Friday, October 29, 2021
REVIEW: DAVID LINDSAY - High Wind Blue Sky
Monday, October 25, 2021
REVIEW: TRINE OPSAHL AND JOSEFINE OPSAHL - The Infinite between Us
TRINE AND JOSEFINE OPSAHL
The Infinite between Us
Heart to Heart Records (2021)
The Infinite between Us is the third collaboration between the mother/daughter duet of Trine Opsahl and Josefine Opsahl. Trine has gained widespread notoriety as one of the most accomplished Celtic harpists in the world and daughter Josefine is making quite the name for herself as a world class cellist, performing across a wide assortment of venues in Denmark and beyond, besides also composing her own music as well. Trine is one of the finest musicians in the field of harp therapy and has dedicated her life and her music in the service of easing the burdens of the terminally ill in hospices in Denmark. In essence, this mother/daughter combination exemplifies the best of current instrumental music as an expression of its limitless possibilities from both creative and healing perspectives.
My past reviews have extolled the amazing talents these two display when recording/performing together and certainly I could go on and on once more, delving into the beauty of their playing, the deceptive "simplicity" of their compositions (which are actually complex given the intertwining of their respective instruments) and the seamless way they coalesce into the singular whole of each of the album's twelve tracks. However, I'd rather just strongly urge you to go to your streaming platform of choice and give The Infinite between Us a close, attentive listen. Assuming you are a fan of harp and/or cello music, I have no doubt you will be held as spellbound as I was from the first time I listened to this album.
One of the best aspects of The Infinite between Us (as it was also for their first two recordings as a duo: Leaving My Silent Empty House (2013) and Unbroken Dreams (2016) is how captivating the music is when listened to directly, yet the music also serves as a most pleasant background choice to everything from housework to reading to moderate forms of exercise or yoga. The melodies unfurl effortlessly (which, of course, is a paradox since the talent required to play music as well as Trine and Josefine obviously requires an abundance of talent and effort), whether the tempo is somewhat spirited (as it can be at times) or luxuriantly soft and soothing. It's under the aforementioned direct listening that one extracts the utmost pleasure from the music, as far as I am concerned. Sit yourself by a window, perhaps on a partly sunny day with clouds lazily drifting by, and allow the music of Trine and Josefine Opsahl to wash over you, maybe eliciting a daydream or two from you…of your childhood, a past love, or a warm memory. I doubt you will hear a finer musical tonic for today's troubled world.
The Infinite between Us, and other their collaborations, as well as Trine's solo works can be found by visiting the Buy Albums page at her website.
REVIEW: WILL ACKERMAN, JEFF OSTER, AND TOM EATON - Brothers
WILL ACKERMAN, JEFF OSTER, AND TOM EATON
Retso Records (2021)
Obviously, when you look at the three players on the album Brothers, you can't help but speculate the music is going to be excellent, as well as the production values. However, there are a few revelations that I took away from this recording. First, though, here's what I wrote for a pre-release quote as a courtesy to these three musicians: "Even with the stratospheric pedigree of these three musicians - Will Ackerman, Jeff Oster, and Tom Eaton - and the expectations I held as a result, Brothers still stopped me in my proverbial tracks during my first playing. The album's eight songs flow forth like a gentle breeze on a warm day, carrying relief in every note, but in this case, the relief is a palpable easing of stress, a wave of gorgeous melodies easing the listener gently into a state of utter peace and relaxation...When I've reviewed albums from these three artists, either as collaborators or solo artists, I often feared being accused of hyperbole, but trust me, you will not hear more sincere and ear-pleasing instrumental music any time soon."
So, with that overall opinion out of the way, i.e. yeah, this album is that damn good, here are some more unique takeaways from my many listenings:
- Tom Eaton's piano playing is a revelation. His solo recordings are an example of excellent contemporary ambient music, but I never suspected he had the richness of talent and depth of nuance on piano as he exhibits here. His semi-minimalist approach displayed throughout Brothers was, to be honest, wholly unexpected on my part.
- Jeff Oster owns trumpet and flugelhorn when it comes to infusing serene, contemplative moodiness, with just a hint of bluesy subtleness. He has elevated his game on Brothers to absurd heights.
- Will Ackerman once again affirms his place as a supremely talented acoustic guitarist, but one who can "blend in" with other talented artists seamlessly (a talent he shares with few others).
- This is as close to a "pure" ensemble recording as I have ever heard, with not a single degree of outright showmanship or hogging of the spotlight.
Brothers is one of the most subdued, relaxing, and "beautiful" album that has come forth from Ackerman's Imaginary Road studios. Now, understand, that takes nothing away from the dozens upon dozens of the other releases that Ackerman/Eaton have helmed, but Oster, Eaton, and Ackerman, either intentionally or by accident, recorded a "relaxation masterpiece," of highest caliber. By keeping it mostly acoustic (Eaton is credited with keyboards and electric guitar, but for me, it was hard to pick those instruments out in the mix – which is in no way a criticism; just an observation), this makes Brothers one of those albums I would bring with me on rural back-country road trips. Brothers flows with the type of music that enhances drives through autumnal landscapes, especially in the upper Midwest, where I live.
