Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Album Spotlight: High Wind Blue Sky by David Lindsay

Review by Abdul Yamani

Composer and guitarist David Lindsay is an artist known for his simple and distinctive style. His soothing melodies seem to have a natural ability to deposit a sense of peacefulness in the heart of the listener and calm the soul.

David’s vast repertoire of compositions have been featured on radio and television throughout North America, Great Britain, Europe, and Australia, with two of his previous album releases having garnered award nominations.

For his latest album High Wind Blue Sky, David called on an impressive ensemble of well-known and established musicians to complement his talents, such as Grammy Award winner Eugene Friesen on cello, multi-instrumentalist Jill Haley on English horn, Charlie Bisharat on violin, Jeff Haynes on percussion, nu-jazz trumpet player Jeff Oster on flugelhorn, and Tom Eaton on piano and bass.

Will Ackerman, founder of Windham Hill Records and owner of Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont where the album was produced, provides beautiful acoustic guitar leads. The album, High Wind Blue Sky offers a moment of pause from the distraction and noise of our present world. Poignant tracks like "Slow Walk Home", "Birds", "A Summer’s Breeze", "Little Wing" and "Sea Swells" take the listener on a ruminative walk on the shore of the imagination. David’s guitar strings are like the waves that caress your feet as they gently imprint your thoughts on the soft warm sand. Wordless female vocals, courtesy of Noah Wilding, also an accomplished artist, sweep you away in the tracks “Slow Walk Home” and “Sea Swells”. The beautiful song arrangements, acoustic arpeggios, airy vocals, musical sequence, and sublime harmonics all perfectly come together, masterfully creating a colorful motif of reflection and serenity.

Sweet feelings of love, joy and gratitude come through from an adoring father to his child in “For Margot”, a song David wrote for his daughter. Memories envelope the listener as songs of friendship and time tenderly conclude the album.

~Abdul Yamani for Aural Awakenings

For more information please visit the artist's website. High Wind Blue Sky is also available at Amazon and more.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Album Spotlight: Within by Michelle Qureshi

Review by Abdul Yamani

Michelle Qureshi is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist who combines classical guitar, acoustic and electronic syntheses for her compositions. Her music has been classified as New Age, World, Meditation and Contemporary Instrumental. Michelle’s impressive album releases have been a great success on a variety of streaming platforms all over the globe and performed high on music charts. She also shares her lovely musical gifts at concerts, festivals, yoga studios, healing centers and special events.

Michelle’s album Within perfectly demonstrates her belief in the ability of music to touch and heal the human soul. Peace, love, unity, integrity, and harmony flow through her tranquil acoustic guitar melodies derived from spiritual disciplines such as yoga and Buddhist philosophy.

The album is comprised of 24 original compositions and is reflective and calming throughout. The first track “Above Us” seems to gently point the way for us; each song possesses a different rhythm and is specially titled to fit the track’s unique message, isolating each one in a sense, but with a genuine desire to unite and transcend boundaries. Every elegant note of Michelle’s guitar comes together to describe the vast range of emotions in the human experience such as joy, tenderness, hopefulness, hesitancy, doubt and certainty, like a fountain bubbling forth from a peaceful, sacred place to the listener within. Michelle’s ingenious tunes seem to embody diverse impressions and stages in our journey through life and the passage of time, and intuitively translate sentiment to the language of music.

Within is a beautiful shape that Michelle Qureshi has artfully sculpted with the strings of her guitar, which expresses the power of music to reach that deep place within us, creating a sense of oneness, self-awareness, reassurance, and completeness.

~Abdul Yamani for Aural Awakenings

For more information please visit the artist's website. Within is also available at Amazon, iTunes & more.

Album Spotlight: The Pale Blue Dot by Terry Lee Nichols

Review by Marilyn Torres

Standing firmly on both his solid music as well as his technology education, Terry Lee Nichols explores the many-faceted angles of our universe and human existence through his latest album The Pale Blue Dot. While it may seem like a daunting task, Nichols embraces the vast and endless galactic realm together with the minute and delicate human connection, through his compositions.

