Monday, September 12, 2022

Album Review: Traveling the Blissful Highway by Darlene Koldenhoven

Review by Lissette Cascante

Acclaimed soprano soloist and classically-trained pianist Darlene Koldenhoven boasts one of the most diverse portfolios a musician could ask for. Hailing from Chicago’s south side, and raised in a musical family, the GRAMMY® Winner and three-time GRAMMY® Nominee, with her radiant smile and her powerful 5-octave range voice, has traveled the world performing solo as well as with top industry names such as Yanni and many others in concerts and events, conducting workshops, teaching music, even appearing in blockbuster movies (both Sister Act films with Whoopi Goldberg.) Additionally, Darlene gives of her time and talents not just as an entertainer but as an advocate contributing her efforts to charities and worthy causes dear to her heart, such as her Music Matrix Foundation, to help make the world a better place.

Having already produced and recorded twelve albums on her label TimeArt® Recordings, one of which I had the pleasure of reviewing in 2021, an exquisite production for solo piano titled The Grand Piano Spa, Darlene returns with yet another masterful creation to add to our collection, this time in the New Age category with an all instrumental album of twelve tracks titled Traveling the Blissful Highway.

Darlene’s experience and exposure to varied cultures, countries and traditions have contributed positively to her broad and diverse vision of humanity and our world which comes through in her musical compositions, and especially shines on this album. She performs on keyboard synths, background vocals, singing bowls, Australian rainstick, Native drum and shaker. Four of the tracks are accented with Darlene’s vocalese which adds a subtle ambience to the pieces. She also surpasses herself in this project as producer, engineer, composer, and arranger. Collaborating on the album is an impressive ensemble of accomplished and award-winning musicians, detailed on the liner notes – such as GRAMMY® Nominated multi-flautist Ron Korb and GRAMMY® Winning violinist Charlie Bisharat, among others – incorporating a fantastic variety of instrumentation throughout the album.

A lover of travel myself, I was excitedly drawn to the theme of the album. As a long, expansive highway stretches before our musical horizon, we can sit back, relax, and embark on a scenic “auralscape” allowing our imagination to take us to our desired escapade. An uplifting melody, “Cheerful Mohana” opens the album, inviting us to leave our cares behind and embrace a more spontaneous, bohemian side of life. The album offers a nice combination of lively and soft, meditative songs which keep the listener actively engaged in the process but also promotes a carefree and calm state of being. As we glide alongside the musical notes, sounds of birds and nature, native flutes and drums, and a vast array of exotic instruments add to the wonder of our sensory cruise.

“Jade Dreams” the third track for example, transported me to balmy beaches and tucked-away coves in remote places, Bali comes to mind; while “Tropical Chill” with its ocean wave sounds, flugelhorn and breezy rhythm presented for me a relaxing beach sunset view somewhere in the Caribbean enjoying a favorite tropical beverage. “Dot Calm” took me to the rainforests of Costa Rica, reminding me of my late father’s beautiful birth country. Along the way there are ancient stars to gaze at as in “Native Star” the tenth track with its haunting flute melody, and Irish green misty mornings to savor as in “Highland Mist.” My favorite track on the album, “Osmium Glow,” is as rare and precious a melody as the precious metal it’s named after. There is indeed a glowing quality and mystique to this lovely tune. “Blissful Highway,” another favorite with its transitory feel, ends the album, but the blissful sensation endures as we return from our musical excursion refreshed and renewed, ready for the next adventure. It’s only another listen away.

Traveling the Blissful Highway is an album you will want as your musical companion, to help make your life journey a more enjoyable and beautiful discovery.  

~Lissette Cascante for Auralscapes 

For more information please visit the artist's website. Traveling the Blissful Highway is also available at AmazonApple Music and more.

Album Review: Physics of Light by Vicente Avella

Review by Marilyn Torres

Vicente Avella has crafted a deep and sensitive musical homage to light in his latest CD Physics of Light. The compilation, which Avella recorded himself at his home, features pieces to highlight the variables found in light as interpreted from his personal view and experiences. Even so, each piece offers something to the listener that goes beyond the limits of our experiences or perceptions of light.

As I listened to the first two pieces, “Light Particles” and “Radiance,” I imagined black space and suddenly the appearance of dots of light one by one until the light fills the dark. I felt it was a reassuring start to the journey. 

“Where Light and Shadow Meet” is a more subdued and measured piece, as if one were examining the appearance of dark upon the light. In contrast, “Ultraviolet” brings us to a dance-like state with airy keys surrounding the field. Later in the lineup, “Reflection,” gave a similar dance aspect but ending with a surprise, as if the dancer i.e. the reflection, was abruptly stopped.

