Saturday, February 28, 2015

REVIEW: CHRIS NOLE - Songs of the Wide Horizon (repost)

The following review originally ran in Wind and Wire, the webzine, in 2004. It is being reposted here as a courtesy to the artist.

Songs of the Wide Horizon
Moulin D'or Recordings (2003)
I am in love with this album! It reminds me of the very best work from pianist Wayne Gratz (on what I consider his best releases, Blue Ridge and A Gift of the Sea). Seldom do I hear piano (both solo and ensemble) that captures a vision and feeling so perfectly. About two minutes into the opening track, "To The Horizon," when Nole brings in the rhythmic accompaniment, it's easy to imagine yourself cruising down the long stretch of highway pictured on the album cover. The piano has a rolling sound to it as the drum kit pounds out a perfectly-paced midtempo rhythm. Music this fine just makes the miles fly by - I should know because I play a lot of this kind of music on road trips. It's not new age, it's not adult contemporary and it's not smooth jazz. It's that particular hybrid that takes the best from each genre and produces a hybrid filled with true feeling, accessible music, and polished production.

While assisted by a few other players on various guitars on selected tracks, most of what you'll hear on this CD is all Chris Nole. This is someone who really knows his way around the production of ensemble instrumental music. Engineering is textbook; you could easily think this CD came from a big house, such as Narada or Windham Hill (except that Nole's music is tons better than what comes from those labels these days). I sure wish FM radio would play music like this; it would make riving, even in rush hour, so much more enjoyable.
And that's where Songs of the Wide Horizon excels, i.e. it's ideal driving music, provided you prefer acoustic instruments (primarily piano) where the electronic keyboards are used to embellish or as sampled versions of the real thing. From the jaunty Irish-inflected "Far and Wide" with its jig-like rhythms, sampled accordion, and rolling piano chords, to the gentle melancholy of "First Rain" (solo piano with a hint of synth textures), to the wistful and sadly romantic "Miles to Go" (graced by spot-on assorted synth strings, including a great solo cello line) and ending with the perfect closing track, "Homeward" (which uses Copland-like strings to color the piano melody with nostalgia and genuine warmth), the album is a nearly perfect execution of music that is "mainstream" without sounding the least bit trite, commercial, overblown or false. I could probably leave this in a car's CD player all day long if I was driving cross-country.

Songs of the Wide Horizon easily earns my highest recommendation. Grab this one before fall arrives, because when the leaves turn red and gold, the skies is that comforting blend of sun and clouds, and the breeze carries a hint of frost, you're going to want it when you set off in search of that perfect two-lane highway running all the way to the setting sun. Can't you just feel it in your bloodstream? I sure can!
The album can be purchased (CD or download) at CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes, or directly from the artist at his website.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Issue 8 of Wind and Wire is now available for viewing online

Click here to read issue 8 of the magazine Wind and Wire which was published in September.October of 1998.

This issue was both a highwater mark for the number of reviews published (57 music and 2 book reviews) as well as featuring a sorely needed facelift of the review section itself which finally divided the reviews into genre classification. I had to basically eliminate CD covers in order to accommodate more reviews and it kinda shows since the lackluster visual appeal stands out. But on the other hand, my readers told me they were much more interested in content.

The lowlight of this issue (and actually of the entire run of 12 issues) was a single page article that I wrote. By now, I had acquired a reputation for being an egomaniac among some folks in the business via how I ran the magazine and my discourse on discussion boards/forums in the 'net. I decided to poke fun at myself while also making the magazine more personal. I wrote my one page bio in order to satirize the notion that I thought I was all that (the title was "The Man Who Would Be King"), but I also intended to put all my staff members, one-by-one, under the microscope in an issue to help our readers (who by now were almost literally worldwide) connect on a personal level with us. After all, there was life after music, right? Sadly, this idea bombed to such an extant that one of my writers blew his top and quit post haste when he saw the issue. Nobody on the staff was keen on the idea (yeah, I should've run it by them, in hindsight) so I abandoned the "folksy" approach and wrote next issue's editorial about it. I wouldn't write anything personal until the second to last issue editorial, which coincidentally (or maybe paradoxically) was much more personal and yet elicited the most positive response of anything ever run in the magazine (you'll just have to wait for that one).

Enjoy the issue and leave any comments you wish to make, PLEASE!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Wind and Wire issue 7 is online and available to view

Click here to view and read issue 7 of Wind and Wire, originally published in July/August of 1998.

