Thursday, November 21, 2019

Album Review: Santa Plays the Stick by Michael Kollwitz

Having listened to and reviewed prior albums in his impeccably soothing Serenity trilogy, lifelong Chapman Stick player Michael Kollwitz dons more festive attire and gets into the Christmas spirit on his latest album, Santa Plays the Stick. An innovative stringed instrument created by Emmet Chapman, The Chapman Stick closely resembles the neck of a guitar, except that it’s played more like a piano.

Currently living in Sedona, Arizona, Kollwitz formerly resided in Hawaii for a time, and prior to that, in Sacramento, California. Naturally, the many breathtaking natural vistas, which encompass everything from the red rocks to the blue Pacific, are frequently conveyed through Kollwitz’ music, while his instrument often emits a warm and woodsy sound of which particularly on this album, seemingly evokes the warmth of a cozy fireplace, or a forest cabin in the winter.

Spanning approximately 50 minutes long, Santa Plays the Stick is comprised of 15 pacifying arrangements on solo Chapman Stick, with gentle layers and additional effects created via his instrument. He also lends playful improvised elements and a bit of leisurely twang throughout.

Opening with the peaceful lullaby, “Away In A Manger”, the album also includes several lovely renditions of other traditional carols such as “The First Noel”, “Angels We Have Heard on High”, and the tender finale, “Silent Night”. He also covers contemporary favorites like “Deck the Halls”, “The Twelves Days of Christmas” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”.

Additionally, Kollwitz produced four compositions on this album that effectively capture the atmosphere of the winter season. The first of these, “Pile of Presents”, is aptly ornamented by an icy and sparkling effect throughout. He also impresses us with other originals like “Snow Ride”, “December Wedding” and “Basket Full of Joy”.

Finally, I appreciate how the album’s title and artwork conveys a sense of humor on the part of the artist, although make no mistake about it, Michael Kollwitz’ musical ingenuity and talent are not to be taken lightly.

Like finding a hot spring in the middle of an ice lake, Santa Plays the Stick is the perfect seasonal album to add warmth, joy and relaxation to your holiday listening experience! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available at Amazon, iTunes and other retail & streaming platforms.

Billboard: Yanni Leads Top Facebook Live Videos Chart for Third Time

Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images
Yanni performs during Yanni World Tour 2014 at Mann Center For Performing Arts on Aug, 23, 2014 in Philadelphia.

The pianist returns to the top of the list for the first time since July with a soundcheck performance from Tucson. Yanni continues to prove he’s quite the force on Facebook Live, ruling Billboard’s Top Facebook Live Videos chart for a third month in 2019 by crowning the October 2019 list.

The chart, the latest of which recaps October 2019 activity, is a monthly look at the widest-reaching and most-reacted-to videos posted by musicians on Facebook Live, as tracked by media analytics company Shareablee. Rankings are determined by a formula that blends reactions, comments, shares and first-seven-days views.

Yanni, who previously ruled the June and July 2019 editions of Top Facebook Live Videos, leads October’s tally with a livestream of his soundcheck in Tucson, Ariz., before his show at the Fox Tucson Theatre on Oct. 1.

Read the full article at Billboard.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Album Review: Blue Landscapes III: Frontiers by Robert Thies & Damjan Krajacic

The collaborative duo of classically-trained American pianist Robert Thies and Croatian-born flutist Damjan Krajacic return for a third installment in their musically mesmerizing Blue Landscapes saga. Aptly-titled Blue Landscapes III: Frontiers (Music from a Quieter Place), this all-instrumental fifteen-track album draws its inspiration from natural vistas while possessing a recurring theme of water throughout. As I’ve noted in other reviews of the creative pair’s previous albums, Blue Landscapes III: Frontiers is similarly minimal and improvisational in nature while simultaneously expressive and melodic in composition.

Immediately upon hearing the opening piece, “Drifting”, the song’s simple and aptly-named title came to mind. Comprised of minimal flute and piano, this softly-swaying composition evokes peaceful scenery of a lone sailboat riding on gentle waves amid a vast blue seascape. One of my favorite pieces is “The Abandoned Monastery”, a somewhat poignant and contemplative number accentuated with a lovely Celtic touch. Subtle yet affecting, this minimal passage paints misty images of a pastoral and sacred site, which is audio-visually conveyed by a solemn arrangement of bass flute choir and sparse piano notes.

