Thursday, July 7, 2016


Islands In Paradise
Dancing Man Music

It's been nine years since drummer/percussionist extraordinaire Michael Fitzsimmons released his superb album, Water Flows Over Me. Sometimes, you just have to wait for the good stuff and exercise some patience. Well, that patience has been rewarded big time with his new album Islands In Paradise. While retaining some of Fitzsimmons' musical feel, the album is a marked departure in one immediately apparent fashion, that being a considerable elevation of tempo and mood. Islands In Paradise is a musical excursion to sun-washed tropical beaches and festive seaside late-night cafes and clubs. The album brims with a jubilant sense of joy, exerting an inexorable pull to surrender to a mood of celebration, fun, and a sensual love of life.

As he has did on Water Flows Over Me (2007), Fitzsimmons has the hang drum (a tuned metal percussion instrument) take center stage many times, but unlike on Water…here he explores the instrument's ability to produce uptempo, cheerful, and danceable rhythms through delightfully exuberant tuned percussive melodies. Besides the hang durm, the artist also plays handpan, which is somewhat similar in nature to the hang, kalimba (African thumb piano), and Latin percussion. Joining Fitzsimmons on the album is Tom Ware who contributes mightily on an assortment of instruments: bass, keyboards, drums, and synthesizer. These two cats sure sound like they had a blast recording this album (well, honestly, after listening to it a few times, how could anyone think they had anything but a great time playing such festive, happy music?).

Islands In Paradise certainly merits its title as there is an unmistakable tropical musical influence at work. While the hang drum (and kalimba) certainly can sound like a Jamaican steel drum, they actually have their own unique sound if one listens closely (especially when you compare how steel drums are played – with a mallet – whereas the hang is played by slapping it/tapping it with one's hands). It's hard not to envision any of the Caribbean islands when Fitzsimmons and Ware hit their groove and begin to unfurl the funky, sensual, and infectious beats and melodies. Ware uses his synthesizer shadings and textures to great effect, coloring the melodic rhythms with a pleasing undercurrent of subtle melody and ambiance, like a cooling breeze off of the Gulf as the sun sets in the west.

Not every track is an all-out party, but overall, the mood is one of playfulness and unrestrained festivity, beginning with the opening cut, "Earth Sea and Sky." The title track stays in that same fun-filled mood albeit dials things down just a notch. Just when you might want to catch your breath, the next song, "Fire Dancers," erupts with an emphasis on assorted drums and beats and less centered around the hang drum melody (at least to my ears). On this track, the influences cross over more distinctly into Latin/Spanish territory, perhaps even displaying a glimpse of the flamenco genre, as well as some noticeable Cuban stylings as well. "Elysium" slows to a midtempo pace, but the heavy presence of drum rhythms still will likely get into the listener's blood and induce some toe-tapping or finger-rapping. What sounds like a jawbone opens "Celebration," one of the most light-hearted tracks on the album—music for parasailing high above aqua/blue waters on a sunny day.

If one closes one's eyes and absorbs the ten tracks on Islands In Paradise, I would imagine one might easily envision the sandy beaches, the colorful flora and fauna, and of course the abundant nightlife of St. Lucia, the Caymans, St Kitts, St Maarten, or Barbados, to name just a few of the Caribbean Islands. Let Michael Fitzsimmons guide you on a "virtual" vacation to a land of no worries, lush vegetation, warm days and starlit nights, as you let your stress melt and hair down. It's all good, mon. Have fun and embrace all the joy and happiness that life has to offer in the "Islands."

Islands In Paradise is available directly from the artist here.

Friday, October 9, 2015

REVIEW: Anne Trenning - The Sunflower Waltz

The Sunflower Waltz
Shadetree Records (2015)

At its core, Anne Trenning's solo piano album, The Sunflower Waltz, is musical nostalgia, melodies from a simpler time when a simple sunflower seemed to radiate joy and beauty. This is not to say Trenning's music is "simple" in its essence, but instead, that the music is plainspoken with no subterfuge and little, if any, hidden agenda. These are straightforward songs, based mostly around major key melodies which conjure images of light, warmth, friendship and other positive feelings. When one adds in engineering and mastering by the estimable Joe Bongiorno (the album sounds great!), you get a complete package of solid musicianship, engaging melodies, and spot-on production quality.