This was our "first anniversary" issue and has the most in-depth interviews we had published up to that, all of which were with major artists. First up is a lengthy talk by yours truly with premier spacemusic artist Jonn Serrie. Judy Markworth has an insightful chat with electronic music pioneer Larry Fast, aka Synergy. Finally, I have a heart-to-heart with two artists who were (and still are) among my very favorites, Eric Tingstad and Nancy Rumbel. They proved quite the opposite duo, Eric being mostly serious and Nancy being the amiable cut-up, although both were charming and engaging.

Judy also stepped up and wrote a smashing editorial titled "What's Wrong With Commercial Success?" due mostly to how Yanni was getting bashed at the time because he had hit it big. Funny how now that this whole concern seems almost quaint. At the time, it was the source of endless Internet discussion groups rants and arguments (ah, the good old days of

I wrote a lengthy reflective piece on the magazine turning one year old and Kathy Parsons did a short review of a Robin Spielberg live concert. Finally, the magazine featured 46 reviews, covering a very broad range of genres to say the least. All in all, a fitting way to celebrate one year of publication.

Nest issue featured an all new look to the review section and also contained what would prove to be the single most controversial article to run in the history of the magazine, to the point that one reviewer quit when it ran, expressing his disgust with my decision to run it. I ended up having to apologize in the issue after that. More on that when it is uploaded (soon).

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Wind and Wire Issue 6 now avialble for viewing online

Click here to read issue 6 of Wind and Wire, which was published in March/April of 1998.

If you have read the other issues, you may see a slight improvement in image quality on this PDF than previous ones, as I tweaked the controls on the scanner a bit. Hopefully, this will look a little better.

Of note in this issue is the results of our reader survey (I got a much better than normal response, especially since this was a MAIL survey which had to be mailed to me at the sender's expense). Something like 40 percent of our readers responded (the national average for a survey like this is between 5 and 10 percent, or it was the time this survey was taken).

Only two interviews in this issue. One is with the late Laurie Z, who passed more than a few years ago, I believe. The other is with guitarist/keyboardist Chris Spheeris.

I added another reviewer to the fold in this issue, Lynda Williams, who prided herself on being the #1 Billy McLaughlin fan in the country. He was an acoustic guitarist who lived/lives here in the Twin Cities and recorded a number of albums on the Narada label.

Inexplicably, the reviews are listed in any logical order in the review section, e.g. by genre or by artist, but instead by album title! Why I did it that way is just one of those mysteries that, at the time, made sense to beleaguered me.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Issue 5 of Wind and Wire, the magazine, is now online

Click here to view issue 5, which was published in January/February of 1998.

In this issue, the staff pick their personal choices for best recordings of 1997. In addition, the second part of Stu Daniels' interview with Steve Roach runs here, as well as Kathy Parson's great interview with Suzanne Ciani, and Neil Leacy's chat with David Hughes.

The smear down the middle of page 9 is not due to the scan. That was done by the printers and they apologized to me profusely about it when I picked up the issue from them.

Read the editorial which listed my "competitors" at the time, i.e. other fanzines covering these genres of music. Asterism departed long ago, but Peter Thelen's excellent Exposé magazine is still going strong, but I believe most of what they publish is web-based, since the last hard copy issue appears to have been published in April 2013. Anyway, seriously, check it out because Peter always had (and I imagine still has) some of the best reviewers around and while their emphasis was prog rock, they covered a lot of EM and ambient too (or at least they did they were publishing the magazine). I devoured every issue when it arrived on my doorstep (and their issues were monstrous, sometimes 80 or so pages or so, if I remember right).

Click here to visit the Exposé website.

Thanks for dropping by, folks!


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Wind and Wire issue 4 is now online and ready for viewing

Click here to view issue 4 which was published November/December of 1997.

Controversy reared its ugly head with this issue in two ways. The first controversy was centered round the Steve Roach interview. I did not interview Steve, instead the interview was done by Stu Daniels, owner of Dark Star Books and Music in Milwaukee (I got to know Stu way before Wind and Wire as I was customer in his store whenever I went back to Milwaukee). I was in a hurry to get this issue to print (I was perpetually late with publishing issues as you will read about in upcoming issue editorials) and forgot to put any kind of intro to Stu's interview (in my defense, Stu didn't provide one either). So, the interview starts out with the first question without any prelude, which is pretty damn awkward. Steve understandably was upset and I heard about it from Stu. As a result, when part 2 of the interview ran next issue, I did my best to smooth things over.

The bigger controversy erupted from my editorial when I took a few people in the business to task for their stances on two concerns. Dudley Evenson of Soundings of the Planet never had any objection to what I wrote about what she said (and to this day has never mentioned it to me), but the late Paul Scott (who was head of New World Music's US operations and was married to the late new age music promoter and critic, PJ Birosik) DID object to my quoting him and criticizing his views. It became a big deal with threatened legal action (I was falsely accused of copyright infringement). However, one letter from my lawyer and it was put to rest. Phew!

