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: Shambhu: “Dreaming of Now”

Dreaming Of Now not only matches Shambhu’s first offering but frankly abundantly exceeds it. But be ready to just follow the musical escapade…

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by Michael Debbage

Shambhu’s impressive 2010 debut took many by surprise however a follow up album especially after a strong debut is always a difficult position to be in. shambhu_Pilgrimage -SMALLNevertheless, Dreaming Of Now not only avoids the dreaded sophomore jinx but it will put to rest any doubt that Sacred Love was just a fleeting musical moment. In fact Dreaming Of Now not only matches Shambhu’s first offering but frankly abundantly exceeds it. But be ready to just follow the musical escapade you are about to embark on as the guitarist continues his boundless musical exploration yet creating a complete unified musical vision.

A Smorgasbord of Musical Dishes

Once again Shambhu teams up with Will Ackerman behind the production board along with several musical guests including the more obvious choices of Charlie Bisharat on violin, Eugene Friesen on cello and Jeff Oster on flugelhorn. Add in the instruments such as the saxophone, flutes and various levels of percussion and combine that with Shambhu’s tasty guitar work on both acoustic and electric and you have all the ingredients for a smorgasbord of musical dishes all for your listening consumption.

Simply Heavenly

The album opens with the optimistic “Waterfall” that cascades and flows with the joy of George Brooks’s saxophone countering with Friesen’s cello all anchored around Shambhu’s melodic guitar work. It completely sets the tone of Dreaming Of Now that is simply heavenly. Followed immediately by the more moody “Windows Of Time” that then flings you into the toe tapping breezy “Starbucks Landing” will keep you keenly aware that this artist, much like his debut, refuses to pigeon hole himself into one specific musical style. “Starbucks Landing” focuses on the electric guitar and no it is not Carlos Santana but our very own Shambhu’s letting loose.

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Dreamy Moments

Dreaming Of Now is not without its dreamy moments that can be best found on the title track with Premik Russell Tubbs’ flute work floating effortlessly with Shambhu’s softly shaded acoustic work. This less complicated composition is utterly mesmerizing. The lighter musical hues can also be found on “Country Aire”, “Devodance” or even better yet the naked and stark yet gorgeous closer “Sanctuary” where Shambhu shows us he is capable of doing a superfine William Ackerman like performance but in his own musical tongue.

You Will Like from Start to Finish

Shambhu lost his element of surprise after his strong debut, however this does not take away from the absolute beauty found on Dreaming Of Now. With absolutely no filler, Shambhu’s follow up effort shows an artist that has not only blossomed but has also formally announced himself as a ready for prime time musician. The only question is in which genre? It does not matter as Shambhu takes elements of World, Smooth Jazz, New Age and Meditative qualities to create a musical experience that you will like from start to finish making it one of 2013’s finest releases.

Shambhu’s Website     Amazon     iTunes     CD Baby

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

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