The opening track “In the Beginning… (Quantum Fluctuations)” starts with soft, chant-like suspiration that fades into presenting strings. The pitch rises and then softly descends as the piano enters and continues the journey accompanied by the harp and flute. The feeling of dawn and layered awareness, sustain the piece as it ends on a climbing piano note.

Moving forward from our expectant introduction, the second piece, “Cosmic Dark Ages” filled me with a sense of calm as I envisioned stark space with no demands of form and function; just a waiting period. Nevertheless, on the following track “First Stars” we witness the birth of the illuminating spheres, first with twinkling piano keys from the six pianos commissioned for this piece, overlapping faster and faster, and then yielding to the thundering entrance of the drums and French horns. These in turn, yield to the returning twinkling piano keys and suddenly a vibrant Latin mix fills the scene with life and energy, which made me want to salsa for a moment, before yielding for one last time to the twinkling keys. What fun!

On “Stardust (Clouds of Gas and Dust)”, there is a steady determined beat as of moving parts, with the piano, and then we hear the vocals by Rebekah Eden mid-way and at the culmination, giving the piece a softness to contrast the working pace.

In “Asteroids” Nichols gives a nod to his classical music training by including the introductory "Piano Concerto #23" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The piece gives way to an electronic beat and together the two circle back and forth until the climactic lift-off and fade, which makes way for the end of "Moonlight Sonata" by Beethoven.

The overall sense of growth and change continues with “The Cambria Explosion”, and in “East of Eden” we are treated once more to Rebekah Eden’s lush and soothing vocals. Nichols displays his conviction of how music can enhance all aspects of development through the expressive tone of “Child’s Play”.

“Memories of Love” with its dedicated transitions forms an image of all the pieces in the timeline of a life filled with highs and lows. The familiar, steady strike of the piano keys repeats throughout and on into the conclusion of “Global Warming” as if to bring home a crucial directive.

For the final and main title track, “Pale Blue Dot (Train to Dachau)”, Nichols introduces the strong sound of a train whistling as it barrels down its track and fades into the gentle strings. After a reflective piano solo, the piece plays some of the “Greetings from Planet Earth” included in the Voyager space mission and then we hear Carl Sagan recite the namesake speech; a quite fitting close to an ambitious and soul-soothing musical journey.

~Marilyn Torres for Aural Awakenings

For more information please visit the artist's website. The Pale Blue Dot is also available at Amazon, iTunes and more!

New Release: Future Shock by Michael Whalen

Review by Lissette Cascante

These days it seems nothing shocks us anymore. Still, good surprises are always welcome. Seasoned recording artist Michael Whalen’s newly released album of all original compositions is like opening a box of good and fun surprises.

Michael’s impressive, time-tested, and multi-faceted career in music, and his impactful contribution to the industry as composer, producer, Emmy Award winner, pianist extraordinaire including but not limited to his early new age compositions for labels such as Narada and Windham Hill are extensively and favorably written about in countless outlets and websites of many reviewers and publications. His music and interviews are featured on a wide variety of platforms.

In his latest recording creatively titled Future Shock, perhaps his most ambitious project to date, Michael pushes the boundaries of musical experimentation and challenges us to expand our vision beyond the confines of genre classification taking us into many spherical directions.

Future Shock is an energetic and uplifting wild menagerie of funk, jazz fusion, world, techno, instrumental jazz and nu-jazz with transitional elements of 70’s progressive rock. The album has an edgy, celebratory feel throughout, like a live outdoor festival concert.

For the project’s synergistic style and sound, Michael, who plays all keyboards, synthesizers, and electronic percussion on the album, assembled a fantastic team of incredibly talented and accomplished musicians, such as Bob Magnuson who lends his unique expressions on Saxophones, flute and shehnai, Simon Phillips, with incredible performances on drums and additional percussion, and Tony Levin sharing his outstanding talents on guitar, electric and upright Bases and Chapman Stick. Michael composed, arranged, programmed, and mixed all the tracks on the album.

