Review: Masako: Call of the Mountains

Call of the Mountains is the second release from pianist/composer Masako. Equal in beauty to her debut,Masako, Call of the Mountains was…

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by Kathy Parsons

Call of the Mountains is the second release from pianist/composer Masako. Equal in beauty to her debut,Masako, Call of the Mountains was also recorded at Will Ackerman’s Imaginary Road Studio in Vermont and features guest artists such as Premik, Noah Wilding, Jeff Oster, Will Ackerman, Eugene Friesen, Tony Levin, and Jeff Haynes on several tracks. Twelve of the sixteen tracks are elegant piano solos that showcase Masako’s poetic playing style as well as her graceful touch. There are many self-taught musicians whose work I dearly love, but when an artist such as Masako steps in with a lifetime of rigorous training, there is a palpable difference and often, at least for me, a much bigger “WOW!” factor. It has nothing to do with showmanship or playing speed (usually), but the effortless command of the instrument to successfully convey whatever that artist seeks to express.

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Tribute to Nature

In her liner notes, Masako explains the origins of this new music. Living in the northeastern mountains of the US, she often has reasons to drive south through the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains to New York City. The ongoing changes in the mountains, river, and sky keep the drive interesting, and Masako says that whenever she walks in the woods she encounters something special. “This album is a tribute to these mountains that I love.”

Peaceful Contentment Express to Perfection

Call of the Mountains begins with “Dawn,” a lovely piano solo meant to be both powerful and sensitive and to convey a sense of hope. Masako is successful on all accounts. “Kindness from Strangers” has a graceful flow that expresses “trail magic,” unexpected kindness from total strangers – a favorite! The dreamy “Watching the Clouds” begins as a piano solo and becomes a gentle quartet for piano, wind synthesizer (Premik), guitar (Ackerman), and percussion (Jeff Haynes). I really like this one, too! Masako says that “Reflections” is one of her own favorites and I can see why. Inspired the colors of fall foliage reflected in a pond or lake, the piece is mostly silky smooth with occasional bursts of sparkling color – gorgeous! “Purple Indulgence” was named for the Purple Loosestrife, a beautiful flowering plant that is an invasive plant species that can disrupt native vegetation. Nevertheless, the piece is a tranquil and leisurely flowing quartet for piano, bass (Levin), wind synth, and cello (Friesen). “Wildflowers” is a piano solo with  the simple beauty and grace of its inspiration. “Blue Blaze” picks up the rhythm and tempo a bit. Named for the trail markers that help to keep hikers from getting lost on the Appalachian Trail, the piece expresses freedom and a soul-satisfied joy – also a favorite.  “Smoky Rain” is more free-form, painting a peaceful aural picture in shades of blue-gray.  “Lullaby for the Hills” brings the album to a close with an enchanting trio for flugelhorn (Oster), cello, and piano. Saying that if she had to choose between an urban life always surrounded by friends or an often lonely life in the mountains, she’d choose the latter, the peaceful contentment of this music is expressed to perfection.

Masako is on her way to becoming a leader in the new age piano/contemporary classical genres.  Call of the Mountains is very highly recommended!

Masako’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 Online blog.

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Review: Kori Linae Carothers: Fire in the Rainstorm

Fire in the Rainstorm is Kori Linae Carothers’ second project with Will Ackerman producing, and her first solo piano album. It is her fourth album to date and contains twelve original…

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by Kathy Parsons

Fire in the Rainstorm is Kori Linae Carothers’ second project with Will Ackerman producing, and her first solo piano album. It is her fourth album to date and contains twelve original pieces. With one of the more dramatic album covers of the year, the music is both eloquent and beautiful, fueled by grace and passionate emotion. I thoroughly enjoyed Kori’s first recording with Ackerman, Trillium, but it is amazing the depth and honesty that is often revealed when an artist goes it alone with just the piano. Such is the case here. It is interesting to note from her bio, that Kori is deaf in one ear and was told as a child that she would never be a musician. She continued her music studies through high school and college, proving the naysayers to be completely wrong. In a way, she has come full circle and is now donating a percentage of the sales from Fire in the Rainstorm to Hearing Health Foundation.

