Thursday, January 29, 2015

COOL NEWS!

Finally, and long overdue I might add, I have started converting issues of Wind and Wire, the magazine I started, edited, and published, featuring the best reviewers in the new age and ambient business (in my humble opinion), to free PDF downloads (well, they are actually on my Google drive so technically you are not downloading anything, as a result you can have no worries as far as viruses go). Now you can either see what started it all or revisit "the good old days." The premier issue, featured interviews with Kevin Kendle, Jeff Pearce, and Jon Jenkins and Howard Givens (of the Spotted Peccary label), as well as our first batch of reviews from Hannah Shapero, David Hassell, Chad Gould, Judy Markworth, Neil Leacy, myself, plus a Suzanne Ciani concert review by Kathy Parsons.

Take a trip down nostalgia lane and view the first issue of Wind and Wire from 1997 by clicking here.

More issues will be coming as I convert them to PDFs. The entire 12 issue run will be available as soon as I can get this done...all free of charge (duh!). Issue 2 will have interviews with Tim Story, Chuck Wild (Liquid Mind), Meg Bowles, and Rob Eberhard Young.

As each issue is uploaded for viewing, you may find it interesting - and amusing - to see how "rough" the first two or three issues were (I think I used 10 different fonts in issue 1) and by the end, I actually was getting the hang of being a publisher and knowing the art of layout. I will share anecdotes when I post each issue. For issue one, I'll let you know that the name of Wind and Wire was not my first choice. My first choice was SoundWaves, but when I did a copyright search, it was already taken. How I came up with Wind and Wire is something that I have no memory of whatsoever. Divine providence, I guess. I hope you enjoy this look back at Wind and Wire's roots.

Oh, and PLEASE leave me some comments even if you think this is a dumb idea.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

REVIEW: John Lyell- Reflection of Time



Reflection of Time
Self-released (2014)


Minneapolis ambient artist John Lyell purposely tries to take each successive album in a slightly different direction (he cites Steve Roach as an influence in this regard, not just his music but his always-morphing style as well). It didn't take long during my first listen to Reflection of Time to discern that either. Lyell's previous release, Eternity, was a soft-edged space exploration with an emphasis on waves of flowing electronic melodies, sometimes punctuated by gentle pulsing rhythms. Not dark by any stretch of the imagination, it was closer to the spacier side of Jonn Serrie's early work. On his newest recording, Lyell morphs that formula somewhat and invites the listener deeper into the inky-black backwaters of the galaxy and sometimes out into the space between galaxies where nothingness beckons with a sense of both awe and forlornness. Lyell's music is still not what I would label as dark or "scary," but it's more moody and evoking of the loneliness and isolation of deep space travel (or what I might assume it to be).

One of the most distinct differences musically is a shift to less of a melodic-based approach and more of a textural one, as well as the use of retro electronic "SF" effects, e.g. burbling synths, static noises, spacy sounds. Yes, Lyell's deft touch with shimmering bell-like tones is still present but so are many instances where the electronics, devoid of overt musicality, are also at center stage. It's to Lyell's credit that he deftly manages to blend these apparently disparate elements into a cohesive whole, somehow mixing them into an alchemy that evokes both golden age science fiction films with their synthesized sounds and early electronic music releases (from artists like the late Michael Garrison or Patrick Gleason or even Larry Fast, perhaps) as well as a contemporary sensibility with top notch production quality. Lyell's discs have always sounded good and Reflection of Time is no different, especially since it was mastered by Robert Rich, although credit is also due the artist himself who handled production and engineering.

Another thing that I give props to Lyell for is how he avoids the ambient/spacemusic pitfall of extra-long tracks, i.e. individual songs of over 10 minute duration. Apparently, he favors brevity over track duration, of which I am particularly grateful. The album contains eight tracks, averaging about 7 minutes or so in length.