Other notable pieces such as “The Lighthouse” beautifully highlight the softly contrasting balance of the flute’s earthy resonance and the piano’s sparkling airiness. Likewise especially lovely, “Frontiers” is dreamily carried along by a flowing piano figure that seemingly mimics a winding river current. Similarly breathtaking is the mysterious “Infinity”, with its crystalline flute timbres set against glistening piano strokes that effectively bring-to-mind enchanting scenery of a nocturnal breeze and moonlight sky. Also especially mesmerizing is the somewhat pensive and shadowy “Waves on a Moonlit Sea”, which imparts a cascading piano undercurrent that's perfectly paired with sensuous flute intonations.

Ever-impressive as before, as well as possibly the duo’s best work to date, Blue Landscapes III: Frontiers paints slow-moving images with its gracefully improvised melodies of serenity and solitude. Undisputed adepts at creating flawlessly understated yet expressive compositions, Robert Thies and Damjan Krajacic convey musical observation of surrounding stillness that's evocative of being in nature's wondrous and transformative presence.

Delightfully recalling past iconic works by Bill Douglas, Paul Winter and Mark Isham, Blue Landscapes III: Frontiers exemplifies some of the best contemporary new age instrumental music on the scene today! ~Candice Michelle

This album is available at Amazon and other retail & streaming platforms.

Album Review: Art on the Piano by Holly Jones

Born in Kentucky to a musical family, pianist and composer Holly Jones initially began studying violin at age three and then piano at age eight. Already creating her own compositions by age nine, she eventually outgrew the violin and transitioned to piano whereon she quickly discovered her artistic forte. Aside from her many years of musical training and private study, including at Indiana University, Jones is also a physical therapist, which when combined with her passion for playing the piano, gives her greater insight to understanding the healing power of music.

Spanning approximately 51 minutes total, Art on the Piano is an expressively elegant album of 11 tranquil solo instrumentals. Calmly introduced by the soothing opener, “A Blackberry Sky”, an immediate sense of comfort and gentle optimism washes over the listener, as one might easily imagine the artist closing her eyes while playing this piece; her hands effortlessly moving across the keys in a seemingly thoughtful, unhurried and fluid manner. The aptly-titled “Butterfly” ensues with a delicately sustained piano figure throughout, as this airy and sparkling composition effectively paints a picture of a colorful butterfly lightly fluttering in the golden rays of the sun.

One of my favorite pieces on the album is the title track, “Art on the Piano”, a mysterious number with classical overtones and an overall musing mood. Imparting a deep resonance on the keys amid contemplatively graceful pauses throughout, it evokes ruminative images of the artist playing piano in the quiet solitude of a dimly-lit room.

Continuing to seamlessly alternate between reflective and radiant atmospheres along the way, the album finally reaches the second-to-last piece, “Walk with the Trees”, a seasonal song that bares a thoughtful touch of melancholy, before elatedly wrapping things up with the warmly optimistic “Light on the Water”.

A most highly-recommended album for fans of new age and contemporary solo piano music, I especially love the sophisticated simplicity of Holly Jones’ mellifluous arrangements, as she creates art on the piano – and healing through her fingertips! ~Candice Michelle

For more information, please visit the artist's website. This album is also available at Amazon, iTunes and other retail & streaming platforms.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Album Review: Songs Without Words by Gerhard Daum

Gerhard Daum is an acclaimed guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and award-winning film composer whose most recent album, Songs Without Words, deftly defies strict genre categorization. Incorporating stylistic hallmarks of blues, jazz, classical, ambient, progressive rock and soundtrack music, these elements are seamlessly melded together, while his innovative compositions showcase expressive electric guitar melodies accompanied both by electronic and orchestral arrangements.

Featuring twelve songs spanning approximately 41 minutes, Daum keeps his compositions to under the 4-minute mark, as the musical narrative moves through a dynamic range of atmospheres and emotions like the exhilarating score to a TV action or drama series unfolding.

The opening piece, “Berlin Song”, is a moody number that delivers some bluesy guitar, cinematic strings and lush ambient pads set to a downtempo pulse. The sensuously subtle “Talking Softly” soon follows with a mysterious ‘noir lounge’ vibe, which seemingly paints black-and-white images of an old city street thinly veiled in a nighttime fog.