"Max's Birthday" is the opening track and immediately sets the tone for the recording with a light-hearted and subtly joyful mood with adroit balancing of lower and middle/high registers. Next, the title track wears its waltz-like sound proudly on its musical sleeve. While the motifs are certainly influenced by those of waltzes, the tempo is dialed up a bit—not in any way that proves distracting, and in the bridge the speed slows down a bit before returning to the refrain, and that refrain has a catchiness to it that I enjoyed. The song is not purely classical in feel, as I detect a soft shading of rural Americana now and then. That Americana hint actually flows throughout some of the album's tracks. Images of small town bandstands on warm Sunday afternoons with children playing and adults relaxing seem to paint themselves in the air while I listen to tracks such as "Claire Of My Heart" and "Cowgirl Daydream" (which also displays a waltz motif as well, perhaps even more pronounced than the title track). Church music seems to be the main influence on "In The Gloaming Light" with its more sedate, measured cadence and somewhat stately melody. The next track, "Sing To The Lord," which one might expect to sound like a spiritual or hymn, is relatively subdued though with an undercurrent of joy and praise. "Backyard Dreamer" dials the energy down even further, perhaps referencing the title's notion of lying on one's back staring up at clouds drifting by. "Where Rivers Run" (the longest song on the album at 5:01) is one of the few songs that could be categorized as introspective and reflective although the emphasis on major key notes and chords keeps the mood away from somberness or melancholy. Instead, the pensiveness is warm and positive in nature.  A more downcast, for lack of a better word, mood is heard on the next selection, "Days Gone By" however the song balances moments of minor key solemnity with times when the mood lightens a bit, either through dialing up the tempo or switching to a major key. "A Prayer For The World" is cast in the same mold as "In The Gloaming Light" in that it seems to feature hymn motifs, although Trenning slows it way down and thereby injects heartfelt, touching drama, as if she is communicating her sincere desire to make the world a better place.

There are also songs which hew more closely to "traditional" contemporary solo piano, i.e. not showing any overt influences other the genre itself. "Just Fly" has a spirited tempo yet the repeated refrain heard in back of the lead melody injects something that keeps the thrust of the song from being "too" cheerful. "Fade To Blue" is lovely—a soft, gentle musical rumination on romance (at least that's how I hear it). Trenning's control of tonal shading and nuance on this track are stellar and subtle minimalism can be heard if one listens intently, as she allows the notes to breathe a bit, offering a counterpoint to the majority of the songs which tend to be more energetic.

The Sunflower Waltz contains sixteen tracks, most of them in the three minute range, and I must say the album breezes by quickly despite its total 53 minute playing time. By keeping song length short, Trenning shows her savvy side, i.e. change it up so as to keep listener interest piqued. It's a smart move, although these songs are all so engaging that even if you bumped some up to longer durations, I can’t imagine anyone regretting it. If you're looking for a solo piano release that will entertain you and might also stir some memories for you (owing to those numbers that evoke a sweet nostalgic remembrance), The Sunflower Waltz needs to be on your "buy" list.

The Sunflower Waltz can be purchased at CDBaby (more retailers to be added  later).

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

REVIEW: Ron Korb - Asia Beauty

Asia Beauty

Ron Korb Productions

World-class flutist Ron Korb's Asia Beauty is more than just a magnificent album. Packaged as it is, i.e. as a literal hard-cover booklet containing gorgeous photography and copious liner notes (including an artist-authored story that serves as an inspiration for some of the songs) as well as the CD itself, it is a rare achievement (in fact, in my 18 years of reviewing, I can think of only one other album like this, that being Patrick Leonard's Rivers, released in 1997). However, what is even more praiseworthy is how Korb has meshed the multitude of Asian instruments (including the variety of Asian flutes he plays) with a western musical motif so that the resultant music doesn't alienate the less adventurous listener while also initiating the world music novice into the beauty and wonder of Asian music. In short, what he's done is to bring a western accessibility to Asian music (which can sometimes leave the unaccustomed ear feeling disoriented) without undercutting the music's authenticity. That he accomplishes this feat without resorting to "fusion" techniques, i.e. just taking Asian motifs and wrapping them in electronica beats and synthesizer textures, makes his achievement all the more remarkable (and I mean no disrespect to those who compose/perform global fusion electronica, a subgenre which I greatly enjoy and appreciate).

