Sunday, January 12, 2020

Aural Awakenings: Top 25 Albums of 2019

After wrapping up another great year for music on Aural Awakenings, we’re excited to present the Top 25 Albums of 2019 with a special 2-hour episode, which showcases some of the most memorable releases in the new age, neoclassical and contemporary instrumental genres. Spanning acoustic, piano, ensemble, international and relaxing vocal styles, our list features albums that were released and charted before December 1st, 2019. One track from each of the top 25 albums has been included in this episode, which can be streamed just below the accompanying alphabetical list of recordings. Additionally, you can follow along to the program with the full playlist displayed beneath Mixcloud player.

Acoustic Ocean – Blue Moon Rising

Inspired by the Hawaiian Islands and holistic healing arts, Blue Moon Rising features beautifully reflective acoustic guitar melodies woven among atmospheric soundscapes that incorporate calming nature sounds.

Al Jewer & Andy Mitran – Perihelion

Blending ambient-world and contemporary instrumental motifs, Perihelion showcases Al Jewer on several woodwind and brass instruments while Andy Mitran plays an array of keyboards and global percussion, with the duo being accompanied by several talented guest musicians throughout.

Camille Nelson – Sacred Lullabies

A flawless amalgamation of acoustic folk, neoclassical and contemporary Christian music with a light sprinkling of Celtic flavors, Sacred Lullabies gently alternates between inspirational vocal and lulling instrumental compositions.

Crystalline Dream – Seventh Chakra

A mesmerizing confluence of earthy ambiance and spacey electronics, Seventh Chakra is sculpted from electronic, contemporary acoustic and traditional world instruments.

David Wahler – Two Hearts

A dazzling collection of dreamily romantic and lushly ethereal synthesizer ballads, Two Hearts is quintessential new age music with a touch of ambient groove.

Douglas Blue Feather – Ascension

Combining traditional Native American-style flute melodies with contemporary electronic arrangements, Ascension epitomizes some of the finest atmospheric world music around today.

Forrest Smithson – The Healer’s Way

Although Forrest Smithson may be better known for crafting ambient-electronic soundscapes, The Healer’s Way takes his sound in a more new age piano direction while nevertheless retaining the signature hallmarks of his spacious atmospheres.

Harrison Edwards – Into the Unknown

Exploring themes of spiritual journeying and search for the Great Mystery, Into the Unknown is a remarkable listening experience that interweaves new age synthesizer sounds with contemporary melodic arrangements.

Jonny Lipford – Migration

Playing a variety of world flutes throughout, Jonny Lipford combines traditional wind instruments with lush soundscapes and earthy rhythms on Migration for a stunning display of instrumental global fusion.

Juliet Lyons – The Light Within

Serving up a soothingly soulful blend of ethereal vocals and lush instrumentation bathed in an Eastern mystique, The Light Within conveys an overall vibe that could be described as a Buddha Bar meets healing spa soundscape.

Karen Biehl – Starlight Dreams

Painting serenely nocturnal images throughout its intricately woven piano passages, Starlight Dreams is noted by its interlocking melodies of seamlessly alternating major and minor keystrokes that often boldly fluctuate in tempo amid gracefully agile and winding figures.

Kerani – Small Treasures

A graceful interweaving of piano, synthesizers and classical orchestration with a touch of ethereal vocals sprinkled along the way, Small Treasures elegantly unfolds like a poetic narrative of both personal reflection and mythic imagination.

Libera – Beyond

Classical crossover phenomenon Libera is comprised of an English all-boy choir whose concert tours around the globe have included performances in many magnificent cathedrals. On Beyond, their celestially transcendent vocals once again soar amid contemporary synthesizer and orchestral arrangements.

Lisa Pressman – As We Imagine

Performed on a 7' Bösendorfer Concert Grand Piano, As We Imagine showcases gently melodic and comfortingly serene arrangements that are beautifully immersed in Lisa Pressman’s celestial vocal washes and Tim Ponzek’s enveloping synth orchestrations.

Mikuskovics Baum – Timeless

Marking the ten-year anniversary of the recording duo Mikuskovics Baum, Timeless beautifully intermingles Celtic, Native American and other world elements to create deeply tranquil atmospheres of minimalist ethnic fusion.

Mirabai Ceiba – Agua De Luna

Musical duo Mirabai Ceiba beguile the senses with an enchantingly eclectic blend of acoustic ambient and devotional world music on their album Agua de Luna, which features soothing lyrical vocals sung in both English and Spanish.

Paul Adams & Elizabeth Geyer – Deeper Imaginings

A contemporary and world multi-instrumentalist and poet, Paul Adams has teamed up with Elizabeth Geyer on piano, flugelhorn and vocals to paint an eclectic sound on their album Deeper Imaginings, which could be described as ambient world fusion.

