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

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

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

Top 25 Albums for the Month of January

01. Suzanne Teng & Gilbert Levy – Autumn Monsoon
02. Caoimhin O Raghallaigh & Thomas Bartlett – (self-titled)
03. Monica Williams – Within Us All
04. Jacques Y. Fafard & Lise Charbonneau – Fleur De Vie
05. Michael Martinez – Asilomar
06. Various Artists – A Better Life: An Introduction to the Mindful Music Association
07. Dulce Joya – Devotion
08. Ian Maksin – Sempre: A New Dimension
09. Scott Cossu – Memories of Water and Light
10. Andy Rogers – The White Piano
11. Gina Leneé – Revealed
12. Don Latarski – Frozen Moments
13. Thomas Lemmer – In Silence
14. Vin Downes – Good Light to Go By
15. Gabriele Saro – Sensations
16. Silvard – Moment for Yourself
17. Mary Gospe – Time to Soar
18. Rachel Lafond – The 52
19. Dan Chadburn – Love Themes for Solo Piano
20. Paul Adams & Elizabeth Geyer – Deeper Imaginings
21. Marc Enfroy – Surrounded
22. Marshall Barnhouse – Divine Passage
23. Cathy Oakes – Healing Hands
24. Matali – Beautiful
25. Melany Thompson – Memories of Home

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, 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.