Korb plays a variety of Asian and other flutes, and in each case exhibits his complete mastery no matter which one he chooses. I have been a fan of his playing since I first heard him on Stephen Bacchus's album Pangaea (1990) and, in fact, on at least one track here ("Magic Sleep"), I was reminded of that recording. Korb composed all the music on Asia Beauty and his talent for meshing both eastern and western instruments may be unmatched. For example, take the opening track, "Hanoi Caf√©," on which the erhu is combined with accordion, piano, bass and drums, as well as the western violin. Korb's flute (a non-Asian variety) flits above the other instruments while the erhu adds an exotic Far East element to the romantic piece. This is the strength of Asia Beauty—the seamless integration of authentic Asian instruments with more traditional western ones, e.g. piano, bass, drums, and guitar. However, it's not just the instruments but also the melodies composed by Korb which draw the listener in, whether she/he is acclimated to Asian music or not.

I mentioned earlier that Korb wrote a folk tale that serves as the backstory for some of the music on the album and those songs start with track two, "Journey Begins." One might suppose that these songs are the most "Asian" sounding and yes, there is an overt element present, however track six, "Children's Jig," inexplicably (and successfully) translates Asian instruments to an Irish sound and the piece is a winner, full of joy and cheer. "House of the Five Beauties," which serves as the focus of the story that Korb wrote, reinforces the more Asian influence, with erhu, yangqin, pipa, and guqin all playing an important role, and Korb himself playing the dizi (a transverse bamboo flute), although even here, cello, piano, and drums also contribute. Not meaning to repeat myself, but this song underlines what makes Asia Beauty the triumph it is, i.e. the melding of the Asian with the western to create something that honors both musical cultures.

The latter section of the album focuses on music which was influenced by locales that Korb visited in Asia, e.g. "Palace Garden," "Country Life," and "Two Mountains." "The Reed Cave" is something really special, as it presents Korb playing the Asian "dadi" flute solo in a limestone cave found in the Guangxi Province with a wonderful natural reverberation effect (a la some of Paul Winter's great recordings). "Blue Bamboo" intermixes a subtle blues motif with Korb's Asian flute (dizi) along with pipa (a four string lute), piano, and bass. As if the nineteen songs listed on the album weren't enough, there are two more bonus tracks, unlisted, but mentioned in the liner notes: "The Sword of Heaven" and the truly lovely album closer, "Jasmine Lullaby" which once again melds the Celtic (penny whistle and Celtic harp) with the Asian (via the melodic motifs).

There are many musicians on the album representing both the East and the West, and all the performers put everything they have into the parts they play; each one of them brings something special to the party. The guest players are: Lin Xiaoqiu (erhu), Liana Berube (violin), Bill Evans (accordion and piano), Donald Quan (piano and tabla), George Koller (acoustic bass), Larry Crowe (drums and percussion), Wendy Zhao (pipa), Sharlene Wallace (Celtic harp), Aidan Mason (guitar), Steve Lucas (acoustic bass), Chris Donnelly(spoons), Zhang Di (yangqin), Lucas Tensen (cello), Nan Feihong (guqin and guzheng), Laila Biali (piano), Paul Intson (kalimba, guitar, acoustic bass), Lin Xiaoqiu (erhu), Jade Hong (guzheng), Ma Xiang Hua (erhu), Yi Qin (pipa), Wang Long (yangqin), Ren Jie (guzheng), Lou Pomanti (piano), Ray Hickey Jr. (guitar, guzheng, koto, shamisen), Cynthia Qin (guzheng), Susan Greenway (piano), Bill Bridges (guitar), Ben Riley (drums), and Rick Shadrach Lazar (percussion).

Asia Beauty is about as essential a world music album as you are likely to hear this year (and likely this decade, too) and it represents a high point in Ron Korb's already impressive discography. Overflowing with creativity, imagination, and musical artistry, the recording features the motifs, influences, and instruments of the Far East and seamlessly seasons them with just enough Western flavors as a way of revealing Asia's rich musical heritage to unaccustomed ears. Throw in the gorgeous photography and the fascinating liner notes contained in innovative packaging and voila—a must-have release for world music lovers.