The album kicks off with a blast as Michael takes the listener on a time-warp through musical styles. Starting the title track, he cleverly weaves a neon tapestry of psychedelic synth sounds and futuristic rhythms against a fluorescent backdrop of explosive drum work and base creating a blend of psychedelia elements reminiscent of the 60’-70’s rock group Emerson, Lake and Palmer whose influence Michael credits with inspiration. For me it also recalled the sound of Metro, an early 1990’s jazz-fusion band co-founded by the late great Chuck Loeb, one of my favorite jazz artists who incidentally was also a member of the 80’s group Steps Ahead which Michael mentions in his overview of the album as being an influence in his love of fusion.

The party continues with a funky rhythm in “Hop, Skip and Jump” as Whalen’s “groove-based” synth arrangements, Magnuson’s saxophone versatility and Phillips’ drum intensity masterfully conspire to blur the line between jazz and rock.

You will want to move to the breezy Latin rhythm of “La Hermosa Noche” the album’s third track, a very warm and spicy improvisation with a festive, bohemian feel. I found this cut as well as the fifth track “Memories of You” incredibly beautiful and almost reminiscent of some of The Rippingtons’ Latin-infused songs like “One Summer Night in Brazil.”

“Lights of Home” creates a sense of yearning for the familiar. This beautiful gem seems to emphasize lyrics are not needed as its slow, emotive saxophone-encased ballad and exquisite crystal-clear piano brilliance allow the melody to carry the imagination to its desired destination.

The pace heats up again as “Poly Jam” transports us back to the “trippy” side of things with its seemingly, disparate elements of sound, synthesizers, and deep-toned bass. Heavy drums drive the piece as a mystifying, sultry saxophone introduced at the end brings a sort of down-tempo calm to the finale.

Other positive mood-enhancers on the album are “Miracle Mile” with its lively tropical, smooth jazz vibes, and “Morning Song” with its cheerful tune creates a bright place of contentment, while “Wanderlust” is enjoyably fast-paced and dynamic, with elaborate chord progressions and full of fantastic busy rhythms that will have you toe-tapping in no time.

Beautiful saxophone and piano come together in the album’s last song “Your Eyes, Your Touch, Your Kiss” breathing romance and desire into its powerfully seductive, sexy, and hypnotic melody. It features repetitive notes throughout sprinkled with spicy saxophone segments, while a sublimely played, multi-layered bluesy piano builds climactic impetus then politely allows the sax to lead us softly to our reverie’s end with a feeling of sweet surrender.

Future Shock is like a time-warp of musical styles and sound; a surefire way to uplift your day no matter what may be happening around you.

If you are new to Michael’s music, I would like to recommend you go to his website where you can find more information on his background, recordings, and projects.

~Lissette Cascante for Aural Awakenings

Future Shock is also available at Amazon, iTunes and more.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

New Release: The Canyons and Mesas of Bandelier by Jill Haley

Review by Lissette Cascante

Growing up in a large metropolitan city, I would often spend hours looking out of my bedroom window watching the planes as they traversed the sky, dreaming of places near and far I wanted to visit and explore.

Award-winning composer and multi-instrumentalist Jill Haley has recorded a series of albums which showcase and honor the various National Parks of the United States she has visited, often as Artist in Residence. Immersing herself in their rich history and landscape, Jill paints a musical picture of her total experience. Jill has also dedicated much of her time and musical talents to not only pay tribute to the National Parks, but to educate and create awareness of the need to preserve their rich anthropology for present and future generations.

In her latest album “The Canyons and Mesas of Bandelier”, seventh in the series, Jill designs for the listener a sensory tour of the park through her musical creativity. The first track on the album “Plaintive Cavate Melody”, reminiscent of early 1980’s Windham Hill music, is a beautiful and alluring construct of oboe and piano which begins our musical trek through pre-historic sites, ceremonial structures, ancestral native peoples and ancient ruins. Countless images of wildlife abound in this diverse landscape.

Jill wrote all the music for the album and plays the oboe, piano, English horn and woodwinds on many of the compositions. Several other gifted musical artists add their talents on guitar, cello, drums and percussion and fuse it all together in one beautiful musical portrait.

