Review: Halpern and Diamond: Ambient Alchemy

Ambient Alchemy is a fourteen-piece collaboration by new age “superstar” Steven Halpern and “rising star” Michael Diamond with special…

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by Kathy Parsons

Ambient Alchemy is a fourteen-piece collaboration by new age “superstar” Steven Halpern and “rising star” Michael Diamond with special guest Michael Manring who appears on six tracks.

Sound Healing

The Grammy-nominated Halpern has had a very long career in the field of sound healing and composed the music for four of the tracks; he plays Rhodes piano, keyboards, and crystal bowls on this album. Michael Diamond has also had a very impressive career thus far as a musician, producer, and music journalist; he composed the other ten tracks and plays guitar, guitar synth, and keyboards. Manring is widely considered to be the best fretless bass player on the planet.

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“Space Music”

Most of the music on Ambient Alchemy can be classified as “space music,” with ethereal, floating sounds and the feeling of vast openness. It is music that can provide an unobtrusive background for working or quiet activities, and yet is rich enough for active listening – especially for the healing arts and deep relaxation.

Outstanding Production Quality

The production quality is outstanding, with clear sound that is never too bright or jarring and that has tremendous depth. It is very easy to let go while listening to this album, allowing your mind take you on a journey limited only by your own imagination.

Pure Enjoyment

Very peaceful and transporting, Ambient Alchemy is music with a purpose that can also be savored for pure enjoyment. 

Steven’s Website     Michael’s Website     Amazon     iTunes

Kathy Parsons writes music reviews and interviews artists for MainlyPiano.com.  She is a regular contributor to the Pilgrimage Yoga Online blog.

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Review: Paul Avgerinos: “Bhakti”

Calming, Joyful, and Uplifting – Bhakti is Grammy-nominated/ award-winning composer and multi-instrumentalist…

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Paul-Avgerinos

by Kathy Parsons

Calming, Joyful, and Uplifting

Bhakti is Grammy-nominated/ award-winning composer and multi-instrumentalist Paul Avgerinos’ nineteenth album to date. Best-known for his ambient music, Avgerinos goes in a different direction with Bhakti (a Sanskrit word that means love and devotion). Avgerinos has practiced yoga, meditation, chanting and devotional singing all of his life and became a student of a Bhakti yoga guru from India when he was sixteen. He has been very active in a small Christian church for the past twenty years although he was raised in the Greek Orthodox church. Using a combination of Eastern and Western musical traditions and instruments as well as chanting and singing, Avgerinos has brought all of those influences together into a musical celebration of love and devotion. Calling it a “must have for energizing any yoga practice,” Bhakti is very calming, joyful, and uplifting. Avgerinos sings several of the tracks – a first in almost ten years – and also plays bass, a variety of guitars, keyboards, and did the sound design. Guest artists appear on sarod, EWI, “angelic” vocals, sitar, and violin. All of this is backed by “Bollywood” beats and Christian Sanskrit mantras. Warm and accessible, this is music that should appeal to a broad audience for both its spiritual and musical offerings. Six of the eleven tracks are primarily instrumental although most of those have wordless vocals. All have a strong Indian influence.

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Ambient and Meditative

Appropriately, Bhakti begins with “Invocation,” a very peaceful opening that sets the spiritual tone of the album. “Shanti Om” is more of a chant sung by beautiful, ethereal voices with a simple but very rhythmic background that becomes more complex as the piece evolves. “Love and Devotion” combines Sanskrit and English lyrics in an upbeat, joyful song with jazz flute passages and a catchy beat. “Om Namah Christaya” is a favorite. Voices are layered (including Avgerinos’) in a very peaceful chant/song backed with a strong rhythm that gives the song a quality that is very serene as well as invigorating. “A Path with Heart” is my favorite of the instrumentals. A bit more Western in its approach, Eastern instrumentation combines beautifully with ambient keyboard sounds – very soothing. “Hare Jesu” again puts Avergerinos’ voice in the forefront in a chant that is both Christian and Hindu – fascinating! Although angelic voices are utilized, “Joy of Being” is primarily an instrumental that is sometimes melodic and sometimes ambient. “Forgiveness and Healing” is a 9-minute track that goes even more ambient and meditative. The closing track, “Peaceful Contentment” provides well over ten minutes of tranquility – gentle and blissful throughout.

Enlightening Listening Experience

Bhakti is quite an unusual but very enlightening listening experience. Paul Avgerinos is likely to garner a great deal of attention and probably another round of awards with this one! It is available from Amazon and iTunes.

