Thursday, January 31, 2019

Album Review: Reality of Dreams by Dulce Joya

Classically trained pianist and composer Dulce Joya began her musical studies at the age of six at an arts school in her native Cuba. Having studied, performed and taught music in Colombia, Austria and her current home of Germany, she creates solo piano vistas that blur the boundaries between reality and fantasy. Weaving elements of classical, progressive rock and theater music into the twelve compositions that comprise her glowing debut album, Reality of Dreams is a potent manifestation of this versatile composer’s ability to write musical poetry inspired by philosophical musings and novel-like romance.

“Romantic Power” is a dynamic opener that immediately showcases Dulce Joya’s boldly intricate piano-playing, as she effortlessly moves through the registers. Like with most of her other pieces on this album, she places much emphasis in the lower keys, which notably contributes to the overall richness and solemnity of her compositions. The next piece, “Call of the King”, feels appropriately regal and processional-like while displaying a renaissance flair. The composer then smoothly connects the middle bridge with a fluttering figure on the keys before eventually reverting to a more pronounced motif.

One of my favorite pieces the album is “Shadows of my Soul”, a contemplative number that passes through several tonal phases, while its neatly stringed-together fragments perhaps mirror the many aspects and complexities of one’s psyche. I’m also particularly fond of the aptly-titled “Winter Dreams”, a more spacious and slower-placed number which indeed exudes both wintry and dreamlike quality.

“Fallen Angel” precedes the album’s final piece at a lengthy 8:13 minutes with a notably classical and complex arrangement. A wholly immersive musical suite, the melody cascades with a powerful force like majestic river rapids, eventually subsiding towards the end into a delicate stream. And finally, the heartfelt “Goodbye” is perhaps not as wistful as its title may suggest, but rather exudes an air of optimistic solace.

Impressively cinematic and theatrical in her approach, Dulce Joya is simply a natural at musical narration, her compositions striking a perfect balance between vivid expression and subtle inflection at all the right moments. An artistically mature debut from a top-notch composer, Reality of Dreams is chock-full of sweepingly beautiful passages. It will especially appeal to listeners who appreciate neoclassical piano that's tastefully ornamented with a passionately epic pizzazz! ~Candice Michelle

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

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Album Review: Woodland Moons by Marcia Watson Bendo

Woodland Moons is the remarkable debut album from composer and multi-instrumentalist Marcia Watson Bendo. A native Oklahoman currently residing in Texas, she was inspired to create an album based on the full moon names of the indigenous Woodlands People, the Anishinaabe. Herself a member of the Potawatomi tribe of whom comprise part of this larger group of indigenous peoples of upper North America, Bendo has mastered the art of playing on Native American-style flutes, which appropriately lead this album with captivating melodies.

Set to twelve contemporary arrangements accompanied by keyboards, strings and percussion, Bendo takes the listener on a fascinating musical journey through the seasonal year, with her lovely compositions evoking a serene sense of innocent wonder and connection to nature.

“Fallen Leaves Moon” is a lovely opener wherein Bendo’s graceful flute melody takes the foreground while an accompanying piano melody just underlies it, as the other classical instruments seemingly create an aural backdrop of gently cinematic orchestration. Following next is “Planting Moon”, a more dainty and whimsical piece that moves at a quickened waltzing pace. As with many of Bendo’s compositions, this one brings-to-mind that of watching a Nutcracker Ballet style performance.

Many vivid scenes are conveyed throughout this album, such as on “Midsummer Moon”, which employs the sounds of breezy tones and sprinkling chimes as they effectively paint images of fireflies dancing in a midsummer night breeze; or “Yellow Leaves Moon” which opens mysteriously with spiraling minor-key notes that seemingly mimic leaves whirling in the wind.

Songs inspired by winter are often my favorite on an album, and the enchanting “Snow Moon” is certainly one of my favorites on this one. Featuring an ensemble of flute, harp and keyboards, Bendo uses these instruments to create softly twinkling effects that seemingly portray a wintry scene of moonlit snowflakes gently swirling in the wind. Closing out the album is the lively and rhythmic “Berry Moon”; set to a dynamic waltzing pace, this piece conveys a cheerful mood of renewal and celebration.

One thing I both noticed and enjoyed while listening to this album, is how my attention always seemed to be drawn upwards – at the moon, the stars and the treetops. It would seem the composer wanted to evoke a sense of fascination and joyful intrigue in her audience, and she’s certainly excelled at that.

Sure to be cherished by many listeners, Woodland Moons beautifully embodies the often hard-to-recapture mystique of many earlier “new age” music albums – particularly those in the style of Windham Hill Records or the outstanding collaborations of R. Carlos Nakai and Peter Kater. Additionally, Marcia Watson Bendo’s notable integration of classical motifs would make her music especially well-suited for ballet and other visual dance performances.