The minor chords and slightly off key element in “Oscuro,” infused it with an ominous dark (which is the translation for the Spanish title “oscuro”) character and a feeling of impending doom. Such a feeling is also present further down in “Umbra,” as well as another sudden but expectant ending.

A more hopeful and airy quality emerges from “Claro” as each key takes its spot to shine on its own, giving a forward movement and decisive tone to the piece. “Color Spectrum” and “Intermezzo” both have a calm and serene presence with layers of wishful thinking. 

Towards the end of the CD, “Infrared” has a more urgent feel with Avella playing fast and furious towards the climax. “Antumbra” and “Visible Light” complete the collection with respective soft flow and march-like chords indicating change and growth

Avella has beautifully merged his masterful piano skills and genuine affection for his craft with his curiosity about the properties of light and how it behaves, in a way that enriches not only our listening experience but also invites us to follow our inquisitive nature and see where the light leads.    

~Marilyn Torres for Auralscapes 

For more information please visit the artist's website. Physics of Light is also available at AmazonApple Music and more.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Album Review: Sapphire Oak by Sharon Fendrich

Review by Marilyn Torres

In her newest CD, Sapphire Oak, Sharon Fendrich utilizes her love of the natural world and her gift of composition, and invites us to explore the diverse nature and function of the oak and its landscape. 

In the first minute and a half of Sea of Oaks, we hear the cascading piano followed by the Irish whistle and then the fiddle and again the piano, giving the piece a circular motion as a soothing choir emerges and we again make our way to the individual instruments one by one as the circle closes in a dance like the falling leaves of an oak tree.

Leaves of Glory and The Grove at Dodona both begin with a similar morning dawn feel which rises into a full orchestral stretch before coming to rest on solid ground. Runic Roots and Call of the Ruins incorporate windswept sound, however while the former felt playful, with its picking of the string instruments like tiptoeing through a valley, Fendrich’s vocals in the latter, Call of the Ruins, lend it a celestial and emotional grasp.  

Fendrich’s creative composition produces another lively dance between the harp, the flute and the fiddle in The Oaken Door, while in Dryad’s Rejoice the harp sets the stage for the contemplative piano and Irish whistle.

The somewhat ominous opening in Of Badges and Crowns frames the piece as a call for reverence and honor. In contrast, Under Her Canopy gives the listener a fairy garden aura as Fendrich and her daughter Talia Valdes join in harmonious vocals taking us deep into the forest. 

To further showcase the artistic and intellectual virtuosity of Sharon Fendrich, the title piece, Sapphire Oak, features Fendrich singing her lyrics in the language of Ta’ek which Fendrich herself developed! 

In the final piece, Carry the Oak, the Irish whistle, the fiddle, and the piano collaborate once more to direct the flow of the piece as it gently carries the listener towards the powerful yet tender finale.

With grace and intelligence, Sharon Fendrich has produced a work encompassing the qualities of the beloved oak tree; strong, warm, expansive and serene.   

~Marilyn Torres for Auralscapes 

For more information please visit the artist's website. Sapphire Oak is also available at AmazonApple Music and more.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Album Review: Music Inspired by Middle Earth Vol. II by David Arkenstone

Review by Candice Michelle

I have long been fascinated by the life of J.R.R. Tolkien and his best-selling classic epic fantasy novel series The Lord of the Rings. If there is one composer who can most perfectly pay musical homage to the enduring legacy of Tolkien’s greatest works, it’s the creatively prolific David Arkenstone. A musical novelist in his own right, as well as multi-Grammy Award nominated recording artist and Billboard New Age chart-topper whose career spans more than three decades, Arkenstone is certainly no stranger to the fantasy genre. Having mastered a diversity of musical styles – including Ambient/Chill, Celtic, World and Classical Crossover/Pop – Arkenstone frequently draws creative inspiration from ancient folklore, mythology and natural places of wonder across the globe.

The second companion to Arkenstone’s 2001 album Music Inspired by Middle Earth, Tolkien’s epic story is sonically re-imagined once again on Arkenstone’s Music Inspired by Middle Earth Vol. II – a 14-track album spanning approximately 63 minutes – whereby the listener is invited along for another enthrallingly magical adventure.

