Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Album Review: Devotion by Dulce Joya Léon

Devotion is the sophomore album by classically trained pianist and composer, Dulce Joya Léon, and follow-up to her glowing debut, Reality of Dreams. Having begun her musical studies at age six at an arts school in her native Cuba, she went on to study, perform and teach music in Colombia, Austria and Germany where she currently resides.

Comprised of ten solo piano originals spanning approximately sixty-four minutes, Devotion showcases sweepingly cinematic and emotionally rapturous compositions, which could be described as instrumental gothic poetry expressed through consciously melodramatic motifs. This is certainly no surprise considering that Dulce Joya draws inspiration from classical, theatre and progressive rock music.

Upon listening to Devotion, it’s easy to imagine the composer playing her piano in a Victorian-era mansion while surrounded by candlelight. As if being transported back in time, Dulce Joya seemingly invites us along for a dramatic romance novel experience in which she pours out her heart and soul through her fingertips.

She springs right into action with the rapidly moving and fiery opener, “Passione Nocturnale”, of which true to her signature style, builds and winds steadily up to a climatic peak, then softly descends a glittery path, repeating this theme with variation.

Additionally, her compositions are aptly-named to convey the passionate drama of her playing style. Among these include highlights like “The Sound of Your Voice”, a more ballerina-like piece that spins and twirls up and down the registers – sometimes delicately, and at other times forcefully.

Likewise, there's “Forgotten Worlds”, a boldly contrasting number that mysteriously moves among contrastive minor and major keystrokes. She also touches on the metaphysical with “From ancient Time we meet again”, which seems to relate a tale of two lovers reuniting after many eras apart. And finally, the intriguingly named “Mistery among Candles” makes for a tantalizing conclusion to a passionate love story.

A simply underrated genius with regards to both her musical narration and compositional skills, Dulce Joya Léon’s sheer dedication to her art comes through with every note. A seemingly unselfconscious composer who performs straight from the heart and expresses herself authentically, she's also one of the most impressive pianists I've discovered recently in contemporary classical music. Coupled with the fact that Dulce Joya is such a masterfully talented melody-maker and arranger, these qualities undoubtedly make for an unforgettable recording of its kind! ~Candice Michelle

Available at Amazon and other music retail & streaming services. For more information, please visit the artist's website.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Aural Awakenings: Episode 37 – A Valentine’s Day Special

A romantic selection of new age, neoclassical & contemporary instrumental music to honor the day of love!

Scott Cossu / Wedding Lanterns / Memories of Water and Light
Kirsten Agresta Copely / Persephone Rising / Around the Sun
David Wahler / Paris Rain / Two Hearts
Karen Biehl / Union / Starlight Dreams
Perpetual Motion / Dance of Two Souls / Dance of Two Souls
Marc Enfroy / Lover’s Leap / Surrounded
Ian Maksin / Per Me Per Te / Sempre: A New Dimension
Michael Whalen / The Muse / Cupid Blindfolded
Vin Downes / The Flawed Heart / Good Light to Go By
Gina Leneé / Run Away with Me (ft. Will Ackerman) / Revealed
Kim Angelis / Longing / Passages
Dulce Joya / Eternal Love / Devotion
Dan Chadburn / Gentle Touch / Love Themes for Solo Piano
Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh & Thomas Bartlett / My Darling Asleep / (self-titled)
Peter Kater / When We Meet Again / Wings

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Album Review: SensationS by Gabriele Saro

Gabriele Saro is an Italian-born composer who cites music and composition as his greatest passion among other keen interests. Fond of many musical genres and styles, especially soundtracks, he’s garnered several awards over the course of his career, including for documentary film scores.

Saro’s fourth studio album, SensationS, is comprised of fifteen original compositions, which showcase modern classical piano and string arrangements that he wrote and produced. A trio of performing musicians includes Saro on violin, Andrea del Piccolo on piano and Francesco Pinosa on cello. Bearing one-word song titles, the simplistically named pieces elucidate a plethora of emotions, expressions and observations.