A few tracks later, “Gold Rush” heats up the audio space with a soaring guitar lead, symphonic strings and odd-time signature beats. Once again reverting to Daum’s softer side, “Timeless” ensues with a sultrily sleek arrangement that would render this piece nicely on an eclectic smooth jazz playlist.

Further down the line-up is another personal favorite called “Walking on Clouds”, a piece that slightly recalls Brian Eno’s iconic “Deep Blue Day” with its bluesy ambient soundscape. And finally, “My Foolish Heart” beautifully wraps things up with a winding guitar riff, cinematic strings and moderately paced drums that all bring it to a reminiscing yet celebratory conclusion.

An innovative offering of enjoyably eclectic instrumental music, Songs Without Words is an album without categorization that will appeal to listeners who possess a diverse range of musical taste! ~Candice Michelle

For more information, please visit the artist's website. This album is also available at Amazon, iTunes and other retail and streaming platforms.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Album Review: A Presence of Three Minds by Holland Phillips

Holland Phillips is a seasoned composer and keyboardist who’s released a successive string of albums over the past several years. Comprised of 11 compositions spanning approximately 45 minutes total, his latest full-length recording, A Presence of Three Minds, delivers more of the enjoyably familiar style that has come to characterize Phillips’ congenial sound, with its innocuous melodies comprised of notably vintage-sounding keyboards arrangements.

Seemingly infused with some of the stylistic underpinnings of Yanni’s and David Arkenstone’s earliest works, as well as taking a few cues from Tangerine Dream’s late 80s to mid-90s sound, A Presence of Three Minds could easily be mistaken for an album recorded three decades prior at the height of new age music’s popularity. Whether the distinctive vintage element that largely defines Phillips' music is produced by a conscious effort on the part of the artist or not, it has certainly been a key component to his sound with every album by him I've listened to thus far.

Likewise, synthesized string arrangements and gossamer vocal textures lend a whimsical 1980s fantasy film-era touch to many of these pieces, which simultaneously veer into neoclassical easy listening territory along the way. Ultimately however, A Presence of Three Minds is bona fide contemporary instrumental music with fanciful new age overtones that I warmly recommend to fans of retro-style recordings within this genre! ~Candice Michelle

For more information please visit the artist's website. This album is also available at Amazon, iTunes and other retail & streaming platforms.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Top 25 Albums of October 2019

01. Peter Kater – Wings
02. Sangeeta Kaur – Compassion
03. Douglas Blue Feather – Ascension
04. Rob Simonsen – Rêveries
05. Rémi Orts Project – Peaceful Moments: Reign of the Forest
06. Harrison Edwards – Into the Unknown
07. Sharon Fendrich – Red Sky Prairie
08. David Wahler – Two Hearts
09. Forrest Smithson – The Healer’s Way
10. Christopher Boscole – Dawn of Love
11. Merrill Collins – Every Man, Woman and Child: Yoga Flow Suite
12. Holly Jones – Art on the Piano
13. Gabriele Saro – Sensations
14. Holland Phillips – A Presence of Three Minds
15. Todd Mosby – Open Waters
16. Crystalline Dream – Seventh Chakra
17. FLOW – Promise
18. Joey Curtin – The Paradise Collection
19. Joss Jaffe – Meditation Music
20. Ben Carroll – Becoming Light
21. Lynn Tredeau – All the Pieces
22. Sergio Zurutuza – Rareza
23. Alejandro Santoyo – Dreams for a Better Tomorrow
24. Michael Joseph – Into the Blue
25. Jarred Walker – Becoming Tomorrow

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Artist Spotlight: An Interview with Sangeeta Kaur

We’re honored to present an interview with Sangeeta Kaur. A classically trained opera singer of Vietnamese-American roots, she’s also a committed practitioner of both Kundalini Yoga and Tibetan Buddhism. Sangeeta Kaur weaves her heavenly soprano vocals with live orchestration, pristine choral arrangements and meditative mantra singing for a unique style that could be described as new age classical crossover music. She’s just released a beautiful new album called Compassion which we’ll be highlighting, so please join us for a heartfelt conversation about her musical passion and sacred path!

Music by Sangeeta Kaur is available at Amazon, iTunes and other retail and streaming platforms.