Saturday, July 14, 2018

Aural Awakenings: Episode 16

00:00 / Eamonn Karran / Peace / I’ll Be With You
04:07 / Kevin Wood / Time for Change / Eternal
09:53 / Matthew Mayer / A Modern Introspection / Beautiful You
12:51 / Jeff Johnson & Brian Dunning / Under the Summer Stars / Eirlandia
16:50 / Aureliaslight / Longtime Sun / Seasons
20:54 / Lynn Tredeau / Land of Forgotten Dreams / Fellowship of Solitude
24:10 / Aine Minogue / Oh Eve / Eve
28:33 / Jon Durant / Ecliptic Shadows / Parting Is
34:27 / Eric Tingstad / Flamingo Club / Electric Spirit
37:10 / Jill Haley / Running Eagle Falls / The Waters of Glacier
40:31 / Loren Evarts / A Day on the Concord River / Home Again
44:34 / Richard Noll / Nightfall / Peaceful Being
50:16 / David Wahler / Child of the Universe / Mosaic

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Album Review: The Waters of Glacier by Jill Haley

Composer and instrumentalist Jill Haley has made multiple appearances on other musicians’ recordings. However, she is also an outstanding solo performer in her own right who has released several impressive albums to date. What’s especially enjoyable about her solo works is her continuing theme of exploring the magnificent wonders of United States National Parks through her music. With previous albums that include Glacier Soundscapes, Zion and Bryce Canyon Soundscapes, Mesa Verde Soundscapes and National Park Soundscapes, Jill’s music draws its inspiration from scenic deserts, forests, lakes and mountains across the U.S. map. Her latest album, The Waters of Glacier, is a sonic tribute to Glacier National Park, of which is located in northernmost Montana and bordering on Canada. Comprised of twelve instrumental ensemble pieces, the album features Jill on piano, oboe, English horn and handbells – plus supporting roles throughout courtesy of Dana Cullen on horn, David Cullen on guitar, Michael Manring on bass, and Tom Eaton on electric guitar, keyboards and bass.

The first track, “Clouds of Apgar Range”, is a somewhat unexpected opening from the norm, with its gorgeous, meditative handbells creating an almost reverent atmosphere. Gentle piano is subsequently introduced followed by Jill’s signature English horn, until the piece eventually concludes with the return of the handbells. “Rain on Huckleberry Mountain” is a relaxing, pastoral piece comprised of solo piano and English horn that aptly paints a picture of rain on a mountain. “Glacial Lakes” begins with gorgeous acoustic guitar figures from David Cullen, and evokes the wide-open spaces that Alex de Grassi conveyed so well in his Windham Hill years. Here, Jill’s English horn weaves a lovely melody inside David’s fingerpicked guitar.

“First Passageway” opens with mysterious piano chords followed by horn playing a melancholic melody in the lower pitch – while “Running Eagle Falls” begins with a bright piano figure as Jill’s oboe matches the piano in its upbeat, optimistic melody. A lone oboe opens “Falling Gold”, until minor-key piano enters the scene, then quickly shifts to major-key with an accompaniment of subtle bass and electric guitar. One notable observation I have, is that all these lovely pieces work so well because when composing them, Jill leaves plenty of space for each lead instrument so that they’re never wrestling one another for the spotlight.

“Frost Tinged Evergreens” sounds as captivating as its title suggests, with the piece’s contemplative pairing of simple piano and oboe conveying a ting of cold to it. David’s guitar returns for “Montana Rivers”, which is likewise accompanied by Michael Manring’s signature bass, along with Jill’s acrobatic (but never overplayed) oboe lines. “Ox-Bow Point” is perhaps the most solemn piece on the album with its almost ceremonious-like trio of horn, oboe and English horn. The aptly-titled “Ripples on Two Medicine Lake” is also one of my favorites, on which gently cascading piano is accentuated by the yearning touch of English horn. Another favorite is “October Snow”, which begins with a lonely piano motif followed by English horn. Shifting into a gentle darkness towards the middle part, the horn seemingly becomes its own voice that speaks to the coming of winter. Lastly, “Solitude” is a beautiful album closer appropriately comprised of solo piano – and effectively brings-to-mind some of Liz Story’s more reflective works.

