solo composed in a very classical style, viewing Christmas through the eyes of a child. “Successful Challenge” is a second version of the opening “The Challenge” that brings this album to an upbeat and triumphant close.

JM Quintana Camara is on his way to becoming a major player in the contemporary classical music scene. "Timeless" is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

6/1/14]]>
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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Michael Hoppe & Harold Moses
2014 / Spring Hill Music
46 minutes

Michael Hoppe has been one of my favorite artists for a very long time and has composed some of the most breathtakingly beautiful music on the planet - he never disappoints. "Serenity" is no exception. Hoppe often collaborates with other artists such as Tim Wheater (flute), Martin Tillman (cello), The Prague Symphony, Joe Powers (harmonica), and has recorded the music for several spoken-word albums with Michael York and others. This Grammy-nominee and consummate artist partnered with Harold Moses (viola) to create a series of thirteen improvisations, each named for a month (two for January) and each with its own haiku by Brett Brady. What a class act! And the music? Utter bliss, calm and, yes, serenity. Harold Moses is the director of the Institute of Harmonic Science, an educational organization in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a composer, recording artist, educator, harmonic theorist and partner in Harmonic Research and Design, an Arizona company that develops vibrational health and wellness devices. Most of the improvisations are ethereal and ambient, but most also have a bit of a melody line as well. The grace and elegance of the music make it wonderful for massage and healing, as a backdrop for many quieter activities, and also for simply relaxing and getting lost in. As I said, Michael Hoppe never disappoints, and I’m sure Serenity will be on my Favorites list for the year.

“Serenity I - January” is cool and bittersweet. Moses plays the viola with the poignance of a cello - sometimes warm and earthy, sometimes achingly sad. Hoppe’s keyboard washes guide the development of the piece effortlessly and compellingly. “Serenity II - February” expresses the chilly grace and peacefulness of winter. “Serenity IV - April” conveys the promise of spring and the freshness of new life, quietly and tenderly. “Serenity V - May”  features Moses playing his viola pizzicato (plucking the strings) as well as with the bow. Darkly mysterious and exotic, it’s quite different from the others. “Serenity VIII - August” is almost fragile yet touches very deeply. “Serenity XI - November” goes in a livelier direction with a folk/Celtic spirit that really wants to dance. “Serenity XIII - A New Year” returns to calm, reflection, and deeply-felt emotion. This one seems destined to become a Hoppe classic, as it clearly demonstrates his sensibilities at their very best. Bravo to Harold Moses as well, as he and Hoppe seem to be kindred musical spirits.

If you love peaceful music with a strong classical influence, "Serenity" is a must-have. Michael Hoppe never disappoints! It is available from Amazon and iTunes. Very highly recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

5/27/14]]>
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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Jennifer DeFrayne
2014 / Little Hartley Music
49 minutes

"By a Wire" presents us with two significant firsts: the debut recording of pianist/composer Jennifer DeFrayne, a very promising new artist, and the producing debut of Fiona Joy (other than her own recordings). Co-produced by Will Ackerman and recorded at his Imaginary Road Studio in Vermont, DeFrayne’s soulful piano is backed by an impressive list of musicians that includes Charlie Bisharat (violin), Jeff Oster (flugelhorn), Jill Haley (English horn), and Eugene Friesen (cello).

DeFrayne is a self-taught pianist from Michigan who started improvising as a very young child. As a teen, she played in a local art gallery and the owner told her she sounded similar to George Winston.” When it was obvious that DeFrayne didn’t know who Winston was, the gallery owner gave her a CD of his music and literally changed her life. DeFrayne attended college in Music Management and continued to play wherever their was an audience, but then a series of tragic events derailed her plans. The deaths of several close family members (three of whom are celebrated in musical tributes on the album) and a debilitating stroke in 2009 that left her with many challenges in movement, memory, and speech as well as the inability to find solace in her piano, made her fiercely determined to recover and reconnect with the “wires” of her beloved instrument. It’s a very inspiring story, to be sure, and the resulting music is warm, powerful, and expressive.