On "The Deep Unknown," we are off cruising into the blackness with a repeating pattern of sonar-esque blips (like a repeating radio signal) set off against a series of shadowy synth washes and whooshing effects that sometimes echo off into the distance in a forlorn fashion. Things brighten a bit on "Above the Stratos" with static-effect noises intermixed with retro-synth SF-themed sounds, blipping and bleeping, and ethereal chorals. It's hard to "describe" the overtly SF/computer-like synth effects, but you will know them when you hear them. The ebbing and flowing static in the background might grate on some folks' ears, but likely only if you are listening on headphones. On "Dreaming In Sine Waves" we are settled in for a dreamy smooth passage through deep space with twinkling bell tones and lots of whooshing sounds and an occasional burbling series of synth effects. The loneliness of isolation is conveyed in "A Far Away Place" with more background static-like sounds (almost akin to waves continuously crashing on a beach but distorted) and the barest hint of melodic content in the way of a occasional synth wash or keyboard tone. "Space Ethereal" features reverbed bell tones and gentle bass rhythms pinging into the emptiness, cradled by vibrato chorals and occasional synthesized sighs of relief.

Three more tracks flesh out the release: "Dreaming In Sine Waves 2," "the title track, and Crossing the Barrier." All three take elements already presented in previous songs and shuffles them in how they are used, so that no one track sounds too much like another and yet all eight songs have definite cohesion. "Crossing The Barrier" is the sparsest piece on the album; it's more or less a layering of drones and tones gently easing the album to its warm, amiable conclusion.

I admire how John Lyell has not settled into a successful groove and has opted to allow his spacemusic to evolve over these last three releases. From a purely personal standpoint, I don't know that I "like" Reflection of Time as much as I did Eternity (his previous recording), but I recognize how much care Lyell put into his new album and applaud him in that regard. Reflection of Time is perfect for late-night imaginary stargazing or maybe star-tripping is a better phrase. This is a great soundtrack for a dark-room imaginary excursion to Orion's Belt and other distant destinations out among the comsos.


Reflection of Time is available from iTunes or CDBaby

Saturday, January 24, 2015

REVIEW: James Asher and Sandeep Raval - Drum Travel

James Asher and Sandeep Raval
(featuring Simon Brewin and Carolina Maggio)
Drum Travel
Starfield Music

James Asher has been at the forefront of world fusion music since releasing such acclaimed recordings as Feet in the Soil (1996), Tigers of the Raj (1998), and Raising the Rhythms (1999). These albums displayed Asher's impressive musicality and inventive compositions as well as his meticulous attention to detail in the production and engineering areas. In 2014, Asher (keyboards, drums, percussion, hammered dulcimer) joined forces with renowned drummer/percussionist Sandeep Raval and the two artists have crafted a genre-smashing 2-disc collection that will almost certainly set the world fusion genre on fire in the same way that Feet in the Soil did almost 20 years ago.

With two discs totaling 143 minutes of music and 20 tracks featuring a dizzying variety of musical styles, trying to adequately describe this recording is akin to critiquing a 10-course tasting menu at a Michelin 3-star (highest rating) restaurant in Paris. Imagine attempting to capture in words each nuance of spice, of sweet and savory, of fire and subtlety, the textures, the tastes, the visual appeal of the plating of each course.

Besides Asher and Raval, two other artists play significant roles on the album: Simon Brewin on guitar and bass and Carolina Maggio who contributes her fantastic vocals and plays charango (an Andean string instrument of the lute family). Other musicians contribute on congas, violin, bansuri, melodic, cahon, sarangi and vocals. Brewin and Maggio are clearly the most involved alongside Asher and Raval, though.

Disc 1 features 14 tracks and kicks off with "Fugira," a spirited vocal track (I believe sung in Spanish or something similar) backed by jazz guitar and a mid tempo beat established by percussion and trap kits drums. The song has a samba-like feel to it, propelled by Asher and Raval's assorted beats, while Brewin unfurls some tasty electric guitar licks in the bridge and Maggio's vocals are fiery and passionate. The instrumental "Takita" features a wide assortment of drums and hand percussion galore all working up to a frenzied energy. "How It Feels," slows things down. Maggio picks up her charango as well as singing (in English). While the song has a sad, despairing feel to it, her beautiful voice is mesmerizing. Asher's and Raval's percussion work lends a distinct world flavor to the song but the rhythm is subdued so as to not interfere with the melancholic nature of the song itself. "Bring On Brasil" changes gears with a festive bossa nova influence. This instrumental track bursts with powerful percolating rhythms from Asher and Raval - the perfect soundtrack to a frenzied street dance in Rio during festival. "Drums for the Dragon" plays like Japanese taiko meets Caribbean funk while "Chili Pickle Chaser" pumps up the late '60s jazz fusion influence with chugging organ and funky guitar licks aplenty while trap kit drums lay down the groove. "Neptune Skank" sprinkles on sensual reggae spices with blistering electric guitar in the bridge and "Pappadoms from Persia" marries traditional Indian instrumentation (esraj and tabla) with a contemporary beat which propels the track into high BPM territory along with soaring wordless vocals. The last track on disc 1, "Seven Veils," is a 14 -minute excursion into Indian tabla rhythms and sultry melodies merged with bluesy guitar and psychedelic, swirling, echoed chants, winding down to barely a whisper by track's end.