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Poignant and Tender

The album opens with “A Day Like No Other,” a dreamy and slightly melancholy piece that also expresses determination and hope – a lovely way to begin. Flowing and lyrical, it grabbed my attention right away! “Nunu’s Sunrise” was composed as a loving tribute with warmth and strong emotions. It’s really interesting how the piece starts to slow near the end and then just fades out, unresolved – kind of like life does sometimes. “Meadow” is a favorite with its relaxed, carefree mood and easy grace. “Tidal Rift” is a beautiful, heartfelt piece inspired by the ups and downs in relationships – another favorite. The title track is a passionate piece written for a friend whose life has been full of turbulence. The piece begins calmly, gradually building in intensity and drama – very powerful! “The Day” is a tribute to those who lost their lives on 9/11. Originally recorded as an electronic piece on Kori’s first album, The Road Less Traveled,it’s a poignant and tender piano solo – another favorite. “The Kindly Beast” is especially touching, knowing that Marvin, Kori’s beloved dog, died recently. He followed her everywhere and liked to get in the way of her hands when she was playing the piano (I’ve had the same problem with my cats!). Marvin’s playful antics will live forever in this song. “Whispers of the Heart” is a stirring tribute to friends and family who stand by through life’s trials and joys. Buoyant yet deeply emotional, it’s a beauty! “When the Trees Fell” mourns the loss of a giant tree with five trunks that was taken down by a huge storm. Grief and loss flow throughout this gorgeous piece, ending the album with a sigh and a tear.

Kori Linae Carothers has really come into her own with Fire in the Rainstorm. I hope it brings her the fans and recognition she so deserves! It is available from www.KoriTunes.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!

Kori’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 Online blog.

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Review: Kater and DeMaria: Heart of Silence

Heart of Silence is the first collaboration by pianist Peter Kater and Native American flutist Michael Brant DeMaria…

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by Kathy Parsons

Heart of Silence is the first collaboration by pianist Peter Kater and Native American flutist Michael Brant DeMaria. With fourteen Grammy nominations between them, this album seems very likely to place both artists firmly inside the Winners Circle for 2015. Both are widely-known for their deeply spiritual improvisations and the music for this album was created during meditative sessions. Each track is a free improvisation performed without any rehearsals or pre-planning. Kater and DeMaria chose which key they were going to play in and started recording. In turn, the intention is for the eight tracks to be listened to as meditations.

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A Masterpiece of Simplicity

The inspiration for Heart of Silence was DeMaria’s experience of having his mother die in his arms only to be revived by emergency cardiac surgery. Profoundly touched and changed by the experience, DeMaria wanted to find a way to express that experience musically – the mix of grief, connection, and love that was both ominous and comforting at the same time. He had three custom deep bass flutes made for this project, searching for the lowest sound he could find. The flute with the lowest tone used on this recording is five feet in length – a sub-bass A minor flute – and only one other such flute exists. It becomes a voice from the depths and a drone instrument to express the inexpressible. DeMaria says that his whole body vibrates when he plays this flute. Blended with Kater’s soulful piano, the duo has created a masterpiece of simplicity and profound meaning that should touch the spirit of anyone who experiences it.

Open, Free and Deeply Emotional

The music itself is very open, free, and deeply emotional. The sound of the deep bass flute is dark but also very warm and comforting. The percussive quality of the piano contrasts beautifully with the more rounded tones of the bass flute. Kater has often recorded and performed with Native American flutists, so it is no surprise that this album works so well. However, this is far from a duplication of previous work – DeMaria has his own musical style and message to convey – and the duo has created an album that is  unique and very personal. Although there are short breaks between the tracks, the album plays as a cohesive one hour listening/meditating experience and yet each piece stands alone as well.

Sure to be one of my Favorites for 2015, Heart of Silence is available from SoundsTrue.com, Amazon and iTunes. Very highly recommended!

Sounds True     Peter’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: Fiona Joy: Signature – Solo

Breathtaking ClaritySignature – Solo is Fiona Joy’s long-awaited (by me, anyway!) first solo piano album, and what a beautiful surprise…

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Breathtaking Clarity

Signature – Solo is Fiona Joy’s long-awaited (by me, anyway!) first solo piano album, and what a beautiful surprise it is! phoca_thumb_l_fionataamp3_500Produced and recorded by Cookie Marenco, founder of Blue Coast Records, Signature is being released in several formats, including audiophile SACD and high resolution downloads. (My review copy is a “standard” CD, but the sound quality is still amazing!) A classically-trained pianist from Australia, Fiona Joy has created an impressive collection of recordings beginning with her 2004 release, Portrait of a Waterfall as Fiona Joy Hawkins. Some of her more recent albums were recorded at Imaginary Road Studio and co-produced with Will Ackerman, who refers to Fiona Joy as “one of the brightest lights in contemporary instrumental music.”Signature was recorded on an 1885 Steinway piano, and every nuance comes through in breathtaking clarity. The album features a solo version of “Grace,” which was included in the 2014 Grammy winning Winds of Samsara by Ricky Kej and Wouter Kellerman, and a duet version of “Once Upon Impossible” that features Lawrence Blatt on acoustic guitar as well as Fiona’s ethereal vocals. Nine of the ten tracks are purely solo piano at its colorful, expressive best.