"By a Wire" opens with “Sunrise to Sunset,” a piece that begins as a quiet piano solo and gradually builds to include flugel horn (Oster), light percussion (Tom Eaton), and wordless vocals (Eaton and Noah Wilding). As the piece hits a climax, it gradually winds down to a gentle hush - a lovely start! “Calling Angels” was one of the first pieces DeFrayne composed after her stroke, and it overflows with raw emotion. There is very little accompaniment to the piano for the first half of the piece, but then the other musicians enter and send the passions soaring. I love this one! The title track is the only piano solo and is dedicated to DeFrayne’s father, who passed away when she was eighteen. Loving yet very sad, it’s another favorite. “Summer Reunion” is dedicated to DeFrayne’s late uncle, who believed in her dream and encouraged her to follow it. Much lighter and happier, just about the whole list of musicians played on this one. “I’ll See You There” was written for DeFrayne’s late sister. A duet for piano and cello (Friesen), it’s a gorgeous remembrance that flows from the heart. The lighthearted and carefree “Mexican Daydream” is a surprise, but a very welcome one that evokes images of warm breezes, cold beverages, and a lazy afternoon with friends. The poignant “Letting Go” begins with a heart-rending cello solo (Friesen) and becomes a quartet for piano, cello, English horn (Haley), and violin (Rebecca Daniel).  “Clear Night” is a song DeFrayne improvised in the studio and dedicated to her two children. Oster and Wilding contribute their own musical magic and bring the album to a close.

Hats off to Jennifer DeFrayne for making her dream come true - and in very grand style at that! This album is already generating a lot of buzz, so check it out! It’s available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

5/26/14]]>
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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Simon Reich
2014 / Simon Reich
34 minutes 54 seconds

"Time Apart" is an eight-track album of original, mostly piano-based pieces by Australian pianist/guitarist/composer Simon Reich. An active member of the SoundCloud community and an executive member of ThePianoCloud.com, Reich’s music has already garnered an impressive list of awards. His music is also used at University of Western Australia in emotional responses experiments. Most of the pieces in the collection are (electronic) piano with synth strings and/or orchestration. Most began as piano improvisations recorded at home with the lights off, and Reich later added strings where they would be the most effective to enrich the emotional impact of the music. A couple of the tracks are solo piano.

"Time Apart" begins with “Ashes,” a solo piano improvisation that is melodic, peaceful, and somewhat introspective. “Suspended” is also a solo piano improv that is a bit brighter and more optimistic. In “Breathe,” Reich adds strings to what began as an improv, adding more emotion and drama to the music - I really like this one! “Deep Black” seems to suggest a very dark and mournful piece, but this time it refers to Reich’s preference for improvising and recording in the dark. The piece itself is graceful,  flowing and very lovely. Strings again add to the emotional impact of the music while the piano tells its story in a clear, heartfelt voice. I love “Schnee Gefallen,” which translates to “the snow has fallen.” Peaceful, crystalline, and very light, it gently conveys the sparkling quality of the snow as well as the hush it creates. Gorgeous! The last track, “Deep Forest,” goes in an entirely different direction that I would love to hear more of. Calling this a duet with nature sounds (some of which Reich sampled himself), the water, bird, and insect sounds are given an equal emphasis with the humanly-created music, creating a rich sound that is exotic and serene - a very effective and beautiful piece.

All of the tracks from "Time Apart" are available for listening on SoundCloud. Downloads are available on Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Check it out!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

5/11/14]]>
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<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Ken Townshend
2014 / Lucid Creativity
68 minutes

"Love’s Embrace" is a newly updated re-release of pianist/composer Ken Townshend’s 2009 album by the same name. Some of the pieces have been changed or re-recorded and some are newer compositions. I felt the 2009 version was some of Townshend’s best work to date and this new version is even better. Townshend has adopted the tagline “Gentle Music for Gentle Hearts” and it suits his music perfectly. Very ethereal and “floating,” Townshend plays the main part of most of his music on piano or keyboard    and then adds washes of peaceful sounds and reverb that soften the edges and remove the percussive effect of the piano. Sometimes melodic and sometimes more on the ambient side, Townshend’s music is all about his love of gentle feelings and emotions. Some of the music hints at Townshend’s Japanese heritage and adds a unique quality to his compositions and improvisations.