Every track on the album is beautiful and succeeds in peaking the listener’s curiosity and desire to learn more about this magnificent place. In “Ecotone” with its monotone chords, I pictured a giant clock marking the hours, as we take in the majestic scenery, listen to the silent voices, bringing the past into the present. In “Frijoles Canyon Awakens" Jill allows her solo piano composition to describe the sense of awe one would feel upon seeing a site where volcanic eruptions occurred millions of years ago.

“Fantastical Formations” speaks to us of beautiful canyons, plateaus, and mesas to explore while “Kaleidoscope Flight” seems to follow the pattern of a high-flying bird circling the canyon tops searching for its prey. The ninth track “Parajito Moonglow” features a contemplative piano moving up and down the key spectrum as the oboe invites the listener to observe and reflect. I was not sure if the spelling was intentional as I am fluent in Spanish and the word for small bird is Pajarito and located in the Bandolier there is a plateau called “Pajarito Plateau”. Nevertheless, the melody is calming and relaxing and reminds me of a solitary little bird singing in the moonlit night of this framed wilderness.

“Vista at Valles Calderas”, my favorite track on the album, features David Cullen on guitar, infusing the track with a Spanish flair as piano and oboe carry the melody taking us back to a time when native peoples’ and explorers’ cultures begin to mesh as well as collide.

Once again guitar and oboe complement each other on “Gratitude for the CCC” ever so gracefully while a lovely piano flows smoothly in the background. The track title adds a nice gesture of appreciation for the organization which became the model for today’s national conservation programs.

The album’s relaxed feel throughout is perfect for studying, reading or just meandering. But I found it very educational too. I finally did get to travel to some of the places I dreamed of when I was a child. And now, thanks to Jill Haley, I have another spot to add to my list!

A lovely, awe-inspiring musical trek…

~Lissette Cascante for Aural Awakenings

For more information, please visit Jill Haley's website. Her music is available through Amazon, iTunes and more. 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

New Release: Revelation by Kelly Andrew

Review by Lissette Cascante

Acclaimed composer and recording artist Kelly Andrew has received world-wide recognition and prestigious awards for his numerous compositions in various genres and styles ranging from EDM, world, pop, jazz, contemporary instrumental, to epic orchestral music for TV and Film movie trailers. It is obvious that Andrew enjoys influencing listeners around the world with his musical creations. His previous 5 albums Olympus, Reflections, Epoch Dawn, Journey, and Rendezvous showcased his musicianship and elicited rave reviews from listeners of many backgrounds.

With great anticipation I awaited the release of his new album Revelation which was several years in the making. The album release was worth the wait as the music captivated and engaged me from the start. For me, the listening experience took me to worlds within our world.

Revelation is like watching a movie, except in this movie you get to be the star. It is an expedition of the senses and the soul to a place or places you imagine, with the composer, Andrew, as our guide and director. The purpose of the journey is unique to each individual.

“Revelation” opens slowly, as if preparing the listener for the story that is about to unfold; building intensity as the listener’s journey begins. Symphonic orchestrations and strong vocals throughout allow the listener to create their own experience. The clever song titles reveal clues of what we might encounter along the way. The third track “Spark of Life” offers a fantasy-like scene infused with dramatic sequences while the fourth track exudes compassion for “Humanity” and all its complexities. A flute comes in unexpectedly, drums and percussion convey a sense of wonder and discovery as indigenous sounds and vocals interspersed serve to bring our picture into focus.

Dramatic and suspenseful scenes unfold in tracks like “Escape”, “Manifesto”, “Material Sons”, “Sage of Salem”, and "Rebellion" with its defiant electronic infused sounds, conjure up images of dangerous encounters, battles for survival, enduring hardships, strange lands, friendship and larger than life beings.

“Onagar”, with its beautiful introduction, has an almost ambient-like, world sensation. Native flute and drums transport us to faraway lands, as we trace the footsteps of past civilizations. While “Arrival” implied for me a sort of cave-like environment with its mysterious echoes and vibrations which lead to a more aggressive and excited crescendo of wind and stringed instruments, powerful drums, and a dramatic, “cliffhanger” ending.