An overall contemplative album from an accomplished recording artist, The Waters of Glacier perhaps boasts some of Jill Haley’s finest work yet. Additionally, fans of the classic Windham Hill sound will likely be particularly enthused with this fantastic release! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available on Amazon, iTunes, CD Baby and Google Play.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Album Review: Auriga to Orion by Majestica

Majestica is an Arizona-based, collaborative duo of multi-instrumentalist Cass Anawaty and flutist Sherry Finzer. Following up their fantastic debut album, In the Midst of Stars, the duo’s highly-anticipated sophomore release, Auriga to Orion, is a seven-track album that further expounds on their innovative blend of spacey electronics and earthy acoustics. Decidedly groove-centric throughout, the music is often imbued with sexy ‘chill-rock’ motifs, which makes it equally conducive to both dancing and stargazing.

“Alpha Orionis” beautifully opens the album with a shimmery ‘Tangerine Dream meets Steve Roach’ kind of keyboard pattern. Sherry’s sultry flute-playing enters along with a gentle rhythm pattern, until Cass’ cleanly strummed electric guitar follows as a seeming answer to the call of the flute. The second track, “Kesil’s Light”, starts off as a mysterious and slightly dark space-music piece with Sherry’s flute emitting light among the vastness. Pulsating sequencer and rhythm figures come forward along with more of Cass’ excellent guitar-playing, as the piece aptly conveys a notion of observing celestial movements in the Arizona sky. “Monte Alban” features intriguing old-school analog synth that eventually introduces guitar and flute – injecting an uplifting vibe into the song. The gorgeous title piece, “Auriga to Orion”, employs classic synth textures and percussion tracks, as Sherry’s flute mesmerizingly soars above like the wind while Cass’ cascading guitar riff encircles it. The piece eventually concludes with a fantastic guitar solo before returning to its original analog synth motif. “Dark Years Away” opens with synthesized rhythmic bells before giving way to Sherry’s melodic flute and Cass’ strummed guitar chords. “Chasing the Leonids” ensues with a sensual tempo, as flute notes majestically soar for awhile before diving into a provocative electric guitar solo that’s heavily rock-influenced. The closing track, “Flaming Star”, starts off somewhat solemn and reverent-sounding with spacious chords enshrouding the listening space. This stunningly beautiful piece is all about atmosphere, with ethereal flute notes mysteriously weaving in and out of the encompassing synth-fog.

An outstanding follow-up to Majestica’s debut release, Auriga to Orion is destined to be among my favorite albums this year. Naturally influenced by the surrounding, magnificent Arizona environment – which is known to be especially conducive to creative inspiration – it’s easy to envision the many magical landmarks amid night constellations while listening. Furthermore, I highly recommend playing both Majestica albums back-to-back for a doubly rewarding listening experience! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available on Bandcamp, Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Album Review: Terra Incognito by Richard Dillon

Although Seattle-based pianist and composer Richard Dillon has released several solo piano albums, he broadens his musical horizons substantially on his latest release entitled, Terra Incognito: The Space Between. Comprised of 24 compositions spanning a lengthy 75 minutes, Dillon explores new age, neoclassical, ambient, techno, folk and pop styles of music throughout. Varied, colorful, and often experimental, Terra Incognito effectively aims to highlight Dillon’s versatility as a composer – and as a result, most listeners are likely to appreciate some parts of the album substantially more than others.

