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Review: Michael Stribling: A Better Place

A Better Place is the first album from keyboardist/composer Michael Stribling in several years. It was worth the wait for A Better Place, an album sure to…

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by Kathy Parsons

A Better Place is the first album from keyboardist/composer Michael Stribling in several years. I was introduced to Stribling’s music back in 2007 with Out of the Darkness, Into the Light and have reviewed (and enjoyed!) six more of his albums since then. After becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist, Stribling worked in the mental health field for many years, returning to music in 2005 during a transitional period in his own life.

Inspires and Uplifts the Human Spirit

The mission statement of Leela Music sums up Stribling’s goals with his music: “to help others in their journey toward wholeness through the gift of music, by creating works that inspire and uplift the human spirit. (Leela means ‘divine play’).” Stribling’s albums have always been visual and spiritual, but A Better Place seems to come from the heart of someone very much at peace with himself and his life. Using keyboards and synths, Stribling creates music that tells a story using a broad range of instrumental sounds and rhythms. The fourteen tracks on this album are diverse and range from ambient and floating to more uptempo rhythms that invite toe-tapping and moving your body to the beat. It is a pleasure to have Stribling’s music as a backdrop to other activities, but I think it is even more effective when listening with eyes closed, letting the beautiful waves of sound envelop you.

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Happiness and Carefree Spirit

A Better Place opens with “First Light,” a piece that begins with the sound of birds chirping contentedly and then goes into a peaceful and colorful depiction of early morning light. Fully orchestrated as the birds continue to sing in the background, the music gently coaxes us to a place of warmth and tranquility. “Looking Up” begins with a quietly ambient introduction/prelude that picks up the tempo considerably about a minute in. This wonderful piece overflows with happiness and a carefree spirit – my favorite track! “Winter Encounter” moves in quite a different direction, but is still very soothing and peaceful. The music paints a picture of icy stillness in all of its splendor – another beauty! “Dream Waves” is hypnotic with its smooth, ambient flow – a mind massage!

Ambient and Dreamy

The next several tracks continue in an ambient and dreamy mode with a varied palette of musical instruments. The title track is a bit more dramatic and symphonic, although still very peaceful and warm. “Quiet Certainty” takes us back (or moves us forward) to more melody and an infectious rhythm. I love the titles for “Dust Yourself Off” and “Time for Bed, Sweetheart,” both very soulful and heartfelt pieces. “Ever Onward” is light and breezy, and seems to reflect on the power of love  and positive thinking/living – a great way to end the album!

It was worth the wait for A Better Place, an album sure to take you to a better place, if only for an hour or so! Recommended!

Michael’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: Tina Malia: Bridge to Vallabha

Bridge to Vallabha, a collection of eleven sacred songs and mantras, is the fifth recording from singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, sound engineer…

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by Kathy Parsons

Bridge to Vallabha, a collection of eleven sacred songs and mantras, is the fifth recording from singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, sound engineer, and producer Tina Malia.

From the Heart

Considered a visionary in the world, dream pop and sacred chant musical communities, Malia’s voice is warm, clear and lyrical. The songs are sung in a variety of languages from around the world including Sanskrit, Hebrew, Gurmukhi, and English, but Malia communicates from the heart no matter which language she is singing. 

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Classically-trained as a child, Malia discovered many female folk singers in her mid-teens when she started writing her own music. After the release of her first album, Shores of Avalon, Malia met pioneering world chant artist Jai Uttal, who recruited her to sing in his Pagan Love Orchestra. He also introduced her to the rich spiritual tradition of Sanskrit mantras.

Love of Mantra

Malia’s love of mantra is reflected on her 2005 album, Jaya Bhagavan, as well as on this new release. Her voice is the lead instrument on all of the tracks, accompanied by nylon string guitar, Rhodes piano, charangon, vibraphone, lap steel guitar, and/or cello. Singers Donna DeLory, Heather Wertheimer of Shantala, Karnamrita Das, Jai-Jagdeesh, Peia and Sasha Rose lend their talents to the mix as do Grammy-nominated pianist Peter Kater and cellist Hans Christian.

Peaceful and Smooth

All of the songs are smooth, peaceful, and soothing and Malia’s gentle voice is hypnotic. Bridge to Vallabha  is a beautiful album whether you use mantras in your daily life or simply enjoy relaxing, heartfelt music. Bridge to Vallabha is available from Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Check it out!