Peter Kater – Wings

Among the early pioneers of new age piano music, as well as one of the genre’s most prominent and successful artists, Peter Kater elicits poetic passion and romantic mystery on Wings, an album that boasts beautifully evolving and sparkling arrangements.

Rémi Orts Project – Peaceful Moments (Reign of the Forest) 

On his album Peaceful Moments (Reign of the Forest), Rémi Orts furthers his sonic explorations of fantasy realms and nature mysticism with a magical offering of symphonic electronic wonderment.

Sangeeta Kaur – Compassion

Classically trained opera singer, Tibetan Buddhist and Kundalini Yoga practitioner Sangeeta Kaur weaves her heavenly soprano vocals with live orchestration, pristine choral arrangements and meditative mantra singing on her album, Compassion, for a unique style that could be described as new age classical crossover music.

Scott August – Beyond Summer

Acclaimed world flutist Scott August musically traverses the globe on his album Beyond Summer with a captivating sound collage of world instruments, lush electronics and pulsating rhythms.

Sharon Fendrich – Red Sky Prairie

An impressive debut album from Sharon Fendrich that beautifully epitomizes neoclassical new age exquisiteness, Red Sky Prairie is a striking combination of gentle piano and heavenly vocals set to mellifluous orchestral ensembles.

Shoshana Michel – Reflection

Like a gently flowing river softly shimmering in the moonlight, Reflection’s elegant solo piano pieces delicately sparkle, as Shoshana Michel’s soothing melodies often take unexpected yet subtle paths along tranquil currents.

Timothy Wenzel – Running Away

Laced with many Celtic and renaissance elements, Running Away conveys a magical innocence and fairytale-like narrative that’s crafted from an enthralling ensemble of strings, woodwinds, percussion and electronic keyboard arrangements.

Vellúa – Portrait of Souls

One of the most enjoyably remarkable surprises of 2019 was Vellúa’s Portrait of Souls, an album that mostly hovers between the contemporary instrumental and world fusion genres with its unforgettable array of global percussion, distinctive guitars and soul-stirring vocal performances.

First Set:
0:00:17 / Scott August / Spirit of the Canyon / Beyond Summer
0:05:05 / Al Jewer & Andy Mitran / Welcoming Light (ft. Sherry Finzer) / Perihelion
0:10:03 / Juliet Lyons / Flow / The Light Within
0:17:15 / Acoustic Ocean / Spirit Awakening / Blue Moon Rising
0:21:35 / Kerani / Sakura / Small Treasures
0:26:48 / Sharon Fendrich / Song of the Dove / Red Sky Prairie
Second Set:
0:31:38 / Rémi Orts Project / Leaves Are Falling / Peaceful Moments (Reign of the Forest)
0:36:32 / Mirabai Ceiba / Silence to Break / Agua De Luna
0:40:35 / Timothy Wenzel / Gazelle Dance / Running Away
0:44:33 / Camille Nelson / Into the West (ft. Alex Sharpe) / Sacred Lullabies
0:49:16 / David Wahler / Night Sky of Orion (Remix) / Two Hearts
0:54:55 / Lisa Pressman / At First Light / As We Imagine
1:00:00 / Shoshana Michel / Shooting Stars / Reflection
Third Set:
1:05:27 / Douglas Blue Feather / Celebration Day / Ascension
1:09:41 / Harrison Edwards / Into the Light / Into the Unknown
1:13:33 / Sangeeta Kaur / Sa Re Sa Sa / Compassion
1:20:26 / Forrest Smithson / Compassion Wheel / The Healer’s Way
1:26:41 / Libera / Benedictus Deus / Beyond
1:30:01 / Crystalline Dream / Inner Voice (ft. Alex Kelly) / Seventh Chakra
Fourth Set:
1:37:18 / Jonny Lipford / Migration / Migration
1:42:31 / Vellúa / Meraki / Portrait of Souls
1:46:46 / Paul Adams & Elizabeth Geyer / All That I Am / Deeper Imaginings
1:52:37 / Mikuskovics Baum / Endless Ozean / Timeless
1:59:15 / Karen Biehl / Meditation on a Moonlit Lake (Full Version) / Starlight Dreams
2:03:45 / Peter Kater / Angel’s Nest / Wings

Sunday, December 22, 2019

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

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.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Top 25 Albums of November