Disc 2, subtitled "Tipi Experience," "deepens" the rhythmic journeys. It's a mellower collection of tracks with different musical influences. Despite its title, "African Angel" comes across more like a straight-up folk song (Maggio sings in English on this track) with a dash of world beat rhythms played on hand drums. "Los Cuentos" is a Peruvian-influenced instrumental with a pan pipe lead melody accented by percussion, drums, and charango. "Hey Wanaina" changes the focus to Native American and the track features chanting and Native drums The song has a joyous, celebratory feel with a great chorus of singers accompanying Maggio later in the song. After that song, the album takes on a different feel entirely; one might say it becomes more serious. That doesn't mean sedate necessarily, as fast-paced rhythms are present much of the time until the last track. Moods range from darkly introspective with dramatic tension ("If The Earth Could Speak") to a frenetic build-up of tension and power (the Cajun-flavored "Accelerando" which ends in an orgasmic explosion of drumming ferocity). The album concludes with the 30 minute "On The Outbreath" a slow, sensual, rhythmic Indian meditation, featuring an assortment of ethnic percussion, bansuri flute, vocals and an underlying drone. As a counterpoint to much of what has come before it, this last song is decidedly slower and deliberately paced - a brilliant ending to the album which allows the listener to "power down" so to speak.

James Asher and Sandeep Raval prove themselves to be master drummers par excellence throughout this album. Carolina Maggio's and Simon Brewin's talents flesh out the rhythms with superb contributions. The four artists combined have created something extra special with Drum Travel. As flattering as my descriptions of the music on this album may be, trust me when I say that hearing the music is light years better. Magical, mystical, mesmerizing and memorable - Drum Travel is all that and so much more. Hands down, this is one of the greatest world beat recordings in the history of the genre.

Drum Travel is available at iTunes and Amazon

Monday, December 22, 2014

REVIEW: Kendra Logozar - Peace

Kendra Logozar
Peace
Self-released (2014)

Kendra Logozar (wife of fellow pianist Michael Logozar) treats thirteen carols to a soft-as-the-falling-snow treatment on Peace, an impressive solo piano effort for this promising performer. My esteemed colleague, Kathy Parsons, stated of the album "Kendra Logozar has created a true work of art with Peace - one that will be a favorite Christmas album for many years to come." and I completely agree with her. Holidays are stressful enough and we can never have enough "peaceful" music to help us unwind and that is what Logozar delivers throughout this heartfelt and gentle recording. Even on normally rambunctious tunes, such as "Deck the Halls" or "Jingle Bells" or the spiritual "Go Tell it on the Mountain," Logozar manages to dial back the "oomph" and emphasize the soul of the composition. I imagine the notion of a "quiet" take on "Jingle Bells" might surprise you and even make you think "Yuck." But trust me, under the artist's carefully controlled nuanced playing, the carol is recognizable yet somehow soothes the listener instead of making her or him get up and dance. The same thing with "Deck the Halls" on which Logozar touches the keys with an almost inhuman grace and gentility.

Now, obviously, Peace is meant to be a late-at-night listen, when the kids are asleep with the anticipation of Christmas morning coloring their dreams. Playing this at a dinner party with all the hubbub and noise would be counter-intuitive to its purpose, which is to help the listener(s) relax and indulge in the beauty inherent in these time-tested seasonal classics. While Peace is not as minimal as George Winston's December, it is equally conducive to quiet times curled up in front of a fire, hopefully with a loved one, and pausing to reflect on the season (something we could probably all do with more of), allowing the patient playing of Logozar to carry away at least part of your trials and tribulations.