For ambient fans, and for me personally, the saddest part of revisiting this issue is my interview with the late Barry Craig who recorded as A Produce, and who died suddenly in September of 2011. Barry and I had MANY phone conversations during the early days of Wind and Wire and he was a constant source to me of encouragement and support. One thing in particular stays with me to this day. I was discouraged at the lack of subscribers I had and how things didn't seem to be going well (around issue 3) and Barry told me "Just hang in there...lots of people need to see consistency in your efforts, just as they do with musicians. Anyone can put out 1 or 2 good albums, but as you build a discography, people start to take you seriously. So, just keep publishing and maintaining the same quality you have so far and it will take hold and people will start to notice and pay attention." His words bolstered me and I charged ahead for 2 more years, until the money ran out. Barry and I didn't stay much in touch in latter years before his passing and certainly wish we had. The world is a lesser place without him in it.

Wind and Wire issue 3 is available for viewing

Click here to view issue 3 which was published September/October 1997.

This issue drastically changed the look of the magazine, not for the better. The first two issues were printed at a printing firm that did things the old fashioned way, i.e. they took my files and manufactured plates and printed from those. This was a VERY expensive process (issue 1 only cost me between $1500 and $2000 to print!). I couldn't keep going at this rate as I had so little revenue coming in (a few ads and about 50 subscribers at this point). I was mailing these issues out via 1st class and even back then, it wasn't cheap (about $1.50 per issue). I found a firm that used some new- fangled process called "digital printing" so that they magazine was printed directly from my zip drive. This was a LOT cheaper and allowed me to continue publishing. The side effect was a noticeable step back in print quality (the PDF exaggerates the decline in quality, though, and, in fact, I may have screwed up the scanner settings today). But this is still readable, to say the least.

Notable in this issue is my interview with Hearts of Space founder Stephen Hill which was the beginning of having my eyes opened to how the BUSINESS of new age and ambient music was not all that different from rock and roll (much to my dismay). I interviewed New Zealand ambient artist Jon Mark in person in Denver and shortly thereafter he kind of disappeared and I have been searching for him ever since. I also interviewed Robert Rich by phone, which was interesting to say the least, as he is a quiet and soft spoken person. Finally, I met up with my staff writer Judy Markworth in Milwaukee and we attended a Steve Roach/vidnaObmana concert and I reviewed that event as well. I found Dirk Serries (vidnaObmana) to be one of the most charming and polite people in this business and that was reinforced when I interviewed down the road for a future issue.

PLEASE leave a comment here if you are so inclined. I'd love to know what you think.

Friday, February 6, 2015

REVIEW: DAVOL - Little Blue

Little Blue (EP)
GIRA Sound (2014) 

Sometimes, a little bit of heaven is better than a lot of "meh." That is the reason you should pick up on Little Blue, an EP (three tracks, about 14 minutes long, available as download only) from one of the premier artists in the chill-out keyboard genre, Davol. I raved about his last two full length releases, Good Sign and A Day Like No Other and this "appetizer" of his sunny, catchy, and infectious chilled tuneage is every bit as good (although, like any great appetizer, it will leave you wanting more). Davol has an immediately recognizable style due to his main keyboard sounds, such as that of a strummed rhythm guitar or a lead guitar with its notes shimmering into an endless reverb, as well as a series of spacy tones and his iridescent echoed piano, but he also packs so many layers of rhythms, textures, and keyboards into the mix that his most signature characteristic is his outstanding way of blending it all together into a seamless whole. Another of Davol's trademarks is how sunny and cheerful everything always sounds. It's impossible to be in a bad mood listening to these three tracks: "love," "little blue," and "stars in her eyes." The tempo is always just perfect for chilling yet also great for cruising in your car, a spot-on midrange between laid back and energetic. From the opening female sighing vocals on "love" which evolve into a sensual beat and flowing melody line of assorted synths to the guitar-driven opening of "little blue" and its swooshing synths and cheery piano line to the dreamy bell tones and spacy tones that kick off "stars in her eyes" which sends a romantic radio signal into the night sky amidst its chilled beats, plucked guitar and soaring keyboards, Davol gives the listener some of the tastiest, most irresistible ear candy available anywhere (I repeated this disc 5 times while writing this review). The only downside of Little Blue is that, as an aural appetizer, you will likely be left asking one question, "When the hell does the rest of the meal get here?" Patience, grasshopper, great chill out comes to those who wait.
Little Blue us available at Amazon, iTunes, and CDBaby.