Tina’s Website     Amazon     iTunes     CD Baby

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Review: Doug Hammer: Haiku

Haiku is the eighth solo release by pianist/composer Doug Hammer (not counting his 2014 duet with Amethyste, Secret World, or his inclusion in several …

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by Kathy Parsons

Haiku is the eighth solo release by pianist/composer Doug Hammer (not counting his 2014 duet with Amethyste, Secret World,  or his inclusion in several compilations). In the crowded field of contemporary pianists, Hammer stands out as one of the best, whether he is playing a gentle, ethereal piece or letting loose in a honky-tonk or gospel  style – Doug Hammer can do it all! As its title suggests, Haiku is mostly gently understated solo piano plus one piano and cello duet.

Perfect In Simplicity

Most of the fifteen original pieces are relatively short (2-4 minutes), perfect in their simplicity, expressing a wide variety of emotions and experiences. The piano sound is gorgeous, crystal clear and ringing in the upper registers with deep, rich bass in the lower end. This is wonderful music for relaxation, inspiration, and exceptional musical enjoyment! Pianists will be happy to know that there is a companion sheet music book for Haiku in both printed and PDF formats, available from Doug’s site.

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Haiku begins with “Possibility,” a lovely piece that expresses optimism and anticipation – and then trails off at the dreamy end. “Flight” is fascinating. It starts out very simply with slowly repeated intervals, very gradually picking up speed as it continues to repeat the intervals. The simple melody weaves in and out as the intervals suggest the flapping of birds’ wings (there must be several birds flying together!). Near the end, the piece returns to the slower rhythm, ending with a gentle broken chord. “Wind” expresses a different kind of movement, swirling and dancing as it goes. “Glorious” has a quiet majesty that is punctuated by notes in the deep bass of the piano – a favorite.

Expressing Inner Peace

I also really like the poignant grace of “Dancing.” “Sway” is a bit of a surprise (a welcome one!) with its rhythmic funkiness. This isn’t a fast piece, but the joyful energy is infectious – love those deep bass notes! The title track has a Japanese flavor in its harmonies and simplicity. Very quiet and peaceful, it’s a beauty! “Heartstring” is an elegant and stirring duet for piano and cello (Velleda Miragias). Expressing inner peace as well as passionate emotion, piano and cello is one of my very favorite combinations! “Rise” is the longest track on the album, and also the most ambient. Very open and spacious, the easy flow gives the piece plenty of room to breathe. “Neverending” brings this excellent album to a quiet and tranquil close, leaving the listener feeling refreshed and uplifted.

Doug Hammer has created another truly exceptional piano album with Haiku! It is available from www.DougHammer.net, Amazon, and iTunes. Very highly recommended!

Doug’s Website     Amazon     iTunes

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Yoga at Home – Music Playlist 1

What music are you listening to at home when you practice yoga?  The Yoga Music Playlists you hear at the…

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What music are you listening to at home when you practice yoga?  The Yoga Music Playlists you hear at the Pilgrimage Yoga studios in San Diego are created by our yoga teachers to reflect their moods, and to inspire your practice with uplifting music.  Here’s a playlist from Yoga Tribe of songs, both sublime and energizing, that will enhance your yoga practice at home.  Use the Spotify player below to hear the tracks.

What’s on your yoga music playlist?

Ommmmm…… 35 songs – 2 hours and 25 minutes

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Review: Matthew Schoening: Narrow Path

Narrow Path is the fifth solo electric cello album from Matthew Schoening, a true master of his instrument…

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by Kathy Parsons

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.

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Layers of Cello Loops

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.

A Musical Journey of Adventure

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.

One-of-a-Kind Artist

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!

Matthew’s Website     Amazon

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: Sacred Love

Let’s skip the name dropping and talk about this very impressive solo debut that contrary…

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by Michael Debbage

According to Shambhu’s website this guitarist has previously performed with Carlos Santana, Narada Michael Walden and Whitney Houston to name a few. But let’s skip the name dropping and talk about this very impressive solo debut that contrary to its album cover is not flowery and light but actually a very expressive recording that fuses organic contemporary instrumental music with light elements of jazz and world themes. Of course it does not hurt to have the Will Ackerman team, however this does not take away from the creative juices that flow from this new solo artist who co-produced and wrote eleven of the twelve impressive songs.