Kendra Logozar does right by all thirteen carols on the album, including a duet with husband Michael on a particularly haunting and evocative "Carol of the Bells" (the one time on the album when some fireworks truly fly - these two really get into it as the piece progresses). The last two tracks, "There's a Song in the Air" and "The First Noel," close out Peace with a sedate sensation of calm. Peace is a wondrous assortment of carols performed with heart by a talented pianist who understand that there is enough bluster in winter winds - let the music comfort you like a cozy blanket when the cold winds blow.
 
Peace is available directly from the artist, CDBaby, Amazon, and iTunes.

REVIEW: Aidia - ...all is bright

Aidia
…all is bright
Aidia Music (2014)

I always maintain that the success of an EP recording is how it leaves the listener wanting more. That's how I felt after the first playing of Aidia's delightful holiday music EP, …all is bright. At 15 minutes, this gem of a recording is over much too soon for my taste. Aidia has a fantastic voice as she shows on the two vocal tracks, a simply beautiful take on "O Holy Night" (with only piano accompaniment), and a stunningly joyous version of the classic song from the now-legendary TV Christmas special, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the touching ballad "There's Always Tomorrow." The latter features the vocalist backed by orchestral strings and keyboards as well as a wind instrument in the bridge. This song stopped in my tracks, so perfectly does Aidia's voice get inside the lyrics. Seldom do I admit to being this moved by a singer's voice but the best way to state it is that she just nails it! Besides the two vocal tracks, the recording also features an original composition by Kevin Keller, who also arranged, recorded and mixed the EP. The song is "The Snowbird's Waltz" and it features a lovely flowing piano melody in the lead accented by orchestral strings. It is true to the waltz motif and one can just about picture lovers ice-dancing on a pond with snow falling around them. "What Child Is This" features guitar in the opening prelude with orchestral strings for texture and what I believe is either an oboe or an English horn takes the lead melody, turning things over to a flute for some improvisation on the theme in the bridge. It's a delicate arrangement and a beautiful one at that. Closing out the album is an unexpected version of "Carol of the Bells." While completely recognizable in its uptempo liveliness, the addition of subtle - but certainly noticeable - electronic music elements (you could conceivably hear them as quasi-Berlin, even). No matter how I try to describe it, you have to hear it - it works completely, so kudos to Aidia and Keller for going out on a Christmas tree limb on this one. Let's hope that the next release from Aidia is longer as her talents shine brightly all through this short but oh-so-sweet recording.
 
...all is bright as a download can be purchased from iTunes and Amazon.

 

 

REVIEW: Ryan Marvel - Winter

Ryan Marvel
Winter
Ryan Marvel Music (2013)

Pianist Ryan Marvel lends his touch to some "marvelous" arrangements of traditional holiday carols, both secular and spiritual, on the aptly titled Winter. Marvel is a gifted artist and an imaginative arranger, something immediately apparent on the opening track, "Three Good Kings" on which "We Three Kings" is lightly brushed with subtle (and occasionally, not so subtle) jazz influences - not enough to make the tune unrecognizable, but with new wrinkles nonetheless. While not every carol/song is treated to this amount of improvisational embellishment, Marvel's goal seems to be painting each selection with just enough extra flourish to distinguish his music from cookie-cutter carols. In every case, the arrangement never detracts from the beauty of the original and, actually, it sometimes enhances it, such as on his lovely rendition of "O, Holy Night." One carol that stands out for brazen originality and features the most imaginative arrangement is "Little Didge Boy" which, of course, is "Little Drummer Boy" and yes, it features didgeridoo (played by Doug Powell). Now, I admit hearing the growling and barking of a didge set against the melody of "Little Drummer Boy" can take some getting used to, but it's more than a "novelty" take on this classic, as Marvel also jazzes up the heart of the song as well on piano.

Marvel shines brightest when he takes a quiet approach to an interpretation which allows his nuanced style of soft playing to come to the forefront. "Walking in the Air" carries a hint of melancholy. In the middle of the song, Marvel (per the liner notes) pays homage to George Winston's ostinato motif. The haunting melody perfectly captures the image of a twilight walk through falling snow - at least for me it does. Marvel's sole original composition is "Winter," a somber piece that clocks in at 8+ minutes that sheds its minimalism part way through and turns to a more classical-oriented style.

Besides Powell's didgeridoo, Heidi Mausbach plays cello on an evocative version of "Coventry Carol" while flutist Leslie Anne Harrison's lilting flute transports the listener to Ireland on the medley track "Aran Boat Song/Holly and the Ivy." The transition from the sorrowful "Aran Boat Song" to the lively "Holly and the Ivy" is seamless - much to my surprise.