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No Ordinary Solo Piano Album

Signature – Solo begins with “Ceremony,” a lively, upbeat piece that sets the tone of the album and tips listeners off that this is no ordinary solo piano album. “Grace” is likely to become one of Fiona Joy’s “signature” pieces, as it occasionally refers to some of her earlier pieces that haven’t been as widely heard as her more recent work. It’s a wonderful piece as either a piano solo or an ensemble piece, but I really love the solo version. The melancholy “Fair Not” has a flowing left hand that gives it a subtle energy. Dark and very expressive, this is somewhat different from much of Fiona’s other music. There are two versions of “Once Upon Impossible” – a piano solo that is poignant and heartfelt, and the second that includes Fiona’s vocals and light guitar accompaniment by Lawrence Blatt, a fine artist/composer in his own right. Both are exceptional. “Calling Earth” is a somewhat shortened version of “Earthbound” from 600 Years in a Moment.“Invisible Train” is my favorite track. High energy and very spirited, I hope sheet music is planned for this one! The elegant title track is slow, pensive and very heartfelt – gorgeous! As its title suggests, “From the Mist” is cool and has no hard edges – very fluid and free, colored in muted shades of gray and blue. “Little Star” concludes this very special album with a sweet and tender piece that tells its story simply and without a lot of embellishment.

Elegant Touch and Soulful Playing

I truly hope this is just the first in a series of solo piano albums from Fiona Joy. Her elegant touch and soulful playing have always made her one of my favorites. I have been fortunate to have Fiona Joy perform two house concerts in my home, so I have been able to watch her play several times – always a treat that needs to be shared! The “normal” CD and downloads are available from Amazon and iTunes. The audiophile recordings are available from Blue Coast Records. Very highly recommended!

Fiona’s Website     Amazon     iTunes     Blue Coast Records     Fiona’s Artist Page

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: Heidi Breyer: “Letters from Far Away”

Only another two year lapse and once again we are invited to another recording from the delightful and adventurous pianist Heidi Breyer.

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Reviewed by Michael Debbage

heidibreyerOnly another two year lapse and once again we are invited to another recording from the delightful and adventurous pianist Heidi Breyer. Last time around Breyer pushed the envelope with the addition of a few vocal performances. This time out she wanted to strip it down to create her first solo piano album however decided to make it a double album concept with the second disc presenting the same songs fleshed out with various instrumentation. The results are magical.

Velvety and Elegant

While the discs are not labeled as disc one and two clearly the initial concept was to go it alone and while the performances are velvety and elegant, when accompanied with varying instrumentation the emotional factor though still reserved is nevertheless moving. With Breyer co-producing with Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton the performances themselves though not limited to Ackerman’s A Team session players include the usual suspects of Jill Haley on the English Horn, Eugene Friesen on cello, Charlie Bisharat on violin, Noah Wilding on vocals and even Ackerman on guitar.

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Not One Weak Moment

Haley and Friesen are the first to appear on the slow rhythmically delicious opening track entitled “All The Good Things” as they combined effortless with Breyer’s simple but emotive piano work. Frankly, “All The Good Things” could easily have referred to the stellar compositions that follow as there is not one weak moment found as it appears Breyer has completely outdone herself. This review would get hideously long speaking about the high points that pictorially would look  like the Alps. So skipping forward just inhale the quiet moments of Breyer’s piano work as she brings the emotive factor up slowly but gradually in complete harmony with Noah Wilding’s wordless vocals on “First Impressions”. At one point there are two voices which would likely be Breyer herself harmonizing with Wilding. Another more than stellar moment can be found on “Touchstone” where Breyer’s playing is more vibrant and progressive than usual. With the album concept focused on the story of two lovers it is this song that strongly suggests the meeting of their heart, mind and soul. Equally as energetic is “Welton” with the album coming to a close with highly reflective “Starry Pond”.

Nothing Short of Astonishing

Breyer’s latest ambitious creation shy of the cardboard packaging is nothing short of astonishing and is without a doubt her most impressive recording to date. When you consider the fact that her discography to date is already a treasure chest, speaking this highly of Letters From Far Away only makes this her crown jewel until she outdoes herself again. Considering the bravado of Breyer’s track record there should never be a doubt.

Heidi’s Website    Amazon    iTunes    CD Baby    Heidi’s Artist Page

Michael Debbage writes music reviews and interviews artists for MainlyPiano.com, a regular contributor to the Pilgrimage Yoga blog.

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