“Whalesong Redux” introduces the album with an understated orchestral arrangement featuring the distinct sounds of whale song – immediately bringing-to-mind an old documentary film about the ocean, to which this piece would be well-suited. Slipping into a more tranquil mode, “Green Flash Redux” infuses relaxing ocean waves with drifty piano and electric guitar. One of my favorites on the album, the fluid and dreamy quality of this piece can be likened to sailing down a lazy river. Two outstanding interlude-type ambient compositions follow next – “The Space Between” and “Dust Devil”, which pair together nicely. Conveying a haunting minimalism via suspended strings and sparse piano notes, “The Space Between” possesses an intriguing suspense that pleasantly brings-to-mind some of David Arkenstone’s more minimal-ambient work. Equally compelling, “Dust Devil” incorporates subtle tribal-ambient elements with its fusion of echoing percussion amid a shapeshifting soundscape.

The rest of the album unfolds with oft-unexpected and widely-varying stylistic twists and turns throughout that can result in some of the pieces seeming wildly out-of-place. For example, “Ice Dancer Redux” is an overly cheery and bubbly instrumental piece set to a noticeable drum machine – while “Color Me” is a lyrical vocal piece accompanied by a whistling chorus reminiscent of a radio jingle or children’s show. These along with a couple of other similarly quirky, pop-oriented compositions felt like unnecessary inclusions on this already lengthy album.

Nevertheless, other truly remarkable gems are certain to be found on here, such as the whimsical “Leonardo’s Flying Machine”, with its celestial voices that hover among echoing piano chords, as it seemingly conveys a magical winter fantasy. Likewise, “Lead Kindly Night” is another mesmerizing piece that features a lovely Celtic bent. Here, ethereal female vocals are delicately brushed by subtle strings amid a backdrop of glistening bells. Another notable standout is the cinematically spacey “Voyager” with its minimal ambient-piano arrangement that simultaneously conveys both an awe-inspiring and pensive mood.

After hearing what Richard Dillon is capable of as a musician, I must confess, I’d especially love to hear an album comprised entirely of the more ambient and soundtrack-style pieces that frequent this release, as these moments are certainly among the most compositionally innovative and sonically mesmerizing herein. This is a strong suggestion on my part, as I feel this unquestionably talented artist has tapped into a reservoir of potential brilliance that’s worth further exploring. Yet, the full experience of these stellar compositions is somewhat hindered by the inclusion of rather peculiar and odd-fitting compositions alongside them. On the plus side, Terra Incognito has given me an opportunity to discover a musical side of this composer that I was previously unfamiliar with – and as a result, I look forward to hearing much more of it! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available on Amazon, iTunes, CD Baby and Google Play.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Top 25 Albums for May 2018

TM LM PKArtist Name Album Title
1 -1 Jeff Johnson & Brian Dunning Eirlandia 
2 - 2 Kevin WoodEternal
3 - 3Loreena McKennitt Lost Souls
4 18 4Neil Patton Solitaire 
5 - 5 Aureliaslight  Seasons
6 - 6Lia ScallonSong of the Sidhe
7 9 7Symphonex OrchestraMusic That Tells A Story
8 - 8Richard NollPeaceful Being
9 - 9 Richard Ross Laughing Moon
10 17 10Richard Dillon Terra Incognito 
11 - 11 Jon DurantParting Is
12 - 12 Jill HaleyThe Waters of Glacier
1322 Michael Kollwitz Serenity II
14 3 3 Joseph L Young Every Moment
15 4 4Nitish Kulkarni Listen. 
16 1616 Vicente AvellaRising
17 19 17 Mark DunnMelodic Voyage
18 - 18 Loren EvartsHome Again
19 - 19 Rhonda Mackert Time Not Forgotten
202020 Dan Kennedy Mountains Made of Shadow,
Anthems Made of Light
21 10 10 Pamela Whitman & Richard KurtzAncient Vision
22 8 8 Terry Lee Nichols & Rebekah Eden We Have Only Come to Dream
23 -23Peter Calandra Piano Improvisations, Vol. 1
24 1 1 Nouveau Papillon Enchantment Blooms
25 4 4Michael Whalen  Kiss the Quiet 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Album Review: Tranquility by Ambiscend

Ambiscend is the recording alias of Texas-based electronic music composer, Darren Rogers, who’s previously released several albums ranging from ambient-space to healing new age. Comprised of five compositions spanning approximately eight to ten minutes each, Darren’s latest album, entitled Tranquility, occupies a serene sweet-spot between the two styles, as subtly melodic synthesized textures are enhanced throughout by field recordings of ocean waves and nocturnal forest environments.