“Morrow” opens the album on a sunny note, with piano being accompanied by strings at about the midway point like a companion joining a partner. These elegantly performed instruments seemingly dance and duel throughout, parting briefly at times, only to be reunited again for another rendezvous. A perfect example is the lovely third track, “Bliss”, which might paint any number of romantically scenic images, such as that of a couple on a small boat sailing in the sunset.

Likewise, other compositions seemingly bask in the moonlight, including the nocturnally mesmerizing “Merriment”. On this piece, stark chords pronounced by minor keystrokes outwardly blossom along the registers, only to coalesce in the lower range at quieter intervals. Displaying an intriguing pattern, the compositional arrangement can be likened to that of retreating beneath the surface and then rising above it to take another breath every now and again.

Another highlight, “Contrasts”, ingeniously demonstrates the song’s conceptual narrative by showcasing piano and strings energetically spinning into a tight cluster, before releasing into a dreamily drifting interlude. The equally noteworthy “Torments” features a beautiful solo piano melody that seemingly elicits a mood of waiting in solitude. Characterized by evolvingly uninterrupted ebbing and flowing figures, the structure of this piece can be likened to a river current that occasionally intensifies into raging rapids.

Finally, the album concludes with a piece on piano and strings titled “Serenity”, which aptly conveys the serene contentment and joyful sentimentalism of a romantic reverie.

Passionate, emotional and always supremely elegant, SensationS is the perfect album to put on while enjoying a romantic dinner, or to create a sophisticated ambiance, or simply, for when you just want to get swept up in the ardor of the music itself and nothing else. Filed under both the Classical and New Age genres, the music herein is unquestionably more descriptive of the former, though it will certainly appeal to many fans of the latter.

Inspired to check out more of Gabriele Saro’s work, SensationS is a sensational compendium of modern classical music! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available at Amazon and other retail & streaming platforms.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Album Review: Star Lullaby by Raphael Groten

Having grown up in a musical family that would often get together and perform, Raphael Groten picked up the guitar at age thirteen after playing the saxophone during his younger childhood years. Later taking an interest in the holistic healing arts, he entered shamanic studies and sound therapy practices, thereby utilizing a variety of acoustic world instruments to help positively effect both mind and body. This newfound path in life was particularly inspired by a near-fatal accident involving his then four month old son, after Groten played guitar for him during that first night in intensive care, an experience that was followed-up the next day by a therapeutic harpist who also played for his son in his room.

Co-produced with Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton, as well as mixed, mastered and engineered at Ackerman’s own Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont, Star Lullaby is Raphael Groten’s sublime 2019 follow-up to his 2015 debut release, Journey Home. That four-year period between the two albums not only allowed Groten to further mature as an artist, but to additionally develop his own sacred path as an integral part of what he calls “intentional healing music”.

Resulting in a phenomenal double-album consisting of 29 tracks in total, Star Lullaby is the perfect kind of record you wouldn’t want to leave behind while living in or lodging at a cabin in the woods. Providing the listener with two slightly, yet distinctive, listening experiences, disc one is comprised exclusively of fingerstyle acoustic guitar solos, while disc two includes both collaborative renditions of the original solo pieces, as well as additional environmental sounds and textures on those compositions and other non-collaborative pieces.

Having enlisted the talented contributions of some well-known musicians who are often recruited for Imaginary Road Studios projects, our ears are variably treated on the second disc to the harmonizing accents of cello (Eugene Friesen), violin (Charlie Bisharat), flute (Rob Korb), bass guitar (Michael Manring), percussion (Jeff Haynes), and additional acoustic guitar (Will Ackerman).

While listening to this supreme recording, scenic images of mountains, rivers and wildlife come to mind, as well as the comforting warmth of a cozy fireplace. By allowing just the right amount of thoughtful pause between the intricate notes of his reflective melodies, Groten creates a calming space for the listener to relax, imagine or contemplate.