Shimmering Sitar and Guitar Work

The album is anchored in the mature opening track “Together” that features a conservative Charlie Bisharat on violin with the legendary bassist Tony Levin gently driving this mid tempo song. Similar results can be found on “Natural Moment” this time with Shambhu’s shimmering sitar and guitar work giving the grounded composition a unique folksy yet exotic feel. Shambhu also adds the vocal chants of Claytoven Richardson on “Maui Breeze” and “Hide And Seek” cloaking the music with a bossa nova edge to it.

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Simply brilliant!

In contrast, Shambhu also captures a more tender approach best illustrated by the poignant “Eyes Of A Child”, the sublime “Revelation” and even the subdued restrained passion of “Imagine.” On the latter,  Ackerman not only co-writes but also performs alongside Shambhu and veteran bassist Michael Manring who sounds like he is performing on a fretless bass, that only adds to the smooth silky sound. Shambhu takes an even more meditative approach on the likes of “Nirab Amare” and “Call To Spirit” and then seizes the opportunity to add a Western flavor on “Shiva Grove” by adding a jazz element courtesy of George Brooks’ saxophone as he intertwines with flutist Ravichandra Kulur. Simply brilliant!

An Album of Integrity and Maturity

Shambhu may have an unusual name and along with the meditative and very light artwork of the album cover, this may not be the smartest marketing decision as the meditative influence is nominal at best. However, this would certainly support the expression of don’t judge the “book” by its cover. Simply put, Scared Love is an album of integrity and maturity that is very capable of exploring several genres yet still creating a very cohesive and entertaining album making it the sleeper hit of 2010.

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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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: Kelly Andrew: Journey

There is very little not to like about Journey that concludes with the uplifting “Sail Away” making you realize that from contemporary instrumental to electronic to orchestral musical genres Kelly Andrew is a master of all three. And from that aspect alone Journey is a complete success of not only high class entertainment but one that allows you to see the inner working of a wonderful artist as you traveling through the creative musical mind of Kelly Andrew.

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by Michael Debbage

Released right around the same time in physical formats as the epic and bodacious Epoch Dawn, the more subdued Journey is Kelly Andrew’s most current release. Fortunately, the recording was finally made available in the cd format. Though somewhat more restrained than Epoch Dawn, Journey suffered a somewhat comparison complex but when measured and evaluated upon its own merits Journey reflects an artist that is capable of moving through multiple instrumental genres with the ease of a chameleon lizard adjusting to his own surroundings.

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Musical Journeys to be Discovered

Even within the recordings of Journey though it is a more mainstream effort there are multiple musical journeys and scenic routes to be discovered. The album opens with the highly accessible and super smooth “World Of Discovery” that brings to mind a typical David Arkenstone composition you would have found on his highly accessible 2002 Sketches From An American Journey. Keeping in mind to be compared with Mr. Arkenstone is the ultimate compliment. Equally impressive is the slower but highly melodic “Glistening Waters” and Celtic influenced “Expedition”.

Striking Musical Lanscapes

But no journey is status quo as your sceneries continually change and so does Kelly with the percussion and wordless driven exotica found on “Rainforest” that will have you gently swinging, swaying and moving. Additional striking musical landscapes can be found on the Middle Eastern influences discovered on “Into The Sun” or the even more mystical “Dancing Dunes”.

High Class Entertainment

Frankly there is very little not to like about Journey that concludes with the uplifting “Sail Away” making you realize that from contemporary instrumental to electronic to orchestral musical genres Kelly Andrew is a master of all three.  And from that aspect alone Journey is a complete success of not only high class entertainment but one that allows you to see the inner working of a wonderful artist as you traveling through the creative musical mind of Kelly Andrew.

Kelly’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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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: Eric Tingstad: Mississippi

I LOVE THIS ALBUM! Mississippi is primarily Eric Tingstad with some bass and percussion support from the very capable hands of Chris Leighton, Garey Shelton,…

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by Kathy Parsons

Okay, before I go any farther, let me just say I LOVE THIS ALBUM! There isn’t a piano to be found on any of the eleven tracks, but there is some very tasty organ.

Mississippi is primarily Eric Tingstad with some bass and percussion support from the very capable hands of Chris Leighton, Garey Shelton, James Clark, Ben Smith and TJ Morris – and Eric Robert on “organ and whirly.” Tingstad performs on a variety of electric and acoustic guitars, banjo, pedal steel guitar, and resophonic.