I couldn't single any one track out for excellence because all eight pieces each carve out a unique yet cohesive niche of artistry, painting in pastels with an undertone of, well, not melancholy or somberness, but reflection and the subtlest sensation of sadness; however, it's not sadness in the traditional sense. More the "sadness" that one feels as one walks through the woods on a cloudy day and with autumn drawing to a close. The world begins its long, cold slumber and yet, in a certain way, there is beauty and charm in the days ahead too.
Okay, enough of my philosophizing.
From my perspective, what Will Ackerman has done with the myriad recordings he and Tom Eaton have produced at his Imaginary Road Studio is basically a resurrection of Windham Hill Records, the label he founded in 1976 with Anne Robinson. While the (seemingly) countless albums the duo have overseen do not feature the broader canvas that the original Windham Hill presented (e.g. no Nightnoise, no Montreaux, no Shadowfax), that does not minimize what they, in conjunction with the many artists whom they have worked with, have achieved these past many years. But even a casual listener of the albums recorded at Imaginary Road will detect some overall themes and motifs, even when the individual works vary (e.g. solo versus ensemble, uptempo versus relaxed). To my mind, how this has played out is quite brilliant. Will Ackerman has created an unmistakable brand that stands for high quality music, with a trademark "essence," if you will.
Finally, to underscore my assessment (and it is, simply put, my sole assessment), take a close look at the cover of Brothers which, quite obviously, emulates so many of the original Windham Hill album covers, with its horizontally positioned nature-scape and stark white in contrast above and below the picture, as well as the use of a plain (in a good way) font for artists' names and album title. Some early Windham Hill examples of this cover layout and design include Ackerman's own Passage (1981), Alex DeGrassi's Slow Circle (1979) and, one of the most iconic albums and covers, George Winston's December (1982). While the label eventually moved into a more varied approach to album design, I think the overt resemblance between Brothers and the earlier Windham Hill "look" is wholly intentional and rightfully so. Like the three I mentioned above, Brothers stands toe to toe as a representative of the best this genre has to offer.
Brothers is available for sale as CD or download at Amazon, for download at iTunes, and streaming at all the usual venues.
Wednesday, October 20, 2021
REVIEW: WOUTER KELLERMAN AND DAVID ARKENSTONE - Pangaea
WOUTER KELLERMAN AND DAVID ARKENSTONE
Next Music 2021
"Pangaea or Pangea ( /pænˈdʒiːə/) was a supercontinent that existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras. ... In contrast to the present Earth and its distribution of continental mass, Pangaea was centred on the Equator and surrounded by the superocean Panthalassa." (source, Wikipedia).
Believe it or not, this is not the first "new age" album named after the Earth's initial "supercontinent." But it's certainly one of the best with those roots. Helmed by two legit superstars of instrumental music, Wouter Kellerman (assorted flutes) David Arkenstone (keyboards, guitar, and programming), with some talented guest artists sprinkled throughout the album, Pangaea can be summed up as a statement expressing how music unites the planet, much like how the original Pangaea was all one landmass. Featuring an array of global influences, no specific region dominating (which underscores the unifying concept behind Kellerman's and Arkenstone's vision), the nine tracks are superbly recorded and produced with a flawless mix and mastering job by Bill Hare (Bill Hare Productions, Milpitas, CA). You have to trust me on this – nix the ear buds and play this album loudly through quality speakers. You will thank me later.
An assortment of tempos, moods, and rhythms populate the album, yet the cohesion of the entire recording itself is obvious (at least to me it was). Part of this is the presence of Kellerman's various flutes but also Arkenstone's adroit keyboards and guitar. When rhythms are present, they vary from thunderously jubilant to smooth and pleasantly mellow. Sometimes the melodies and percussion amp up the energy, and other times there is a pronounced feeling of, well, for lack of a better phrase, "global chill." Some of the tracks feature vocals, mostly of the wordless type, and each of the singers brings his or her "A game." The mix expertly layers the instruments side by side with each vocalists' voice, which is not that easy to balance. While keyboards are listed in the liner notes, this sounds much "acoustic" so while I used the phrase "global chill" this doesn't embrace any of the typical "chill out" motifs.
As mentioned earlier, there are multiple worldbeat influences at work here, and even when they are not necessarily "subtle," I still would hesitate to label Pangaea as world fusion, since that term frequently is applied to music which over-emphasizes electronics or an overt presence of distinctly recognizable "country of origin" flavors mashed together. Instead, what elevates this album is how it overlays the global influences onto a highly accessible new age music framework. While bearing no literal resemblance to Arkenstone's masterpiece recording, Sketches from an American Journey, the two albums share a common approach to tying disparate tracks, style-wise, to a singular, unified musical statement.
At its core, Pangaea is a homage, if you will, to the universal appeal of music, rhythm, and voice, joining all citizens of planet Earth in their love for a celebration of joy, beauty, and exhilaration. Granted, given the shape our completely broken world is in now, it's more than a little Pollyanna-ish to embrace such a Utopian view, i.e. "let's all gather and sing kumbaya!" Still, even if Kellerman and Arkenstone's gift only speaks to those who share their ideals, it can only strengthen those enlightened souls to recommit themselves to making this a better place to live for all inhabitants (animal, vegetable, and mineral) of this small green and blue world. Hey, with all the work there is to do, we might as well have a great soundtrack for getting to it, right?
Finally, if you enjoy this album (and why wouldn't you?), I suggest you also look for Stephen Bacchus' Pangaea, which presents yet another vision of a unified world through a combination of new age and world beat music.
The outlets for purchase, download, and streaming are located here