Flute, harp, cello, quiet strings, and soft waltz rhythms in "Days of Van", invite us to rest after the battle, and regain our strength. As we continue our solitary sojourn we discover “The Garden”; an exquisite blend of vocals and orchestral instruments creates a magical moment where light and hope meet and kiss.

“Regret” begins with a haunting, sprinting piano melody which builds up powerfully with choirs and strings. High-pitched vocals convey inner torment with strings and drums supporting the emotions giving way to ultimate surrender. “Veil of Tears” is a short but sad, slow piano melody, enhanced by beautiful string arrangements as symbolic piano “tears” heal the soul.

“Samaria” is my favorite track on the album. This magnificent piece begins with an ethereal but earthy sound experience as a transporting, melancholy, duduk-led melody challenges our emotions and speaks to our innermost passions.

We arrive at our final destination with “Divine Embrace”. Reconciling with the past present and future. Discovering the truth of our existence, embracing the Divine and finding true peace.

A musical masterpiece for the inquisitive and adventurous imagination…

~Lissette Cascante for Aural Awakenings

To get this album please visit Kelly Andrew's website. His music is also available through Amazon, iTunes and more. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

New Release: The Grand Piano Spa by Darlene Koldenhoven

Review by Lissette Cascante

Darlene’s impressive and diverse resume includes everything from her starring role as a nun in the hit comedy film Sister Act alongside Whoopi Goldberg, to her stunning soprano vocal performances with Yanni: Live at the Acropolis – not to mention her beautiful repertoire of widely-acclaimed new age, classical crossover and contemporary instrumental music. 

The first week of its release, Darlene Koldenhoven‘s solo piano album, The Grand Piano Spa debuted at Number 4 on the Billboard Classical Crossover Albums Chart week of May 29, 2021. 

This should come as no surprise as I have always found her music to be instrumentally beautiful and gently uplifting. It had been quite a while since I heard such a graceful, soul-soothing piano album. Hearing pure piano flow from Darlene’s fingertips truly exults her talents as a pianist-composer and her gifts in musical artistry. 

The whimsical tunes entwined in “Wisteria” for example, the album’s opening track, reinforces itself as a pleasant experience in the stems of our senses. With a sort of classic George Winston vibe, it creates emotions of joyful and carefree days.

The minor keys in “Into the Light”, the second track, conjure up a more contemplative, inner mysticism, like one approaching reverently the early morning of a new day. 

“Delphi’s Dream” to me is like a constant stream of inner solitude and serenity. This piece slowly twirls and spins as crystalline notes dance around the main melodic centerpiece. Repeating piano keys throughout seem to encircle a scene in foggy, dreamy sequence.

In “Quiet Read” Darlene manages to create the quiet space we all crave at times in the sole company of a good book.

Again, she magically succeeds in conjuring up images for us with the beautifully titled track “Spring Dance”. The flutter of butterflies perhaps, birds chirping, flowers blooming; nature blossoming and dancing all around us in the spring.

“Reverie”, my favorite track on the album, with its enchanting melody is like a meditative journey on a slow river, calming all fear of the unknown.

Our innermost thoughts are exquisitely expressed in “Soliloquy” as the extended key throughout the song seems to speak for the listener in the background of the melody. In “Clover Fields” the artist invites us to be present and enjoy the scenes of beauty and contentment the flowing melody creates for us as we walk “audibly” or perhaps even physically or virtually through “fields of clover.”
And finally, the last track contains the most important message in the entire album for me: “Simple Life” is a lovely musical reminder to cherish the simpler things in life. To “disconnect” from the noise and clutter of the material world and be more conscious in every experience, and just enjoy the simple things in life – like listening to beautiful, relaxing piano music… 

The Grand Piano Spa is one of the most graceful and mesmerizing piano albums of the year! 

~Lissette Cascante for Aural Awakenings

To get this album please visit Darlene Koldenhoven's  website. Her music is also available through Amazon, iTunes, Bandcamp and more.