Kathy Parsons writes music reviews and interviews artists for MainlyPiano.com.  She is a regular contributor to the Pilgrimage Yoga Online blog.

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Review: Jeff Oster: “Next”

A Masterful Collection – Jeff Oster’s Next (as in “the next big thing”) is a masterful collection of tunes that blurs the lines…

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Jeff OsterA Masterful Collection

Jeff Oster’s Next (as in “the next big thing”) is a masterful collection of tunes that blurs the lines between jazz, chill, funk and ambient/new age as if boundaries simply didn’t exist. It is certainly one of the most entertaining albums of recent years, one that is polished to a chromium sheen by the ace production/engineering team of Ackerman and Eaton (I shouldn’t have to give you their first names at this point), suffused with genuine warmth and humanity, and overflowing with a sense that the many musicians on the album had a great time recording it. And what a cast of players Oster assembled for Next! A huge tip of my hat to all of ’em: Chuck Rainey (bass), Tony Levin (bass), Michael Manring (fretless bass), Bernard “Pretty” Purdie (drums), Philip Aaberg (piano), Catherine Marie Charlton (piano), Ricky Kej (keyboards and bass), Vanil Veigas (sarangi), Nile Rodgers (guitar), Todd Boston (guitar), Taylor Barefoot (guitar), Scott Tarulli (guitar), Carl Weingarten (slide guitar), Shambhu Vineberg (guitar), Britt Thomas Brady (Fender Rhodes, guitar and keyboards), Melissa Kaplan (vocals), Jeff Taboloff (tenor sax), Noah Wilding (vocals), and Ackerman (guitar) and Eaton (keyboards, guitar, bass, percussion). Whew!

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Almost Eerily Perfect

Even with all these sterling talents on Next, the unifying factor throughout the album’s twelve tracks is Oster’s flugelhorn and trumpet playing which, frankly, has never been better. Oster’s control of nuance and tone is almost eerily perfect, it’s just so sublime and fluid. It doesn’t matter what the music calls for, be it funky licks, soothing ambientish soundscapes, or blues-tinted jazz runs, he is not just up to the task but excels at it. Other than a very solid cover of the classic tune “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (made famous by Bonnie Raitt) and two other tracks (“And We Dance,” co-written by the artist and Will Ackerman and “On Mother’s Day,” a compositional collaboration between Oster and Shambhu) Oster penned the remaining nine tunes which makes Next even more of an accomplishment.

Laid-Back Relaxation

For me, Next excels at one thing more than anything else—creating an atmosphere of laid-back relaxation without resorting to “relaxation music” clichés. Even when Oster and crew “kick it” in the funky opening title track, the expert way the song is mixed (spot-on laying of the drums and bass in the mix) brings the tune in as nicely chilled funk as opposed to a “tear the roof off the sucka” funk a la George Clinton. “Night Train to Sofia” washes over the listener with a flowing jazziness laced with a sense of bluesy longing. The drums and bass impart a noticeable rhythm which ties in nicely with the titular reference without directly aping the sound of steel wheels on rails. Kaplan’s vocals cry out in muted fashion like a distant siren song, calling to her lover. Superb stuff! “Gardens of Varanasi” features Veigas’ sarangi playing (an Asian string instrument) which casts a subtle world fusion shadow but the mood of the cut is more jazz-oriented by the ending with a mellow beat and Oster’s fluid lead melody. Eaton’s Fender Rhodes that kicks off “Turn Left at San Pancho” places the cut in a fantastic slightly-retro jazz vein (think vintage era Bob James) and once again, the solid drum/bass rhythm section lays down a solid groove over which Oster plays one of the album’s catchiest refrains.