Marvel's last three selections are a wonderful trio of classics. First is a superb rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" that captures both the magic of the carol as well as its sadness. "Silent Night" receives an appropriately respectful treatment and is quite minimal at times and always sincerely reverent. Appropriately, the last song, "Auld LangSy ne" sends us into the New Year. Once again, Marvel plugs into the heart of the song, playing the tune in a particularly plaintive yet also optimistic fashion.

Winter is a winner, pure and simple. It's an album meant to be enjoyed with loved ones during the quiet times of the holiday. Bravo, Ryan Marvel, bravo.
 
Winter is available directly from the artist or at CDBaby.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

REVIEW: Cornell Kinderknecht and Martin McCall - Dreamtime



Dreamtime
Little Greyhound Music

Dreamtime (from wind instrumentalist and keyboard player Cornell Kinderknecht and drummer/percussionist Martin McCall is pleasingly paradoxical. I can’t remember the last time (if ever) that I heard an album that has so much percussion and rhythms (some of them frenetic in tempo) that still managed to be so calming and so soothing to jangled nerves, without revving up the listener and inducing him or her to get up and dance. I've listened to this superb recording at least ten times and I still don’t understand how these two masterful musicians did it. I suppose at this point I should just relax and enjoy the beautiful, serene, ride. And it is a wonderfully relaxing journey into a land of assorted world influences and lovely flowing melodies (the latter quality which Kinderknecht exhibited on his last solo release, Nightfall).

It's important for me to list the array of instruments that each artist plays so you can appreciate each of these performers' virtuosity. Kinderknecht's primary instruments are of the wind variety, and on Dreamtime he plays Native flutes, soprano sax, bansuri flute, English horn, Anasazi flute, and keyboards (and he utilizes his keyboards masterfully!). McCall's list is even longer and includes djembe, shakers, taiko drum, tom-toms, electronic timpani, cymbals, gong, bells, tambourine, methal, drum head, udu, bass drums, and doumbek. Phew! I wonder what his studio looks like!

Eight of the twelve tracks feature Kinderknecht playing Native flute, so it's obvious that many of the album's songs have a Native influence present, but there is no way I would describe this as strictly a Native flute fusion release. It’s not just because Kinderknecht doesn't fall back solely on Native elements in these songs, but it's also about how McCall uses non-Native instruments in laying down his rhythms and beats. One could (and perhaps should) label this music as cross-cultural, since the wind instruments and the percussion/drums are not always geographically aligned.

Two things struck me as I delved into the music on Dreamtime. One was how adeptly Kinderknecht incorporates his keyboard textures and embellishments. It's textbook in how he fleshes out the overall sound of the songs (all but one track features some keyboards). The artist knows just how to balance these soundscape colorings into the mix so that they are heard but never dominate. That's a true artisan skill. The other, and stronger, sonic element is the ultra-deft approach to mixing so that McCall's vast assortment of percussion and drums never overpower the overall meditative/serene mood of the music. It's almost uncanny and I don’t know if I have ever heard anything like it in all my years of reviewing.

I'm not sure trying to describe individual tracks would adequately convey how special Dreamtime is, but I can at least attempt to paint a written picture. "Big Sky" features a pensive Native flute line buoyed by swirling synthesizer shadings and propelled by a rapid tempo drum beat on dejembe. "One Summer" has the drum beats played on doumbek in a sedate, almost mournful tempo, while the lead flute is held by an Indian bansuri, which lends the song an overall air of mystery and the exotic. On "Marble Falls," McCall flexes his musical muscles and incorporates an assemblage of taiko drums, tom-toms, electronic timpani, cymbals and gongs, while Kinderknecht returns to the Native flute and layers in even more pronouncedly swirling ambient-ish keyboards.  At this point in the recording, adroit listeners will clue in to how these two artists have meshed their talents to yield a truly symbiotic listening experience in how the melody lines intertwine with the layers of rhythms and beats. The album takes a celestial turn on "Voyager" as Kinderknecht's soprano sax floats above layers of spacy synthesizer soundsculptures and shimmering textures with McCall's subdued taiko drums pounding out a subtle slow-tempo beat. Kinderknecht goes solo on "Solitude" playing both Native flute and English horn with piano accompaniment as well as orchestral string embellishments. "Dragonfly" hints at Indian motifs with bansuri flute and tamboura drones while ethnic rhythms beat out a sensual undertone.