Asia Beauty is available directly from the artist or from  Amazon, CDBaby, or iTunes.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

REVIEW: Elise Lebec - Heart Song

Heart Song


By the end of my first playing of Elise Lebec's Heart Song, I went to the computer to verify that this was, in fact, her second release. Yes, it is. After clearing that up, I listened to the album a second time and my evaluation of this superb album intensified even more. How can an artist release a second album that is so accomplished, self-assured, confident, and, at times, even quite daring? Where does that come from? The composing talent, the ease with which she plays with others, the delicate control of shading, nuance, tone, and the sheer beauty of each piece, all combine into a statement of soulful maturity, emotional depth, and artistic integrity that many performers would be lucky to achieve in their tenth release. It is difficult to overstate how good an album Heart Song is. It bespeaks an artist who knows exactly where she is going with her music and how to get there. 

Before getting to the music itself, props must be given to the artist and her co-producer, Michael Rosen, who also mixed and engineered the album and also whoever mastered the final product at Ken Lee Mastering in Oakland California. This is one fantastic sounding album and putting it on while doing something that will distract from absorbing all that this recording offers will be cutting yourself short—trust me on this.

Most of the music on Heart Song is softer in nature, and much of it is pensive and reflective, but not all of it, which I will get to later. Accompanying Lebec on selected tracks are cellists Elizabeth Vandervennet, David Darling, and George Chavez, flugelhorn artist Jeff Oster, and drummer Michael Urbano. As stated above, each of them is integrated perfectly with the pianist's lead melodies, displaying their estimable respective musical gifts.

The album begins with "Silence," a beautiful, plaintive solo piano piece that puts Lebec's expert control of nuance on prominent display, as her hands maneuver deftly, traipsing lightly over the keys on this semi-melancholic song. "Lullaby," the first of Lebec's duets with cellist Vandervennet, is lovely, flowing with melodic warmth. The two artists play as one, complementing each other seamlessly. Real magic starts to happen on the title track, a delicate, somewhat sad, but achingly beautiful romantic tune with a fantastic  main refrain (later in the album, this piece is reprised as a duet with cellist David Darling, and both versions are excellent but have different emotional impact – at least for me).

As mentioned earlier, Lebec takes some chances on this album and "Pirates and Poets" is one of those. Opening with an eruption of eerie tape loops, the song begins as a mournful affair with Lebec accompanied by Vandervennet. Most of the mood is established by the emphasis on minor key notes, including a passage in the middle that teeters on the edge of very mild dissonance (but, to Lebec's credit, it works flawlessly). Just after that, Oster's flugelhorn enters the song, belting out sultry blues riffs that speak of late night affairs gone wrong. Lebec takes her piano into even darker territory as does cellist Vandervennet. The track is flat out killer! "It Was Always You" features the cello duties switching over to George Chavez, and admittedly he does have a different style of playing, albeit every bit as good as Vandervennet. The tempo is somewhat faster than some previous tracks, but yet the mood stays at least somewhat downcast, and I imagine the title may refer to ex-lovers meeting years after the break-up and one of them admits "it was always you that I loved." You may be able to tell by now how deeply Heart Song resonated with me on an emotional level due to the evocations I am describing in this review and yes, Heart Song is an emotional powerhouse for me.

Not everything here is dour, of course. "Afternoon Kisses" (which features Oster and drummer Michael Urbano) skirts with shy playfulness via its low-key jazziness. "A Break In The Clouds" could possibly be described as joyful, albeit in a subdued way, with piano and cello (Vandervennet) chasing each other lightheartedly across a musical landscape. Yet, I found myself most entranced by those tracks where Lebec truly pushes the envelope, such as "Ghost Ships," a haunting soundscape with piano, bells, vocals, and singing bowls, all of which brilliantly capture the image of the titular reference. "Moonlit Waters" features Lebec's singing voice, her breathy vocals weaving a tragic torch song worthy of a late night East Village club where broken-hearted souls have gathered to suffer their solitary pain in a collective setting. Assorted electronic textures and subdued tribal rhythms reverberate underneath piano on "Sacred Land" which also features Erick Gonzalez's bilingual spoken word vocals which seem to be about honoring and treasuring the earth (specifically, the "tree of life") and even life itself.