Warmly engaging and uplifting, yet overall subtle enough to play in a spa setting, Woodland Moons is a superb album and can only signal more wonderful things to come from this artist! ~Candice Michelle

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Artist Spotlight: An Interview with Lena Natalia

We’re excited to present an audio interview with Chicago-based composer Lena Natalia. Possessing a signature sound and style that could be described as ‘minimalist classical meets ambient piano’, she released her fifth album last year entitled Lonely Satellite, which was named one of the top 25 albums of 2018 on both Journeyscapes and Aural Awakenings. In this segment, we’ll learn more about Lena Natalia, as well as her inspiration for Lonely Satellite. So please tune-in for a casual yet insightful conversation about music, the moon, and her muse!

Album Review: Perihelion by Al Jewer & Andy Mitran

Al Jewer and Andy Mitran are a supremely talented multi-instrumental duo who’ve released a handful albums over the past several years. Having first heard their incredible music via their 2011 landmark album Music of the Earth, I’ve not only followed their work ever since, but have enjoyed witnessing both the musical evolution and stylistic progression over the course of their artistic careers. Likewise, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jewer and Mitran, as they shared deeper insight into their work and specifically their latest album entitled Perihelion, which is named after an astronomical point when our earth is closest to the sun during its yearly orbit. For the duo, perihelion also signifies the “burning off of artifice and unconsciousness”, noting its metaphorical parallel to a process of enlightenment.

Blending ambient-world and contemporary instrumental motifs, the duo variably showcase numerous instruments throughout, with Jewer performing on several woodwind and brass instruments while Mitran plays an array of keyboards and global percussion. Guest musicians include Miriam Stockley (vocals), Erik Scott (bass), Michelle Qureshi (acoustic, electric and slide guitar), Sherry Finzer (alto and bass flute), Peter Phippen (shakuhachi), Bob Lizik (bass), Richard Gannaway (bouzouki), Biff Blumfumgagnge (violin), Lisa Downing (piano) and Ian Maksin (cello).

Resulting in a congruous melding of the traditional and old-world with the contemporary and technological, the overall sound feels both earthy and grounded yet dreamlike and transcendental.

Listeners familiar with Erik Scott’s work will immediately recognize his signature bass licks on the opening “Gathering Heart”, a rhythmic and lively piece which effectively signals the starting point of an exciting journey ahead. Of notable highlight is “Eternal”, which showcases the unmistakable vocals of South African singer Miriam Stockley (of Adiemus and AO Music fame). Miriam also sang on the opening track to Jewer and Mitran’s previous album, Transmigration, and she once again shines brilliantly here with her layered tribal-esque vocals, which are accompanied by other harmoniously blended voices woven into the composition's exhilarating arrangement. My absolute favorite piece herein is the more ethno-ambient styled “Awakening”, which employs beautifully hypnotic poly-rhythms consisting of bells, hang, djembes and talking drum. Further topping it off is Peter Phippen on Shakuhachi, a Japanese flute accompanied here by other woodwind instruments. A warmly shimmering piece that I simply never tire of, this one always makes me think of being on an exotic safari and watching the sun set through the trees. The aptly-named “Full Circle” serves as a mesmerizing closure to the album, and also symbolically marks the earth’s completion of its journey around the sun. Intentionally meditative, both Native-style and silver flutes gently lead the piece in tandem with soothing violin amid beautiful bell-tones and electro-atmospherics of which seemingly convey misty twilight imagery.

Notably echoing aspects of the duo’s previous Transmigration and Two Trees albums, their lush soundscapes often paint mental images of either Southwest American deserts or African jungles and wildlife, depending on the piece. Likewise accompanied by stunning cover and inlay artwork depicting earth-space photographs, the album’s images further help to convey an appreciation of nature, culture and human potential that’s seemingly reflected in these pristine musical environments. Another outstanding effort from Al Jewer and Andy Mitran, Perihelion is guaranteed to find much appeal, especially, among many fans of both ambient and world music! ~Candice Michelle

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

Friday, January 25, 2019

Aural Awakenings: Episode 24

Artist  – Track – Album & Buy Link
Mythos – Kawakari – Eros
Sarah Brightman – Follow Me – Hymn
Peter Sterling – New Horizons – Magic Kingdom
Scott Reich – Instar – Follow the Light
Manika Kaur – Tu Sultan (feat. James Yorkston) – Tu Sultan [Single]
Michael Kollwitz – On the Lake – Serenity III
Ron Korb – Patagonia – World Café
Rémi Orts Project – Saguenay River – Peaceful Moments (The Ocean Story)
White Sun – Maha Kal Sat – White Sun III
Tom Caufield – In the Realm of the Senses – Deep Cuts from the Moral Wilderness
Reneé Michele – Tabula Rasa – The Space Within
Sangeeta Kaur – Adoro Te Devote – Mirrors

