Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Album Review: Cantum Laudus by Greg Starr

Cantum Laudus (subtitled Songs of Praise) is a collection of fourteen timeless hymns dating back to the middle-ages by pianist-composer Greg Starr. Released on Quiet Rain Music, these inspirational passages are intended to sooth, relax and bring comfort to one’s spirit. Rendered entirely on solo piano, roughly half of the compositions date back to the 1800s, with the earliest piece in the collection dating all the way back to circa 530-598 in Ireland.

The album opens with a solo piano rendition of an English folk song from the 1600’s titled “Royal Oak (All Things Bright and Beautiful)”. Led by a flowing and radiant melody, the piece conveys the warmth and optimism of a clear-blue day, as the sun’s rays reflect upon a pastoral landscape. It’s one in a handful of more celebratory and lively pieces on the album, which are interspersed with more lulling and slower-placed numbers such as “Duke Street”, “Nicaea” and “The Call”. Also included on the album is the widely popular “Jesus Loves Me”, a piece that was originally written in 1861. Here Greg lends a waltzing, almost bluesy touch to this classic hymn, which has long brought much peace and comfort to many children and churchgoers for more than a century-and-a-half. One of my favorite hymns on the album is “Nettleton (Come Thou Fount)”, which dates back to 1825. Initially opening with ringing droplets in high register notes, the composition soon gives way to a gentle and inspirational melody that brings images to mind of a rural countryside. “Bunessan (Morning Has Broken)” is another one of my favorites – a traditional Gaelic melody that was first published in Lachlan Macbean’s “Songs and Hymns of the Gael” in 1888. Intervals of suspended notes help to carefully move the composition along, as its lower register keys exude a definitively calming mood. However, I ultimately found the album’s pinnacle moment on the second-to-last track, which is aptly titled “Wondrous Love (What Wondrous Love Is This)”. This heavenly hymn bodes a majestic yet perfectly understated quality, seeming to unfold in slow motion like that of a delicate flower blooming. Originally collected by W. Walker and published in “Southern Harmony” in 1835, the author of this beautifully mysterious composition serendipitously remains unknown.

While listening to this album it’s easy to imagine one playing these songs on the stage of an old stained-glass chapel, with Greg’s piano exuding a rich and lovely tone throughout its elegant passages. Sure to inspire many listeners with peace, comfort, joy and hope, Cantum Laudus is especially recommended for those who enjoy both soothing solo piano and sacred instrumental music. ~Candice Michelle

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

Review originally posted in Journeyscapes Radio on 08/24/16.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Album Review: Beyond Dreams by Hennie Bekker

Hennie Bekker is an award-winning and multi-platinum Canadian composer with an extensive musical background. On Beyond Dreams (subtitled Pathways To Deep Relaxation) he infuses electronic soundscapes with subtly melodic structures led by gently rhythmic patterns. Comprised of six tracks spanning a total of sixty minutes, each composition segues seamlessly into the next, creating an experience that is both actively engaging yet deeply relaxing, and overall intended to elicit altered conscious states.

Right from the opening track, titled “Self Connect”, I immediately noticed the multi-layered range of chords conveyed by a warm, analog sound. Melodic notes and gentle plucks move slowly across a low drone – creating a liquid, enveloping sound that feels simultaneously anchored yet floating. Easing right into “Floating to Forever”, this piece is a bit more active and melodic with beautiful chord progressions that seem to gradually climb up and down a ladder of multi-layered sounds. A lead piano melody gently begins to take foreground towards the end of the piece, which then continues on “Letting Go”. Here, a repeating minor-key piano riff glides upon a bed of chords in a constant fluid motion, like that of observing the ocean’s tides or billowing clouds passing across the sky. Clocking in at almost thirteen-and-a-half minutes, “The Calm” enters without pause, as sparkling bell-tones and beautifully bright, ringing percussive elements paint images of being in a majestic crystal chamber. Seguing seamlessly into “Quiescence”, this enthralling piece takes things down just a notch, as velvety notes are suspended over extended drones led by a rhythmic pulse. The title piece, “Beyond Dreams”, takes us into the final stretch of the journey with its icy textures and bell-tones engulfed by a wind-tunnel effect. Bathed in a mystical aura, the composition seems to invoke the presence of angels –not cute little cherubs – but rather that of mysterious, otherworldly beings.

Sitting equally comfortably in both the new age healing and ambient-space music genres, Beyond Dreams is nothing short of a top-notch album by a highly accomplished professional in the field. The three-dimensional compositions herein perfectly capture the essence of the dream world, which is associated with the mysterious, nocturnal and spiritual. Moving in a constantly forward yet rotating motion, it’s like watching the earth from space spinning on its axis as it makes its trek around the sun. As someone with an extensive background in the spa industry, Beyond Dreams gets top billing as an essential relaxation album – and is arguably among the best of its kind! ~Candice Michelle

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

Review originally published on Journeyscapes Radio on 08/10/16.