"Love’s Embrace" begins with an improvisation called “My Beautiful Catharina,” named for Townshend’s wife. At just under seven minutes, the piece has time to create a peaceful mood as it evolves and sets the tone for the album. “Feeling the Flow of Love” is a sweetly tender piano solo with a minimum of atmospheric sound behind it. Uncomplicated and from the heart, it soothes the mind as well as the soul. The title track has a warm and graceful shimmer that enhances the gentle melody. “Peaceful Moments” is the perfect name for this daydream of a piece. Like floating on a cloud with a warm spring breeze moving you ever so gently through the sky, this one will definitely calm you for at least its nine-minute duration. “Tears of Joy” is a two-part piano and synth piece that explores the mystery and beauty of happy tears. The blissful “Dreams of You” is expressed with a harp sound that is effortless and oh so peaceful. “Ashley’s Spirit” was orchestrated by one of Townshend’s friends, but doesn’t feel at all out of place among the other tracks. Piano, strings, and woodwinds blend to create a piece that is more upbeat yet still very tender. “It Will Always Be You” is a very gentle and loving duet by Townshend and his wife, Cat - “gentle music BY gentle hearts”!

It’s been a long time between releases for Ken Townshend, and it’s great to have him back with an album of such musical tranquility. "Love’s Embrace" is available from www.kentownshendmusic.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Guaranteed to soothe and calm!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

5/10/14]]>
http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Love_s_Embrace_by_Ken_Townshend-450-1895866-246685-From_MainlyPiano_com.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Love_s_Embrace_by_Ken_Townshend-450-1895866-246685-From_MainlyPiano_com.html Sun, 11 May 2014 00:21:58 +0000
<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano]]> Inner Circle
Peter Calandra
2014 / Peter Calandra
56 minutes

"Inner Circle" is a fascinating collection of thirteen original pieces by Peter Calandra, a composer best-known for his scoring for film and television. Piano and keyboards are prominent in all of these pieces, and Calandra is backed by an impressive list of guest musicians on an assortment of instruments. I think the most remarkable thing about this album is that Calandra is so comfortable with and adept at such a broad spectrum of musical styles that range from classical to jazz to pop and fusion. Calandra’s goal with "Inner Circle" was “to touch the listener’s heart, to strike an emotional chord, while also exploring my wide-ranging musical interests.” Mission accomplished! "Inner Circle" is Calandra’s fifth independent release, and should bring him out of the background and into the spotlight. In addition to his soundtrack work, he has also played keyboard for an impressive list of Broadway productions and has music published and playing in sixty countries around the world. He has also played and recorded with the New York Pops Orchestra and artists that include Dee Dee Bridgewater, Aretha Franklin, and Allen Ginsberg.

"Inner Circle" begins with the intriguingly-titled “Clyde And The Pearl,” a jazzy confection that features Calandra on percussion, keyboards, and piano. Upbeat, rhythmic, and very catchy, it’s a great opener! “Dine’s Waltz” goes in a different direction with a light and very graceful dance for piano and strings. The first movement of “The Wayfarer” reminds me a bit of early Yanni with darkly intense strings and a powerful pulse that evolve into a sweet interlude that returns to a variation on the original theme, adding haunting, passionate vocals - one of my favorites! “Better Angels” is an evocative piano solo that relies on deep emotion rather than fancy finger-work to convey its message. The title track begins as a duet that mixes a sparkling keyboard with silky-smooth strings - very beautiful. “Faith” is another favorite. It begins as a soulful duet for oboe and piano and easily transitions into a chamber work by adding violin, cello, acoustic bass and flute. Themes are alternately serene and more energetic, building intensity all the way to the end. From there, we go to a sweet and tender piano solo called “So Much To Say.” To show he still hasn’t run out of new directions to take his listeners, “A Quiet Spark” is a gently ambient piano solo that comes directly from the heart. “The Dreamer” is atmospheric and hypnotic with a single low tone that runs through the whole piece along with keyboard and strings that cast a peaceful, magical spell. The last track is another surprise called “Chorale,” which pretty much says it all. Joy Askew overdubbed multiple vocal tracks, singing soprano, alto, and tenor parts and bringing the album to a close with an elegant wordless hymn.