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Album Review: Little Red Boat by Mary Lydia Ryan

Mary Lydia Ryan is a longtime pianist, composer and vocalist who returned to the music scene in 2010 following a decade-plus hiatus. Her latest album, Little Red Boat, is a solo-instrumental piano offering that resulted from the inspiration of a painting by Steve Jensen and serves as the album's cover art. As the story goes, after placing this lovely painting atop her piano, Ryan began composing with ease the twelve pieces that would eventually comprise the album. Spanning approximately forty-three minutes, Little Red Boat was recorded in beautiful Sedona, AZ and mastered by fellow pianist and composer Joe Bongiorno.

Beginning with the title piece, “Little Red Boat” is guided along by a gently flowing melody and an overall sense of optimism. Much like the rest of the album's compositions, this piece moves along in a constant forward motion, as if allegorically riding an ocean current to wherever it may lead the traveler. Next our attention is turned to “Woman in the Moon”, a nocturnal piece and one of my favorites herein. Quietly contemplative with a classical bent, it conveys an almost mythical quality, as the listener might easily imagine themselves sailing the seas at night while gazing upon the moon and finding reassurance in its company. Also noteworthy is the comparatively more buoyant “The Joy of Ten Knots” wherein a ballet-like melody is set to a gently galloping pace that simultaneously gives the composition a dynamic yet dainty quality. Another one of my favorites is the slightly wistful “Sailing This Sea Alone”. Conveying both a sense of fortitude and solitude, the piece is intriguingly characterized by higher register notes occasionally trickling upon the main melody like raindrops on the ocean. Additionally worth noting is “A Song About Sea Turtles”, which makes for a fitting tribute to one of the most cherished and remarkable sea creatures on the planet. Seemingly illustrative in composition with subtle twists and turns along its course, this delightful tune feels like a musical overview of a sea turtle’s long oceanic journey and graceful determination.

Just as the ocean’s tides and currents flow endlessly, likewise Mary Lydia Ryan’s hands are in constant motion throughout the compositions; her playing style brightly bold yet mellifluously fluid. Seemingly drawn from the personal diary of a lone seafaring adventurer, Little Red Boat conveys emotional reflection perfectly illustrated by nautical metaphors. Furthermore, this album beautifully exemplifies the profound inspiration that one artist’s mode of creative expression can have on that of another’s! ~Candice Michelle

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

Friday, January 18, 2019

Aural Awakenings: Episode 23

The Piano Guys – Epiphany – Timeless
Kerani – Fantasy in White – Small Treasures
Snatam Kaur – Water of Your Love – Beloved
Dulce Joya – Shadows of My Soul – Reality of Dreams
Bluesilhouettes – Crystal Skies – Looking for Utopia
Michael Kollwitz – Cloud Number Eleven – Serenity III
Mary Lydia Ryan – Woman in the Moon – Little Red Boat
Samer Fanek – Newborn – Guide Me
The Haiku Project – Au Revoir les Enfants – Life
Imogen Heap – Burning Bed / A Nice Day – The Music of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Greg Maroney & Sherry Finzer – The Beauty Lies Within – Remembrances
Pangaea Projekt – Time to Dream – Winter, Vol. 4

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Album Review: Looking for Utopia by Bluesilhouettes

Bluesilhouttes is a musical project by composer, performer and multi-instrumentalist David R. Peoples. Self-described as a “stuffy academic”, Peoples freely expresses his creative side with his latest album entitled Looking for Utopia, which is themed around a quest for an idyllic place that the listener is invited along to search for. Joining him throughout is South African slide flutist Carina Bruwer and cellist Natasha Jaffe from Berlin, who each respectively contribute to the album’s overall balance of playfulness and solemnity. Comprised of twelve ensemble pieces that are electroacoustic in nature, Looking for Utopia could best be described as modern eclectic instrumental music with notable influences of jazz, classical and world.

“Valley of Hidden Treasures” introduces the album with a melodic exchange of flute, cello and piano until the piece's collective instruments build into an escalation of cinematic drumming towards the end. Immediately apparent from the onset is the seemingly improvised 'out-of-the-box' structure of this tune and others that follow. Next is “Peach Blossom Spring”, an interesting jazzy lounge composition with a downbeat groove and subtle imbuing of Indian psychedelia. A kaleidoscope of colors seemingly characterizes the equally intriguing “Dance of the Flickering Fire” in the form of whirling xylophone-like timbres and a cycling percussive pattern that feels somewhat circus-like. One of the most introspective pieces on the album is “Solitariety”, a solo piano number that passes through changing moods, as twinkling high notes offset more dramatic lower chords. Following next is the classical-tinged “Glass Flower City” with its graceful symbiosis of cello and piano that are joined at the bridge of the song by cinematic drums. Another notably intriguing piece is the curiously-named “Glass Butterflies” wherein a fanciful flute melody seemingly rides upon a constant stream of percussive bells. And lastly, my favorite piece on the album is perhaps “Take Me to Elysian Fields”, which makes for the perfect ending. Here an amalgamation of crystalline piano, swooshing effects and tribal-like tonal percussion seemingly suggest that a long dreamed-of and fantastical place is finally within the seeker's reach.