Highlights include the opening “Dawn”, which is a perfect song to wake up to first thing in the morning. Its soothing melody is further enhanced on disc two with the airy tones of gentle wind chimes. Likewise, the alternate take of “Waking” is subtly expounded upon by both cascading and percussive rainstick. This popular indigenous instrument is also heard on the ensemble variation of “Levity”, a marvelously livelier piece that is additionally accentuated by Ron Korb’s sprightly flute and Jeff Haynes' folksy percussion. One can easily imagine themselves taking a stroll through the woods at night while nodding along to this tune, or perhaps enjoying a celebration with friends around a campfire.

Another favorite, “Compassion”, displays an improvised arrangement on which Eugene Friesen’s cello provides a solemn elegance to delicate guitar figures. “Prayer” is perhaps the loveliest piece on the album and is noted by its Latin-style guitar melody. Mysteriously meditative, this enchanting tune feels evocative of walking alone through an old Spanish monastery, even more so while listening to the slightly alternate version, which is softly enhanced by distant birdsong.

Finally, we are treated to three variations of the title piece, “Star Lullaby”, the last of which appropriately concludes the album. Featuring Noah Wilding on vocals in addition to Michael Manring on bass guitar, both male and female lyrical vocals soothingly sing a prayerful lullaby.

Depicting the mysterious night owl against a starry sky, the album’s artwork aptly conveys the nocturnal woodland feel of these beautiful compositions. Therefore, if you love contemplative acoustic guitar music, particularly in the style of classic Windham Hill or Narada Records, then you will most certainly cherish Star Lullaby! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available at Amazon and other retail & streaming platforms.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Album Review: Two Hearts by David Wahler

In addition to having enjoyed a successful career in Interior Design, acclaimed composer David Wahler has also released a string of outstanding albums over the past several years which have been particularly well received among contemporary instrumental and new age music circles.

On what could fittingly be described as "romantic lullabies for lovers", Two Hearts is imbued with a Greek mythical semblance that seemingly relates the story of a reunification of soulmates. Comprised of eleven enchanting compositions, the album showcases beautifully tender keyboard and woodwind melodies accompanied by delicate string textures, ethereal vocal pads and silky synth grooves.

Highlights include “Paris Rain”, a gorgeous number that feels evocative of sailing down a river beneath vivid constellations in the night sky, as shimmering sounds mimic twinkling stars and mist-filled waters. Speaking of constellations, “Night Sky of Orion (Remix)” is another prepossessing piece that similarly paints imagery of a starry firmament casting its light upon a watery abode, aptly conveyed by the composition's gently rippling outward figures and softly shuffling rhythm. Lastly, the mysterious “Confession” conveys a secret to tell and is perfectly illustrated by a haunting melody wrapped in a mythic aura of hidden halls and shadowy sirens.

In an utmost compliment, while listening to this recording, at times I was simultaneously reminded of new age landmark album Enchantment by Chris Spheeris and Paul Voudouris, as well as The Ambient Collection by Art of Noise.

An overall mesmerizing display of dreamily romantic and lushly ethereal synthesizer ballads, Two Hearts is quintessential new age music with a touch of ambient groove! ~Candice Michelle

For more information, please visit the artist's website. This album is also available at Amazon and other retail & streaming platforms.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Album Review: Open Waters by Todd Mosby

Todd Mosby is an acclaimed jazz guitarist who’s opened for top names in the smooth jazz genre such as The Rippingtons, Michael Franks and Chris Botti. He’s also a member of the four-piece acoustic folk ensemble, Four Guitars, which includes legendary guitarist and Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman. Additionally, Mosby studied classical North Indian music for 13 years with Indian sitar player Ustadt Imrat Khan, which helped to formulate his own style of fusing the polyrhythms and polyphony derived from that region with contemporary jazz music. Perhaps most notably, Mosby co-conceived the Imrat guitar (along with Kim Schwartz and Imrat Khan), a 20-stringed hybrid instrument that looks and sounds like a cross between a western guitar and an Indian sitar.