Atmospheric symphony and haunting choral figures open “The Shadow of the Past” wherein the veil between our world and the enchanting one depicted in the novels is once again lifted for a time. “The Green Dragon” follows with a festive arrangement of Celtic rhythms and violin (courtesy of Luanne Homzy) as one might imagine themselves joining the lovely hobbits for some dancing, drinking and playfulness among the green hills and pastures. Subsequently, Jillian Aversa provides ethereal wordless vocals on the mesmerizing “Daughter of the River”, a delicate and flowing piece that feels like sailing down a sparkling river in a paradisiacal elven forest.

Other outstanding pieces like “Servant of The Secret Fire” and “Minas Morgul” make use of darkly dramatic orchestration, shadowy gothic choirs and thunderously cinematic drumming, recalling the darker neoclassical mood of Arkenstone’s 2016 album Beneath a Darkening Sky.

Two other notable favorites include the back-to-back compositions “Caras Galadhon” and “Fangorn Forest”. On the watery and crystal-like “Caras Galadhon”, gently whirling minor-key orchestration conveys a bewitching suspense that feels reminiscent of "Lothlórien" or “The Palantír” from the first Music Inspired by Middle Earth album. In gentle contrast, “Fangorn Forest” recalls some of Arkenstone’s more world-tinged albums (plus the classical symphonic touch) with its native flute, rhythmic shakers and clicking percussion.

For those who enjoyed the accompanying film scores by Howard Shore to Peter Jackson’s cinematographically gorgeous and otherworldly movie adaption of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, David Arkenstone’s Music Inspired by Middle Earth Vol. II is an absolute must-have for any L.O.T.R. novel, movie, music or memorabilia fan. Variably moving along its course from dramatic to dreamy, and suspenseful to serene, Music Inspired by Middle Earth Vol. II is another poetically magnificent musical journey that could be described as ‘atmospheric classical fantasy music’ – and sure to be a top contender in the genre for this year’s best album.  

~Candice Michelle for Auralscapes 

For more information please visit the artist's website. Music Inspired by Middle Earth Vol. II is also available at AmazonApple Music and more.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Album Review: Into the Unknown by Joseph L Young

Review by Lissette Cascante

Composer and multi-instrumentalist, Joseph L Young has enjoyed a proliferous career as a musician unafraid to go beyond boundaries of genre, style, or sound. Joseph is an established chart-topping, award-winning musician whose music has enjoyed broad radio and internet airplay, spanning such genres as New Age, Ambient, Relaxation/Meditation, Native Fusion, Jazz Fusion, and Contemporary Instrumental. But not to be limited, he has also played with a variety of bands ranging from rock, blues, folk, jazz and even Celtic.

In his sixth full-length album, Into the Unknown, Young delves deeper into musical expanses, with compositions that explore the mystical dimensions of time, space, psyche, and spirit, normally related to the unexplained, mysterious, or concealed. The album features three songs previously released as singles: “Secrets of Stone” released in 2021, “Remembrance of Time” in 2020 featuring pianist Lynn Tredeau, and a remix of his 2019 single “Between Worlds.”

The album also showcases more of his talent as a composer and arranger as well as his mastery of the flute. “Every note I play comes from my heart and is how I share my love of music with others, it's how I express my passion for the flute”, explains Joseph. He interlaces ancient sounds with modern synth arrangements which prevail in world fusion authenticity.

Joseph holds a second degree black-belt in Chinese Shao-Lin Kung Fu and Tai Chi which evidently contribute to his unique approach to music. “I want my music to take listeners on a journey of discovery”, he expounds, “to help them work through their emotions, releasing the negative, as they grow and change, and serving as a catalyst to help with their transformation."

The title track “Into the Unknown” is my favorite piece as it abounds with mystique and features a myriad of exotic instruments, voices, and rhythms bathed in a Middle Eastern style melody. In tracks like “Remembrance of Time”, “Enchanted”, “Secrets of Stone”, “Eclipsed”, and “Windswayed”, the alluring flute and creative musical arrangements transport the listener to ancient times, distant lands, sacred ceremonies, and mysterious places.

On other tracks like “Beyond the Horizon”, “Between Worlds”, “Transcendence”, “The Forgotten”, and “Ancestral Crossings”, Joseph seems to venture into other spheres such as space exploration, and perhaps even the afterlife. Into the Unknown is a treasure chest of musical jewels you’ll delight in listening time and time again. The unknown calls us to live consciously. Joseph composes music that speaks to the human soul, and which infuses the silence with the sounds of life.  

~Lissette Cascante for Auralscapes 

For more information please visit the artist's website. Into the Unknown is also available at BandcampAmazon, and Apple Music.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Auralscapes: Episode 003

A refreshing 2-hour episode of contemporary instrumental, contemporary world & contemporary classical music from across the globe.