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Inspired by the American Landscape

He wrote in a recent blog post, “Mississippi is my musical expression of how we are inspired by, and relate to, our American landscape. This is my take on the region that has come to be known as the Cradle of American Music – centered in the delta, and expanding to include the Americana Music Triangle.” Tingstad composed all of the music except for his stunning arrangement of “Danny Boy,” and there isn’t a weak track on the whole album. As a reviewer, I have to admit that sometimes it feels like my ears are getting kind of jaded, but then something like Mississippi comes along that is so fresh, beautifully recorded, and full of life that I want to go back through the artist’s entire catalog to hear what else I’ve missed.

A Grammy Winner

To backtrack a bit, Eric Tingstad has been recording since 1982 and released fourteen albums with Nancy Rumbel (as Tingstad and Rumbel) on the Narada label from 1987-2004. After that, he chose to move on as an indie artist and producer and has been honored with many awards and nominations, including a Grammy win and a second Grammy nomination. Mississippi should increase those numbers!

Leaves My Soul Happy and Refreshed

The album begins with “Long Boats,” an upbeat and very rhythmic piece that sets the tone of the album. Banjo, pedal steel, electric and acoustic guitars plus organ and percussion give this blues-tinged piece an American flavor that no one could mistake as anything else. “Shakin’ in the Cradle” has some down-home finger-pickin’ with organ and electric guitar added for additional color. The title track is slow and sultry, and is a perfect musical description of the southern US. With hints of B.B. King and slow dances from decades ago, “Trail of Tears” gets me every time – a heartbreaker. “Skamania” picks up the tempo a bit and is full of fun – love the organ on this one! “Durango” takes on an air of mystery in a somewhat more southwestern musical style and has a completely infectious rhythm. The lively and sunny “Chester” brings this fantastic album to a close, leaving my ears as well as my soul refreshed and happy.

Sure to be one of my Top Favorites for 2015, Mississippi is available from www.erictingstad.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. I give it my highest recommendation.

Eric’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: 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: 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: Todd Boston: “Touched by the Sun”

Touched By the Sun is the second release from multi-instrumentalist/composer Todd Boston, following his 2010 debut, Alive. Produced by Will Ackerman and co-produced…

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by Kathy Parsons

Touched By the Sun is the second release from multi-instrumentalist/composer Todd Boston, TB Face Smile CRfollowing his 2010 debut, Alive. Produced by Will Ackerman and co-produced by Tom Eaton and Boston, the album features an impressive list of contributing musicians that include Charlie Bisharat on violin, Eugene Friesen on cello, Snatam Kaur‘s vocals, Ramesh Kannan on tabla and cajon, and Michael Manring and Tony Levin on basses. Boston performs on guitars, dotar, flutes and bass and composed all twelve pieces, some of which were arranged by Ackerman.

A Very Positive, Uplifting Energy

With such a stellar group of collaborating artists, it is no wonder that both the music and the sound quality are truly exceptional. Boston has studied with the masters of a dizzying range of musical genres, and his compositions reflect an assimilation of many cultural styles. All of the music has a very positive, uplifting energy, and it’s fascinating how Boston shifts from Eastern stylings to Americana without missing a beat.

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Songs of Joy that Lift the Spirit

Touched By the Sun begins with a short prelude for dotar and cello that establishes the eclectic tone of the album. Hypnotic with a hint of mystery, it’s a great start! “Twilight,” features guitar, dotar (a simple Indian lute), flute, cello, tabla, cajon, and bass. The gentle finger-picking style on guitar gives the piece a very relaxed and contented feeling that is enhanced by Friesen’s soulful cello. “Celtic Heart” is a favorite. Guitar, cello, bass and percussion combine to create a folk feeling that overflows with emotion and passion. Darker than most of the other tracks, it really sings! “Sol Rising” goes in the other direction with a song of joy and new beginnings that lifts the spirit and lets it soar. “The Brightest Night” begins as a peaceful guitar solo and gradually evolves into a guitar/cello/violin trio with supporting percussion. I really like this one, too! “Under the Orion Sky” would be perfect in a film showing open fields or meadows or any kind of peaceful, serene setting. Love it! “Full Moon” picks up the tempo and energy level tempered with a haunting, mystical quality. Guitars, flutes, violin, tabla, cajon, and fretless bass cast a hypnotic spell. “Cascading” is just Boston and his guitar, with dotar adding occasional embellishments (also Boston). Peaceful serenity at its best! “Waves” was recorded on the day of the Japanese tsunami (3/11/11) after watching videos of the massive destruction. Intense yet very beautiful, this piece is dedicated to the memory of guitarist Michael Hedges. The last track on this exceptional album is the title track. Guitars, bass, Snatam Kaur’s elegant voice, violin, and light percussion soothe and uplift, leaving the listener refreshed and with a sense of well-being.