Three of the final four tracks are solo piano (the other being the aforementioned cello/piano version of the title track, this time titled "Heart Song Avec [with] Cello." Each of these three solo numbers is beautiful, from the pensive "Following The Rain" to "Away Into The Horizon" (the most upbeat piece on the album by far) and ending with "Green Leaves" on which Lebec takes the listener to Ireland for a short (1:42) visit. It's a great closing track, leavening the preceding reflective mood of the majority of the album with a dash of warmth and good cheer as if the artist is waving us goodbye with a smile on her face and the sun in her hair.

By now you can tell how blown away I was by Heart Song. As a jaded 18-years-long music reviewer, I don't impress anywhere near as easily as I once did. Heart Song has me excited to be a critic again, such is its deep, rich, emotional impact. Elise Lebec's talent and vision is staggering. What a future this superb pianist has indeed.

Heart Song is available at CD Baby, Amazon, and iTunes.

REVIEW: Paul Adams - Imaginings

Lake Front Productions

Imaginings, the new album helmed by multi-instrumentalist Paul Adams, is a delicious smorgasbord of tasty musical treats from across the globe, although that doesn't properly describe the unique approach Adams and his guest stars (see below) have applied to the world fusion genre. There is genre-bending, and then there is Imaginings. On the latter, the genre isn't bent, it's intertwined and intermixed and spun out into a glorious multi-hued comforting quilt of musical goodness, embodying an assortment of moods and evocations but all of them aimed at enriching the listener's well-being. In the accompanying one-sheet with the album, Adams states "We need diverse elements working together. We need playfulness, growth, and perhaps a pragmatic sense of mysticism to get us there. Imagination." Amen to that!

Joining Adams on the album are long-time collaborator and close friend, David Hoffman (flugelhorn and conch shell), as well as Elizabeth Geyer (piano) and Pravin Godkhindi (bansuri flute). Adams plays (get ready for it!) flutes, Chinese hulusi (a wind instrument), electric sitar, hang drum (a tuned metal percussion instrument), percussion, guitars, and piano. Without taking anything away from the other three artists, Adams' virtuosity and proficiency on all these instruments winds through the album's twelve tracks like a river coursing through a serene landscape. I have been a huge fan of this talented artist since I reviewed his album The Propertyof Water in 1997 and hopefully he is finally going to garner the praise which has more or less eluded him up to this point.

Moving on to the music itself, Imaginings encompasses a broad range of influences, but the presence of Godkhindi's bansuri and Adams' own sitar playing give the tracks where those instruments are predominant a distinct Indian sound, obviously. There are also moments where Native (wood) flute is emphasized. However, what makes this album so special is how these surface influences are sometimes peacefully overcome by the diversity within many tracks, e.g. the whimsically titled "Panda Bears at Breakfast" starts out with haunting Native flute against minimal piano accented with shakers, and you would think you are in for a serene meditative Native fusion peace—but ever so slowly other elements are introduced. The piano takes on a slightly jazzy undertone and before you know it, a shuffling funky rhythm has emerged and what sounds like a Hammond organ to me is churning away with a jazz refrain underneath the flute, which now and then flits about with unrestrained liveliness. It's a very cool transition. "Giggles and Grooves" opens with birdsong and, yes, a child giggling, and one might muse "hmm, a new age soundscape coming up" but then sitar comes into the picture, albeit played in a distinctly bluesy way, and as the track builds, one realizes that all these musical (and natural) elements are coalescing into something whole that is unlike its parts. Hawaiian-esque guitar and tuned percussion only serve to elevate the tropical spice in the piece. Wordless vocals and flugelhorn join the party and, well, I dare you to not smile. The title track morphs from a brief ambient-like opening to a midtempo chill-out tune, percolating beats under a sprightly flute melody, jazzy sitar, and synthesizer (un-credited, although I would guess it's Adams) shadings that color the song perfectly. "Like Blue and Velvet" once again starts off in a Native flute vein, but the early introduction of sensual blues piano steers the affair into a different direction, followed by dobro guitar. One can almost picture the sun cresting on the horizon as "Upon Early Rising" starts off, with plaintive piano, flute, and keyboard textures combine to evoke the slowly brightening sky at dawn. Unlike some other tracks on Imaginings, this one more or less just builds on the same elements and doesn't twist and turn into something else, but that is only meant as a description and not a criticism, because the song is so good that it could easily be from a Deuter album and you know that is high praise.