Dreamtime is a special recording - a true original in how it marries assorted ethnic percussion with wind instruments and synthesizers to craft an album that manages to calm the disquiet mind with a unique blend of melody and rhythm. Kinderknecht and McCall exhibit an uncommon symmetry in their shared musical vision and the result is an album that would be ideal for massage, relaxation, yoga, or even just…well, waking dreaming.

The album can be purchased at CDBaby, Amazon, or directly from the artist.

Monday, December 1, 2014

REVIEW: Rick Sparks - Endless

RICK SPARKS
EndlessSelf-released

As sometimes happens to me, I find myself amazed at how professional and accomplished some artists' first or second releases can sound these days. It's almost as if these recording musicians come out of the gate as seasoned pros! Such is the case with Rick Sparks on his second release, Endless. The cover states "Quiet piano to replenish your spirit" and that statement sells this album short by a landslide. Sparks' use of keyboard textures and embellishments, to accent his mellow and warm piano lead melodies, is way ahead of many of his contemporaries, to the point that I was shocked to learn that this was a homegrown effort (all the arrangements are his, and he composed two of the album's ten tracks as well as handling all the production). Even the cover artwork (a gorgeous starscape from photographer Ben Canales - I want it on my office wall!) is excellent as are the choice in fonts (and boy, that is rare).

Sparks has chosen an interesting and varied collection of tunes for the album. There are covers of songs from Gordon Lightfoot and fellow pianist Bill Leslie, as well some traditional covers, and some religious hymns. This diversity points to Sparks' formidable versatility as well as his cohesive music persona which manages to pull all of these considerably disparate sources together into an ear-pleasing musical whole. Well done! According to the liner notes, four of these songs are Scottish in origin and one is Irish, and while echoes of those two countries can be heard, I would not classify any of this as "world music" due to how expertly Sparks' integrates that element into his arrangements. This speaks loudly of Sparks' unique music and artistic vision - the tracks always instill a sense of peace and quiet in the listener.

Star-shimmering synths kick off the first track, a cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "Beautiful" alongside a mellow piano lead which soon leads into a nicely sampled guitar accompanying the piano and accented by sparse echoed synth textures. This is as close as you can get to classic (and I do mean CLASSIC) new age music from the golden era of the late 80s and early 90s. What a fantastic opening track - it had me hooked on the first playing! Next, the traditional "Dream Angus" (which does carry a hint of either Scotland or Ireland in the melody) comes to the listener with a soft, gentle piano melody, later embellished with subtle strings - just gorgeous. The injection (later in the song) of some lovely chorale samples is spot on and elevates the beauty of the tune even higher. Sparks' first original is next, the title track, and it's a subtly somber tune but continues the wonderfully serene piano playing which imbues the entirety of this recording. Once again, strings are applied with utmost discretion and proficiency - Sparks should hold classes on how to layer in synth strings to many other artists. A lilting flute accompanies the artist's piano on "Be Thou My Vision" and, as much as I hate being a broken record, once again Sparks' sound echoes so much of what made new age music so great two decades ago. However, don’t misunderstand me - this is not an homage disc or a throwback. Sparks' has a (now) unique way OF blending his piano leads with synths, but the sound itself is wholly contemporary in that these are fresh melodies.

As the album progressed, I kept waiting for a slip-up on the artist's part (hey, I'm a cynic), but Sparks' kept performing admirably, with a veteran's artistry, track after track, from his cover of Bill Leslie's "Portree" (wonderfully subtle synth pads underneath the piano - and those bell tones!) to another original track, "At Rest" (another nicely layered in flute line as well as discrete chorales), and a truly beautiful version of "Loch Lomond" on which the integration of superb chorales brings to mind no less a comparison than to the artist who exemplifies that kind of music, the estimable Bill Douglas.

Endless is, to me, one of the top albums of 2014, which is saying a lot because there was a lot of great music released this year. However, Rick Sparks just has "it," that indefinable quality attributed to fantastic music, and there's no sense denying it. Endless is one of the more "complete" albums I've received in a while - gorgeous graphics, flawless production, and virtuoso performance. Pick up a copy (or download it, but you'll miss the artwork - trust me) before it sells out!