Delightfully whimsical and decisively unpredictable, Looking for Utopia could even be described as a kind of experimental lounge music. Consciously genre-defying, the music herein conveys more observation than emotion to my ears, while seemingly encouraging a daydream state within which the listener’s mind is free to wander, explore and discover! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available at Amazon.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Album Review: Conversations on Piano by Joseph Nimoh

Joseph Nimoh is a Ghana-born pianist and composer who began playing piano at age 11 in his mother’s church. In addition to having studied piano performance at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, Nimoh also served as pianist and music director for numerous churches in the New England area.

After having had the pleasure of listening to Nimoh’s latest album entitled Conversations on Piano, it was immediately evident that those inspirational music roots are an integral part of his impressively refined and lovely sound. Comprised of twenty original solo piano compositions spanning almost an hour of simplistic authentic beauty, Conversations on Piano effortlessly weaves elements of jazz, gospel and classical music among its divinely-inspired compositions.

“Anything for You” serves as a beautiful opener with its moderately-paced melody gently played in the mid-range. A defining attribute of Nimoh’s music is the warmly personal and down-to-earth vibe that it conveys, which seems to speak directly to the listener’s inner thoughts and feelings. Although dynamic at times with often unpredictable transitions, Nimoh’s compositions never venture into the ornately bombastic, nor do they convey that of a grand stage performance. Rather, one might envision themselves cozily nestled in an upscale piano lounge or relaxing comfortably by the fireplace at home while listening. Likewise, Nimoh possesses a seemingly natural gift for smoothly transitioning among varying moods and tempos – even within the same composition) – and there’s a subtly improvised quality to his melodies, as they typically avoid following along a narrowly predictable path.

Softer pieces like “Morning Dew” perfectly capture the quiet calm of an early morning mist with its sparser notes perfectly placed among thoughtful pauses throughout. In subtle contrast, Nimoh lends a delicate force to “Conversations”, a bold yet tender composition that stands out as one of the album’s most melodically flowing and memorably engaging. Encouraging song titles such as “Don’t Be Discouraged”, “His Plans are Sure”, “Time for Change”, “Searching for Answers” and “I Am With You” aptly reflect a heavenly guidance that’s undeniably infused in Nimoh’s elegant compositions, which seemingly serve as gentle reminders of faith, hope and fortitude.

Beautifully embodying a supernal essence within its intimately personal compositions, Conversations on Piano is a most-fitting companion for prayer, reflection or relaxation, while simultaneously possessing a revitalizing quality that is sure to lift the spirits and pacify the mind! ~Candice Michelle

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

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Top 25 Albums for December 2018

Presented in alphabetical order by artist name.

Artist Name Album Title Record Label
2Cellos Let There Be Cello Sony Masterworks
Acoustic Ocean Blue Moon Rising Natural Health Source
Al Jewer & Andy Mitran Perihelion Laughing Cat Records
Andrew Colyer Christmas Time Inner Nova Music
Ann Licater Quiet Spaces: Flute Meditations for Mindfulness and Relaxation Cul de sac Mystic Productions
Blue Silhouettes Looking For Utopia Blue Silhouettes Music
Brenda Warren Beautiful Journey Seven Mile Music
Brian Crain Piano and Night Crain Records, Inc.
Charles DenlerNoelLittle River Music
David Lindsay Last Passing of Summer David Lindsay
Dulce Joya Reality of Dreams CD Produktion und Vertrieb
Hanson String Theory Three Car Garage
Imogen Heap The Music of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Masterworks Broadway
Joseph Nimoh Conversations on Piano Joseph Nimoh
Karen Biehl Starlight Dreams Karen Biehl
Kerani Small Treasures Kerani Music
Libera Beyond Invisible Hands Music
London Music Works The Nativity Silva Screen Records
Mary Lydia Ryan Little Red Boat Mary Lydia Ryan
Michelle Qureshi Silver Chord Heart Dance Records
Pam Asberry Thankful Heart, Joyful Mind Optimistic Flamingo Music
Robert Ziegler Christmas at the Movies Sony Classical
Sangeeta Kaur Mirrors Sangeeta Kaur Music
Sarah Brightman Hymn  Decca Gold
Snatam Kaur  Beloved Spirit Voyage Records