I wish I had the space to cover every track on the album in detail, but that would spoil the fun of hearing the other great songs (not mentioned in this review) for the first time with no preconceptions. I strongly recommend/suggest quality headphones or a decent stereo system for your first listen to this recording. Adams obviously spent a lot of time mixing this because every instrument sounds gorgeous and the balance of each one is spot on, along with the environmental sounds when they are present. Paul Adams, Elizabeth Geyer, David Hoffman, and Pravin Godkhindi have created something special on Imaginings. They have tapped into a universal element of music, a cohesive vision that encompasses a global perspective but merges those separate influences into a sum that invites everyone to the party. It may sound cliché but music is the universal language and Paul Adams is one of its great speakers.

Imaginings is currently available at CD Baby and will soon be available at Amazon and iTunes.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

REVIEW: Kori Linae Carothers - Fire In The Rainstorm

Fire In The Rainstorm
iRoknNod Records

Kori Linae Carothers journeyed once more to the woods of Vermont and Imaginary Road Studios where she recorded her previous album, Trillium. However this time around, Carothers decided to leave her electronic keyboards at home. Under the watchful gaze and artistic guidance of the production team of Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton, Carothers took the plunge and relied on piano, and piano alone, to convey her musical message on Fire in the Rainstorm. Apparently, her muse thought it was a great idea because the album is a revelation for this gifted musician and composer. cdbaby-logocdbaby-logoBy stripping away her assorted keyboards and baring her soul through the piano's ivories, her music has reached a new level of immediacy and intimacy. Carothers has always had an amount of dynamism in her music, and there is plenty of that here as well at times. However, on Fire in the Rainstorm she displays an uncommon level of shading and nuance that could only be achieved by "going back to basics" and letting a piano be her only voice. It's certainly her most self-assured recording to date.

Of course, the album sounds terrific. Tom Eaton saw to that (as he usually does). However, a superb job of engineering can also reveal an artist's shortcomings much more clearly than a less-than-admirable job. No such problem with Fire in the Rainstorm, as the clarity of every note and chord reveals Carothers' immense talent and complete control over the keys, as well as her mastery of nuance and subtlety. I was surprised time and time again at how she combined a level of total composure and self-assuredness with deep emotion and human warmth. After reading the liner notes, I probably shouldn't have been surprised at the latter. Carothers dedicated the album to her daughter Claire who has served overseas, and I'm sure that wellspring of emotion, once tapped into, served forth with plenty of inspiration for these twelve tracks.

There is a signature sound throughout Fire in the Rainstorm, even though the individual tracks contain plenty of variety. The opening "A Day Like No Other" features a melody which flows with a feeling of restrained power while "Nunu's Sunrise" bubbles lightly over with a gentle optimism. "Meadow" features a delicate repeating refrain underneath a sunny-day lead melody and seems to convey a sense of fun-filled movement, like a musical sensation of skipping or running through the titular reference. In stark contrast, "Tidal Rift" has an edge of dramatic tension although the bridge mellows out nicely before returning to the main melody. The title track is surprisingly more subtle than I would have expected at the outset but builds to a powerful passage, subsides, and then escalates to an even greater sense of urgency and passion.
The remaining seven tracks explore various nooks and crannies of the artist's memories (Carothers describes the album as a "collection of personal stories told by solo piano soundscapes"). Whether slightly sad or somber, cheerful and triumphant, or passionate and powerful, in each case you can "feel" the emotion that the artist is injecting into each note and chord. Kori Linae Carothers took a chance with this recording and from my perspective she has succeeded in uncovering an entirely new facet of her musical personality, one that invites the listener into the artist's life in a personal and intimate way. Fire in the Rainstorm is one fire that you will not be in a hurry to put out.