With his fifth album, Todd Mosby sails the seven seas on Open Waters, a leisurely musical adventure inspired by Greek philosopher Plato’s legendary lost civilization of Atlantis. Mosby, like myself, has been fascinated by this most intriguing tale ever since he was a child, and similarly, that curiosity never left him as an adult. Comprised of 12 songs spanning approximately 52 minutes, the album transpires like an archetype voyage from the mythical kingdom to a new land, moving in a westward direction across the ocean.

Produced by Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton, Open Waters also enlists the contributing musical talents of other familiar names like Charlie Bisharat (violin), Jeff Haynes (percussion), Michael Manring (bass), Premik Russell Tubbs (EWI and saxophone), and others.

“Drifting” introduces the album with a supremely serene soundscape, as the meditatively melodic tones of Mosby’s signature Imrat guitar are seemingly set adrift upon a liquid haze. Named for the album’s overarching theme, “Atlantica” follows with gentle percussion, saxophone and bass guitar, as Mosby alternates between his versatile instrument’s acoustic guitar and sitar sound. Ensuing next is "Open Waters", one of the album’s main highlights, which showcases the ethereal vocal intonations of Lola Hennecki accompanied by a characteristically easygoing, smooth jazz arrangement.

One of my favorite pieces herein is the dreamily tranquil “A New Land”, which effectively brings-to-mind that of sailing down a lazy river, as a peaceful acoustic guitar melody in tandem with subtle piano notes (courtesy of Fiona Joy Hawkins) are smoothly carried along by understated percussion. We are then greeted by lyrical female vocals on “Western Sky”, another jazzy piece with a touch of Bossa Nova. Reverting to a tenderer mood, “Dolphin Song” conveys both serenity and playfulness with its pastoral collage of guitar, piano and violin at the forefront.

Arguably Todd Mosby’s most outstanding work to date, Open Waters mesmerizingly imparts a cooling and calming effect upon the senses, as it paints relaxing images of sunny beaches, sailing the oceans and dreaming in paradise. A masterful display of acoustic folk and smooth jazz with Caribbean and Eastern musical overtones, Open Waters easily earns a spot as one of the year’s finest instrumental acoustic albums! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available at Amazon, iTunes and other retail & streaming platforms.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Album Review: Merry Christmas by Giuseppe Dio

Giuseppe Dio is an Italian electronic music composer who’s explored everything from deep space to dream house on his previous recordings. This time around, he eases comfortably into the holiday spirit with a lovely 24-minute EP that’s simply titled Merry Christmas. Rendering six compositions on electronic synthesizers, Dio has selected a very fitting collection of songs that all beautifully complement one another.

Processional drums, soaring synths and celestial vocal tones majestically open “Adeste Fideles” (aka “O Come All ye Faithful”) which is eventually followed up by the much beloved “Auld Lang Syne”. Vividly conjuring images of decorated cathedral halls and colorful Christmas lights, Dio’s symphonic electronic arrangements pleasantly recalls much of Vangelis’ more cinematically oriented works.

I was most delighted to see a rendition of Franz Schubert’s iconic “Ave Maria” included here, as I’ve always found it to be one of the most beautiful pieces of religious music ever written. Dio puts an epically cosmic and wintery spin on the composition, all while perfectly preserving the sacred reverence of the original masterpiece.

Another highlight is the nocturnally peaceful “O Tannenbaum” (aka “Oh Christmas Tree”) which wraps the lead melody in spacious notes and twinkling stars, effectively conveying a cold winter’s night.

Call it “new age Christmas music” if you like. Either way, this fantastic little collection of cinematic cosmic carols is easily one of the most enjoyable holiday listens of the season! ~Candice Michelle

For more information, please visit the artist's website. This EP is also available on Amazon, iTunes and other retail and streaming platforms.