Endless is available at CDBaby, Amazon and iTunes

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

REVIEW: Peter Kater and R. Carlos Nakai - Ritual



Ritual

Legendary artists R. Carlos Nakai (Native flute, Eagle Bone whistle, chanting) and Peter Kater (piano) reunite for their first collaboration in over ten years and are joined by acclaimed reed player Paul McCandless (soprano sax, oboe, and English horn) along with talented cellist Jaques Morelenbaum and vocalist Trisha Bowden on the superb release Ritual. A wholly improvised recording, Kater states (in the liner notes) "It is an offering and invitation for us all to meet in this place of pure being-ness that transcends time, duality and concept. It is an expression of the totality and gift of each moment and the awareness that the experience of this journey is its own reward." Ritual is a thing of beauty, flowing from one track to the other, anchored by Nakai's haunting, lilting flute and Kater's superbly nuanced piano, but also featuring some major contributions from McCandless whose expert reed work is on display multiple times throughout the album. In fact, in some ways, McCandless is the "wild card" on the recording, giving an extra artistic "value added" to the songs on which he appears. Not to take anything away from Kater or Nakai–let's face it, they are each deserving of the years and years of praise that has been heaped on them. Just the same, McCandless fans, especially of his work in the landmark ensembles The Paul Winter Consort and Oregon should definitely seek out Ritual.

While some tracks have a drifting, meditative feel to them, almost dream-like at times, others contain drama and passion. The middle of the opening track "Meeting At Twilight" when Nakai, Kater, and McCandless gather together and pirouette musically round each other with celebratory joyfulness is one such occasion, although the opening and conclusion of the song are somber and haunting. "Standing as One" begins with a minimal piano melody over which Morelenbaum's cello sighs mournfully. As all the songs on Ritual do, this one evolves over its 8-plus minute duration, eventually folding in Nakai's soulful flute and Bowden's wordless vocals. It's worth noting that with only seven tracks on the album, yet a running time of 62 minutes, "average" track time is 9 minutes (in reality, track length varies from 6:54 to 12:34). Because of these longer-than-usual durations, the music has more room to breathe, to evolve, and to allow each artist to explore his or her own contributions. I greatly enjoyed this aspect of Ritual; it made the music come alive and kept any one element from overstaying its welcome. In addition, the improvisatory nature of the music also revealed the sense of simpatico that all the players have for one another as each one exhibits an instinctive feel for when to step into the spotlight and when to recede into the shadows. Yet, despite this being an improvised recording, there is no perfunctory noodling or overtly-flashy soloing. In fact, if the liner notes didn’t state that this was improvised, as opposed to composed music, you'd be hard pressed to tell. The only clue may be in how the unforced fluidity of the melodies comes across as organic in nature. "Invoking the Elements" has Nakai and Kater starting things off, the keening sound of the former's Native flute matched by the plaintive minimal piano notes by the latter. Gradually, McCandless joins in, but this is done so subtly, it's almost imperceptible. A lower register flute cries out at the onset of "Space Within" (Nakai is such a superb flutist), and once again Kater joins in with just a short series of notes at first before eventually playing a more pronounced lead melody line. On this track it's just the two lead artists, musical compatriots for years, each one dexterously flitting and flowing around the other - what a wonderful, intimate musical moment (later in the song, Nakai chants/speaks and you might get shivers up and down your spine, with the gravitas of the music matched by its beauty).

Do not make the mistake of dismissing or classifying Ritual as a simple, "relaxation" recording (although there is nothing wrong with that description in and of itself). There is something much deeper going on here, a melding of intelligence with heart, a musical hybrid that speaks to both the listener's mind and the listener's soul. The emotion (conveyed by the superb music) present throughout the album, the artistry exhibited by the musicians, the haunting quality of the improvisational melodies (regardless who has the lead) combine to make Ritual a recording of rare beauty and one which is equally enjoyable as a direct and attentive listening experience or played in the background (frankly, I would don headphones and soak this music up, savoring each piano note, each lilting flute melody, each plaintive reed accompaniment, as if lingering over a delicious meal). Of note, the album is superbly engineered and mixed by Kater with a great mastering job by David Glasser, and, as if the sublime music wasn't enough inducement, the CD is contained within some truly gorgeous artwork. Ritual will almost certainly land on many critics' Top 10 lists for 2014.

Ritual is available at iTunes and Amazon