Fire In The Rainstorm is available directly from the artist (via bandcamp) as well as Amazon, iTunes, and CDBaby.

Friday, May 8, 2015

REVIEW: Fiona Joy - Signature - Solo

Signature - Solo
Tiny Island Music (a division of Blue Coast Records)

Fiona Joy's Signature - Solo, her first solo piano album, is something special and is, to my ears, her best work to date. Fiona Joy's earlier albums did a fine job of showcasing both her piano playing and her composing talent, but by putting her in the solo spotlight, her inherent warmth, sensitive touch on the ivory keys, and superb control over a variety of styles, tempos and moods is much more clearly laid out for the listener. This is a pure treasure of a solo piano recording, one that grows on you after each successive playing (and you will probably want to hit "repeat" more than once when you play it). In addition to the music itself, the album sounds tremendous (the liner notes state "recorded by Cookie Marenco at OTR Studios" and Marenco did an exemplary job. High notes ae pure and crystalline and the lower register punches through with drama and passion.

"Ceremony" opens the album with a rapidly played upper register note progression that soon moves down the scale to the middle register with a playful exuberance. Fiona Joy balances upper and middle with adroit skill and artistry, finding the perfect balancing point, and sometimes taking the melody down into the lower registers with equal aplomb. The refrain on this track is ultra-infectious and certainly conveys a sense of the title's evocation of something worth celebrating. "Grace," the second track, goes in the opposite direction, the music being pensive and somber, yet laced with a warm gentility at times (also an occasional deep-seated sense of power). Fiona Joy's subdued playing, with expert command of nuance (especially in the early passages) is beautiful. "Fair Not" has an ebb and flow feel to it, cast in a shadowy mood that is mysteriously romantic and sometimes neo-classical. I hear a subtle gothic (as in gothically romantic) influence at times, but it may not be discernible to everyone. "Once Upon Impossible" (intriguing title, that) features a fluid lead melody with a melancholic air to it to it. The track will appear later on the album done as a duet with acoustic guitarist Lawrence Blatt (the only other artist on the album and only on that one song). Fiona Joy likes to play around with time signatures occasionally and on this song she handles this technique well, slowing down and then elevating the tempo to emphasize the drama of the piece. On "Calling Earth," the sustain pedal (and its reverb effect) conveys (to me) a sense of loneliness and despair which, I imagine, is intentional as perhaps this song could potentially portray being adrift in the blackness (one might see this as music to accompany Sandra Bullock's character trapped above Earth in the film Gravity or that's perhaps my isolated take on it). "Invisible Train" (yet another enigmatic title) captures the feel of traveling at great speed, yet with an undercurrent of darkness or foreboding. Fiona Joy's playing bursts with a mixture of unbridled energy and dramatic tension. Her fingers fly with breathtaking rapidity yet never falter once, even when the upper register explodes in a flurry. Great technique! Other tracks include the reflective tone-poem like title track (one of my favorites not just here but among all the songs she has written over her career), the quasi-minimalism of "From The Mist" (with an undercurrent of stately drama), and the closing "Little Star" with its gentle feeling of nostalgia and a deliberate yet slow tempo. On "Once Upon Impossible" (the second version of the song on the album), besides Lawrence Blatt's guitar (which is quite subdued in the mix), Fiona Joy also sings, her lovely voice giving the track a pronounced, almost ethereal, sense of mystical beauty (part of that is how her vocals are recorded, with some reverb so that they sound especially alluring and mysterious. Her singing reminds me of some of the female vocalists on the Projekt label with that same quality of whispery, breathy, dark sensuality.

While I have enjoyed all of Fiona Joy's previous piano/ensemble recordings or her blend of piano and keyboards, e.g. Blue Dream, 600 Years In A Moment, ICE-Piano Slightly Chilled, et al., I was unprepared for what Signature - Solo unveiled to me. Pared down to the bare essentials, Fiona Joy's piano playing can not only stand on its own, but is a delightful feast for the ears, full of emotion, resplendent with artistry and technique, and draped in a myriad of emotions that comes through on each and every note and chord. It's sure to be one of the best piano recordings of this year and represents a new high water mark for this talented woman, for whom the future looks ever brighter all the time.

Signature - Solo is available at Bandcamp, Amazon, and iTunes.