01. Douglas Blue Feather – Ascension
02. Thomas Lemmer – In Silence
03. Paul Adams & Elizabeth Geyer – Deeper Imaginings
04. David Wahler – Two Hearts
05. Andy Rogers – The White Piano
06. Dulce Joya – Devotion
07. Gina Lenee' – Revealed
08. Rachel Lafond – The 52
09. Holly Jones – Art on the Piano
10. Guy Sweens – Moon Magic
11. Gabriele Saro – Sensations
12. Ian Maksin – Sempre: A New Dimension
13. Peter Kater – Wings
14. Medwyn Goodall – The Goddess of Machu Picchu
15. Christopher Boscole – Dawn of Love
16. Silvard – Moment for Yourself
17. Rémi Orts Project – Peaceful Moments: Reign of the Forest
18. Rob Simonsen – Rêveries
19. Voxfire – Fontis
20. Harrison Edwards – Into the Unknown
21. Forrest Smithson – The Healer’s Way
22. Dad Chadburn – Love Themes for Solo Piano
23. Alan Matthews – Denial’s End
24. Joss Jaffe – Meditation Music
25. Piers Adams & Larry Lush – Bach Side of the Moon

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Artist Spotlight: An Interview with Paul Adams & Elizabeth Geyer

We’re delighted to present an audio interview with Paul Adams and Elizabeth Geyer who’ve just released a brilliant new album titled Deeper Imaginings. A contemporary and world multi-instrumentalist and poet, Paul draws inspiration from several genres of music he listened to growing up, while Elizabeth contributes her artistic talents on piano, flugelhorn and vocals.

Together they paint an eclectic sound on Deeper Imaginings that could be described as ‘ambient world fusion’, while also enlisting the contributing talents of musicians David Hoffman, Gary Green, Pravid Godkhindi, and Alp Akmaz. So please tune-in and bliss-out, as we imagine deeper!

Music from the albums Deeper Imaginings and Imaginings can be heard throughout this interview. These recordings and more can also be found at Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes, and other music retail and streaming platforms.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Santa Plays the Stick by Michael Kollwitz

Having listened to and reviewed prior albums in his impeccably soothing Serenity trilogy, lifelong Chapman Stick player Michael Kollwitz dons more festive attire and gets into the Christmas spirit on his latest album, Santa Plays the Stick. An innovative stringed instrument created by Emmet Chapman, The Chapman Stick closely resembles the neck of a guitar, except that it’s played more like a piano.

Currently living in Sedona, Arizona, Kollwitz formerly resided in Hawaii for a time, and prior to that, in Sacramento, California. Naturally, the many breathtaking natural vistas, which encompass everything from the red rocks to the blue Pacific, are frequently conveyed through Kollwitz’ music, while his instrument often emits a warm and woodsy sound of which particularly on this album, seemingly evokes the warmth of a cozy fireplace, or a forest cabin in the winter.

Spanning approximately 50 minutes long, Santa Plays the Stick is comprised of 15 pacifying arrangements on solo Chapman Stick, with gentle layers and additional effects created via his instrument. He also lends playful improvised elements and a bit of leisurely twang throughout.

Opening with the peaceful lullaby, “Away In A Manger”, the album also includes several lovely renditions of other traditional carols such as “The First Noel”, “Angels We Have Heard on High”, and the tender finale, “Silent Night”. He also covers contemporary favorites like “Deck the Halls”, “The Twelves Days of Christmas” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”.

Additionally, Kollwitz produced four compositions on this album that effectively capture the atmosphere of the winter season. The first of these, “Pile of Presents”, is aptly ornamented by an icy and sparkling effect throughout. He also impresses us with other originals like “Snow Ride”, “December Wedding” and “Basket Full of Joy”.

Finally, I appreciate how the album’s title and artwork conveys a sense of humor on the part of the artist, although make no mistake about it, Michael Kollwitz’ musical ingenuity and talent are not to be taken lightly.

Like finding a hot spring in the middle of an ice lake, Santa Plays the Stick is the perfect seasonal album to add warmth, joy and relaxation to your holiday listening experience! ~Candice Michelle

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

Billboard: Yanni Leads Top Facebook Live Videos Chart for Third Time

Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images
Yanni performs during Yanni World Tour 2014 at Mann Center For Performing Arts on Aug, 23, 2014 in Philadelphia.

The pianist returns to the top of the list for the first time since July with a soundcheck performance from Tucson. Yanni continues to prove he’s quite the force on Facebook Live, ruling Billboard’s Top Facebook Live Videos chart for a third month in 2019 by crowning the October 2019 list.

The chart, the latest of which recaps October 2019 activity, is a monthly look at the widest-reaching and most-reacted-to videos posted by musicians on Facebook Live, as tracked by media analytics company Shareablee. Rankings are determined by a formula that blends reactions, comments, shares and first-seven-days views.

Yanni, who previously ruled the June and July 2019 editions of Top Facebook Live Videos, leads October’s tally with a livestream of his soundcheck in Tucson, Ariz., before his show at the Fox Tucson Theatre on Oct. 1.

Read the full article at Billboard.