A Wonderful Musical Journey

Todd Boston has created a wonderful musical journey for everyone who loves soulful guitar and world music styles with substance and beauty. Touched By the Sun is available from www.toddboston.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Highly recommended!

Todd’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: Winds of Samsara: Ricky Kej & Wouter Kellerman

Winds of Samsara is a glorious collaboration by keyboardist/composer Ricky Kej, flutist Wouter Kellerman and a crew of about 120 musicians …

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by Kathy Parsons

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!

An Incredible Album

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.

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“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!

2014 Grammy Winner – Best New Age Album

Winds of Samsara won the Grammy for Best New Age Album! It is available from www.WindsOfSamsara.com. Very highly recommended!

Ricky’s Website     Wouter’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: 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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A Beat You Can Breathe To: Yoga and Music

Music Affects Our Emotions – We know intuitively that music affects our emotions. It hits us deeply, unconsciously…

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by JC Peters

Have you ever noticed the music yoga teachers play in class?

Music Affects Our Emotions

We know intuitively that music affects our emotions. It hits us deeply, unconsciously,  elevating us, calling forth an old memory, or even causing us to squeeze on the gas pedal a little harder. Neurologist Oliver Sacks, in his book Musicophilia, explains that the parts of our brains that understand music are intertwined with our limbic (emotional) and motor (movement) systems. Sacks writes, “Rhythm in this sense, the integration of sound and movement, can play a great role in coordinating and invigorating basic locomotor movement.” No wonder we can’t help tapping our toes when a certain song comes on the radio.

Your Breath

In Vinyasa or Flow yoga, we intend very clearly to connect with the rhythm of the breath. We breathe Ujjayi, a slowed down, smoothed out breath that sounds a bit like a whisper, and link every transitional movement to either an inhale or an exhale. Your breath becomes a dance partner, and when you are really in the zone, your breath leads the dance.

Classically, Ujjayi breath is a four count inhale and exhale. Some teachers count the breath out loud, but a good song in 4/4 time with a steady tempo can get everyone in the room breathing together effortlessly. The yoga playlist is an unsung art: if we listen with our bodies, a good groove can help, while an irregular beat can throw us off. What we need is a beat we can breathe to.

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Yoga Playlist

The yoga playlist can also set musical moods, from calm and contemplative to fiery and intense. Since we hear music both physically and emotionally, we must be mindful about using it in a practice with such physical and emotional resonances. Whether it’s Tibetan monks chanting or Avril Lavigne, we must acknowledge that the music we choose creates an emotional flavor for our slow dance with the breath.

Many of my students love my yoga playlists, but I’m also aware that some of them must really, deeply hate them. Everyone has their preferences, and some people like their yoga in silence, with the steady beat of the heart as their only metronome. It’s good to acknowledge that you can’t please all the people all the time, but in the end, the music isn’t for my students. It’s for me.

Entrainment

If you put a few pendulums in a room together, swinging at different phases, they somehow hear or feel each other and sync up. This is called entrainment, and it also happens in a yoga class. As the teacher, I need to be the pendulum whose rhythm everyone else matches up with. No matter what’s going on in my life, and even if no one else notices the actual tunes, I know my playlist will get me in sync with the tempo and mood I am trying to share.

In your teaching or home practice, explore how music affects your movement. Some songs even make me want to do backbends or inversions, while others make me crave deep, seated forward folds. There’s a secret language in the music that can accompany our dance with breath. As the poet Mary Oliver has said, “Rhythm is one of the most powerful of pleasures, and when we feel a pleasurable rhythm we hope it will continue. When it does, it grows sweeter.”

This post was originally published on Spirituality & Health. To view the original post, click here.

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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: 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: 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: 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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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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