0:00:00 / Nicholas Gunn / Entering (Twin Falls) [Acoustic] / Entering (Twin Falls)
0:04:07 / Brooks & Day / Rising Sun / Awakening
0:07:44 / Joseph L. Young / Enchanted / Into the Unknown
0:12:12 / Elizabeth Naccarato / Wild Horses / A Southwest Story
0:15:06 / Lis Addison / Sister Wind / Elements
0:19:50 / Kerani / The Blue Wonder / The Water of Life
0:24:32 / Tron Syverson / Blossom of the Heart / A New Spring
0:31:48 / Lynn Tredeau / Deep in the Forest / Reflection
0:36:13 / James Asher & Arthur Hall / The Visionary / Energised by Stars
0:40:03 / Genevieve Walker / Constellations / Home Songs
0:45:39 / David Arkenstone / Caras Galadhon / Music Inspired by Middle Earth Vol. II
0:50:00 / Richard Souther / Far Away the Other Shore / Arc of Visibility
0:56:53 / Will Ackerman / Nighttime in the Chapel / Positano Songs
1:00:03 / Paris Combo / Axe Imaginaire / Quesaco?
1:03:20 / Juan Sanchez / Ataraxia / Touch and Sound
1:07:30 / David Franklin & Michael Manring / Ghost Tree / Passings
1:11:10 / Larkenlyre / The Sea We Cross / Quiet Like Snow
1:12:55 / Frolin / After the Battle / After the Battle
1:16:59 / Trine Opsahl / Moonscapes I / The Moon Stays Bright
1:26:14 / Sharon Fendrich / Sapphire Oak / Sapphire Oak
1:30:05 / David Nevue / Stargazing / Wanderings: The Best of David Nevue 2011-2020
1:33:22 / Rick Sparks / Harvest Moon / Speak Peace
1:38:24 / Donna De Lory / Forgiveness Prayer / Gone Beyond
1:46:29 / Cloud Runner / Touching the Face of God / Cloud Watch With Me
1:50:46 / Sherry Finzer & VeeRonna Ragone / Stepping Stones / Mystic Breezes

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Album Review: Soul Story by Peter Kater

Review by Lissette Cascante

Grammy award-winning pianist, composer, author and ever-evolving musician Peter Kater is like a wellspring of flowing water that never runs dry. With over 60 critically acclaimed recordings and compositions to his credit, spanning varied genres from solo piano, new age, and contemporary jazz ensemble to music for full orchestra, film, television and even broadway plays, Peter’s heart remains humble and attentively connected to nature and humanity in all its complex forms.

Peter Kater’s latest album, Soul Story, is a beautiful compilation of solo piano songs and segments he composed in personalized musical sessions which he calls "Piano Readings". For several years now, Peter has been offering improvised pieces of music on a one-on-one basis in person or in digitally remote settings. Essentially, Peter listens intently to the individual’s heart as they share their "soul stories"; allowing for spontaneous inspiration Peter intuitively creates, tailors and weaves melodies into the participant‘s own unique life-journey.

As an added bonus, Peter professionally records each musical "reading" and gives it to the individual so they can listen to it over and over again and be uplifted by the positive energy, reassurance, and clarity channeled through each piano keystroke. Countless testimonies speak for the success of this unique musical experience. He expounds more about that on his website at

Though I’ve no way of knowing exactly what experience inspired the first track "Starry Night", it reminds me of Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of the same name. There is something about gazing into the vastness of the universe on a clear, starry night that causes one to ponder on the beauty and mysteries of the human experience. Peter conveys this feeling so expertly through this quiet and gentle melody.

Interestingly, as I started to listen to "Touch of Rain", the second track, we got a much needed downpour where I live. A coincidence I’m sure but I’d like to think the song had something to do with it too! Music, like prayer, can breach the boundaries of time and distance.

The creative improvisations on the album vary in tempo and depth and range in intensity from cheerful, to melancholy, from vulnerable like in "Find Me" to determined and sure in "The Path is Clear"; from introspective to expressive, and it is evident that Peter allows the piano to follow the promptings of his heart in each song.

"Full Circle“ is a truly exquisite piece and my favorite track on the album. The piano keys in gentle circular motion, form a lovely reflective melody conveying a feeling of completeness which the song title seems to imply. Rounding out a truly therapeutic, peaceful listening session is another lovely tune titled simply "United", reminding us that we are all somehow interconnected in our life experiences, and we all have our "soul stories".  

~Lissette Cascante for Auralscapes 

For more information please visit the artist's website. Soul Story is also available at Amazon, iTunes, and more.