Despite the varied styles of music on this album, it holds together really well and takes the listener on an aural journey. "Inner Circle" is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

5/8/14

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http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Inner_Circle_by_Peter_Calandra-450-1895661-246493-From_MainlyPiano.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Inner_Circle_by_Peter_Calandra-450-1895661-246493-From_MainlyPiano.html Thu, 8 May 2014 23:37:51 +0000
<![CDATA[ From MainlyPiano.com]]> Out of Nothing
Matteo Palmer
2013 / Matteo Palmer Music
50 minutes

"Out of Nothing" is the debut album by guitarist Matteo Palmer. Recorded when he was just seventeen, Palmer impresses with a remarkably mature artistry that is all about the beauty of the music and the sound of his steel string guitar rather than showing off how well he plays (and he plays really well!). Mentored by the legendary Will Ackerman for the past few  years, Palmer recorded the album at Ackerman’s Imaginary Road Studios. Co-produced by Palmer, Ackerman and Tom Eaton,  eight of the eleven original pieces are solo guitar; bassist Tony Levin added his talents on three. Most of the music is relaxing and soothing, in the spirit of Windham Hill luminaries such as Ackerman, Michael Hedges, and Alex de Grassi. A few tracks have a higher energy level, but this is music that works well either in the background or while listening with careful attention. If this is just the beginning of Matteo Palmer’s musical career, we are all in for a very special treat!

"Out of Nothing"  begins with “Journey of the Wandering Minstrel,” a piece with a slightly mysterious edge. This piece includes a percussive effect accomplished by Palmer slapping the body of the guitar in perfect synch with his strumming. A multi-movement composition, it’s an intriguing beginning to the album! “Autumn” beautifully conveys the stillness of the dwindling days of summer as trees take on new, vibrant colors and days grow shorter - so peaceful! This piece was included in the 2013 compilation album, "The Best of Reviews New Age: The Guitar.“ Escaping Reality” steps up the intensity and energy level a bit. “Ex Nihilo” is the Latin phrase for “Out of Nothing,” making this the title track (sort of!). Very quiet and contemplative, it seems to express a tranquil mood and a sense of wonder. On “Ribbon Candy,” Palmer again employs percussive effects to accompany the happy innocence and easy-going folk rhythm of the song. And speaking of happy innocence, just the title “Happy Pancakes” inspires smiles and lighthearted images while this wonderful little piece effortlessly erases any troubles - even if it’s just for a few minutes. Love it!!! “Family Portrait” returns to a more gently reflective style that comes from the heart and expresses deep emotion. “Sleepy Dog” closes the album with a sweetly warm and cozy lullaby for a beloved canine. 

If you love solo acoustic guitar, "Out of Nothing" is a must-have! Matteo Palmer is a young star on the rise, and this album clearly indicates that he has a very special gift to share with the world. The album is available from www.matteopalmermusic.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

 

Kathy Parsons
MainlyPiano.com

5/5/14

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http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Out_of_Nothing_by_Matteo_Palmer-450-1895556-246421-From_MainlyPiano_com.html http://www.lunch.com/MusicMatters/reviews/d/UserReview-Out_of_Nothing_by_Matteo_Palmer-450-1895556-246421-From_MainlyPiano_com.html Tue, 6 May 2014 00:35:38 +0000