The album opens with the aptly-named and beautiful piece, “Time of Tranquility”, which is characterized by subtle major-key transitions comprised of metallic shimmers that seemingly evoke a blue sky streaked by cirrostratus clouds. Spanning a little under ten minutes, the composition is slightly reminiscent of the music of Deuter or Liquid Mind, as accompanying sounds of glassy chimes and singing birds enhance its lulling atmospheric tranquility. “Floating Enchantment” follows along a similar path with slowly-shifting synthesized tones, although this time accompanied by the nocturnal sounds of chirping crickets and gentle ocean waves that aptly convey a scenic nightfall. The tantalizing and mysterious, “Earth Sings its Song”, is easily my favorite – clocking in at ten minutes even. Here, shimmering swells and rolling waves allude to an underwater paradise that pleasantly reminds me of music from the album Journey to Atlantis by Kevin Kendle and Llewellyn. “The Night is Calling” continues with cascading waters washing upon glistening tones – until finally concluding with “Earth’s Bedtime”, on which chirping crickets return to the dreamy accompaniment of celestial chords and sparsely-spaced wind chimes.

An essential relaxation album, Tranquility would make a perfect aural accompaniment to massage, healing baths or other spa therapies, and easily joins the ranks of other top-notch contemporaries in the field! ~Candice Michelle

This album is available from Bandcamp, Amazon and CD Baby.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Album Review: Serenity II by Michael Kollwitz

Michael Kollwitz is a lifelong master of the Chapman Stick – a guitar/piano type of hybrid instrument in both its sound and functionality, which resembles the head and neck of guitar but is played more like a piano by using two-handed tapping. Having previously lived in Sacramento, California before relocating to Hawaii in 2007, Kollwitz’ latest album, entitled Serenity II: More Peaceful Music on the Chapman Stick, was recorded in beautiful Sedona, Arizona. His 22nd album to date – and 2nd album marketed in the “new age” genre – Serenity II embarks along a similar musical path as its equally mesmerizing predecessor, Serenity, in the form of 16 instrumental compositions that were inspired by the book Steps to Knowledge: The Book of Inner Knowing by Marshall Vian Summers.

The album opens with “The Presence”, an earthy and soul-soothing piece that perfectly sets the mood for the rest to follow, as a balmy melody washes over the senses like a warm current. Kollwitz’ signature sound is intimately cozy and leisurely, as he seemingly merges the equally spellbinding albeit naturally contrasting environments of the Hawaiian pacific with the Arizona desert, often within the same composition. The melodies mostly possess a dreamy, fluid quality that is frequently enhanced by atmospheric backlighting in the form of subtly shimmering and suspended tones, which lend the compositions additional depth and richness.

Thoughtful song titles allude to themes of personal reflection, whether it be inwards upon one’s own feelings and emotions or outwards upon surrounding natural landscapes, as one might easily imagine themselves cozying up by a fireplace, relaxing by the Oceanside, or peering out into a sunset canyon from a mountaintop.

While it’s difficult for me to choose a favorite track on this album – being that every composition is as equally compelling as the next – after repeated listens, I did find myself particularly drawn to “Climbing the Mountain” and “Blue Skies”.

Although an electric instrument, the Chapman Stick emits an organic sound that would naturally appeal to fans of atmospheric and relaxing acoustic music. All in all, fans of Michael Kollwitz’ previous album, Serenity – as well as Jeff Pearce’s stylistically similar landmark album on the Chapman Stick entitled Rainshadow Sky – are enthusiastically encouraged to add Serenity II to their personal collection! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available on Amazon, iTunes, CD Baby and Google Play.