Outstanding Musicianship, Sterling Production

Track after track, Next delights with outstanding musicianship, sterling production, and some of the tastiest horn licks that Oster has ever committed to a recording.  “I Can’t Make You Love Me” is every bit as soulful and sorrowfully romantic as Raitt’s version while “Ibiza Sunrise” sounds like you would think it would, unfurling slowly over a downtempo groove with layers of synthesizers, guitar and vocals and Oster’s flugelhorn circling above it all like a graceful bird gliding over the titular island’s coastline. “Avenue D” pulses with one of the more uptempo beats on the album, set aglow with Eaton’s twinkling Fender Rhodes’ keys while Oster’s trumpet and flugelhorn intertwine with a graceful sense of subdued joy. Carefully placed environmental sound effects enhance the carefree nature of the song and Todd Boston’s tasty guitar solo in the bridge adds yet another playful dash of spice. “The Mystery of B” slows way down with an ambient-like sensibility, an atmospheric blending of flugelhorn, bass, guitar, piano, and assorted keyboards that flows ever so patiently, slowly building to a mild elevation of drama. “Heroes” is the most dynamic track on the album with Charlton’s piano and Taboloff’s sax providing the opening mellow passage before the song comes to life with a more pronounced bass-heavy beat and percolating synthesizers over which Oster and guitarist Taylor Barefoot set things afire, eventually joined by Taboloff before the track ends. Next comes to a perfect ending with the restrained “And We Dance,” a beautiful duet with Ackerman playing his trademark warm, introspective acoustic guitar and Oster blissing out on flugelhorn.

A Landmark Album

When I have to review an album as outstanding as Next, I worry that my praise will come off as gushing hyperbole, or even worse, sycophantic ramblings. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t state thatNext is flat-out amazing. Certainly this is Jeff Oster’s best recording to date (which is no small thing in and of itself). But it’s more than that. It is a landmark album that should hold almost universal appeal to anyone who has even a mild love for jazz or chill, as well as groove-oriented instrumental music. Next truly is the “next big thing.” I wouldn’t want to be Jeff Oster, though, ’cause I have no idea how he will top this! It’s hard to improve on perfection!

Next is available at Amazon, iTunes, and CDBaby.

The music: http://music.jeffoster.com

NEXT Video Trailer : https://youtu.be/aZH7QiqolR0

Soundcloud Playlist: https://soundcloud.com/jeffosternext

Thanks to Bill Binkleman who writes for Wind and Wire.  Bill has been writing ambient, New Age and instrumental music reviews since 1997. 

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Review: Ann Licater: “Doorway to a Dream”

Doorway To a Dream is Native American and World flutist Ann Licater’s follow-up to her award-winning 2007 debut, Following the Call.

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Ann Licater_World Flutist_Photoby_DArcy Allison_TeasleyA Healing Dream

Doorway To a Dream is Native American and World flutist Ann Licater’s follow-up to her award-winning 2007 debut, Following the Call. The album is an invitation to embark on “a healing dream journey to the infinite expanses of  your imagination and the sacred spaces within.” Licater is joined by an impressive ensemble of musicians that includes Jose Neto, Jeff Oster, Peter Phippen, and Shambhu. Licater performs on six different types of flutes, including wood and clay instruments and silver alto flute. She studied Native American flute with R. Carlos Nakai and facilitates “Flute For the Soul” workshops where participants explore how contemporary replicas of ancient wood and clay flutes can be used as tools for personal discovery, spiritual practice, and relaxation. Each of the fourteen tracks has its own special meaning along the dream journey, and it is recommended that Doorway To a Dream be listened to from beginning to end for an inspirational meditation for unwinding and escaping into the dream.

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Relax and Surrender

Doorway To a Dream begins with the title track, which offers a seductive invitation to relax and surrender to the music. Flute, ambient sounds and delicate wind chimes begin our journey. “Shades of Light” is a gentle flute duet that takes us through the “doorway.” “Into the Heart” is a favorite. Light percussion creates a rhythmic backdrop for the haunting and almost mournful flute. “Xiao Garden” is a gorgeous flute solo that takes the listener deeper into a dream state. “Angel Bird” is another favorite, and features Shambhu on acoustic guitar – very light and carefree. I also really like “Bridges In Time,” with slow, graceful flute backed by ambient sounds – very dreamy and flowing. Jose Neto joins Licater on “Earth to Sky” playing Coral electric sitar which has a fascinating sound. Troy Arnett adds some lovely piano as well. “Divine Love” is a rapturous flute duet that has  background keyboard washes for additional color. Jeff Oster appears on “Radiance” with his distinctive flugelhorn – a very unusual but beautiful combination of instruments. “Floating” brings us to the end of our dream journey, bathed in light and deeply refreshed. Piano (William Hoshal) and ethereal keyboard washes create a dreamscape for Licater’s delicate flute.

Musical Tranquility

Doorway To a Dream offers the listener a very soothing hour of musical tranquility. It’s available from www.annlicater.com, Amazon, CD Baby, and iTunes. Recommended!

Ann’s Website   Amazon    iTunes     CD Baby

Kathy Parsons writes music reviews and interviews artists for MainlyPiano.com.  She is a regular contributor to the Pilgrimage Yoga blog.

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