Sunday, March 22, 2015

New Andy Summers Album Due Early Summer 2015; Preview Track Available Now Online

Now that Circa Zero has gone from zero to zero, founding member and guitarist Andy Summers is back on the path only he can chart – that of an autonomous six-string shaman.

Summers' eleventh original solo album – his first in over a decade – is called Qualia! and is scheduled for release in early summer 2015.

A preview track from Qualia! is available now at www.andysummers.com. The ethereal, otherworldly sound of the tune recalls Summers' albums with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, as well as Summers' early solo albums Mysterious Barricades and The Golden Wire.

At this time, it's not clear if the preview track is indicative of the overall style of the album. It also remains to be seen whether the album features Summers' original compositions from his score for his autobiographical documentary Can't Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police – which was actually completed and first showcased three years ago – or consists of recently recorded new material.

Stay tuned to www.andysummers.com for further details.

--Raj Manoharan


CD Review – Collage: A Timeless Collection of Medleys, by Danny Wright

If you're new to the music of world-renowned pianist Danny Wright, this is just as good an introduction as any to his patented and unique style of arranging and performing, especially when it comes to his focus on love songs, Broadway and show tunes, movie music, and The Great American Songbook.

This epic double-CD album is jam-packed with over two hours of musical gems, containing everything from Phantom of the Opera, The King and I, Porgy and Bess, and Les Miserables, to George Gershwin, Henry Mancini, and Barbra Streisand.

Many a skilled and accomplished musician has covered these classics, but none with the creativity, passion, and warmth of Danny Wright. There's something about his lifelong love for these works that just comes through, making them both immediately recognizable and refreshingly new.

Come to think of it, this is a great introduction not only to the musical ingenuity of Danny Wright, but also to the revered and hallowed standards done justice by him.

--Raj Manoharan


Saturday, March 21, 2015

CD (Fan) Review – Spirits…Live – Live at the Buckhead Theatre, Atlanta, by Justin Hayward

When I saw Moody Blues lead singer/songwriter Justin Hayward’s new PBS special Spirits...Live, I immediately knew I had to get the accompanying CD. I’m very glad I did.

I've never been a fan of The Moody Blues, but I love their 1980s hit song "Your Wildest Dreams" and I love their early 1990s PBS special A Night at Red Rocks. And now I love Hayward's latest video and CD just as much. Both are excellent presentations of excellent music.

If you like the same singer/songwriters I'm into, such as John Denver, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Michael Nesmith, you'll most probably enjoy Justin Hayward as well. He operates in a similar country/folk/pop/rock vein, yet with his own inimitable, irresistible style.

On this outing, Hayward performs many of his old band and solo classics ("Nights in White Satin," "Tuesday Afternoon") and introduces new wonders ("The Western Sky"), but with a slightly stripped down sound. Foregoing a bassist and a drummer, Hayward sings and plays lead and rhythm on various acoustic guitars, with the amazing Mike Dawes providing outstanding electric and acoustic guitar accompaniment and keyboardists Alan Hewitt and Julie Ragins providing backing vocals and lush orchestrations and percussion.

Hayward has never sounded better, especially at 68 years of age. Like Nesmith, he just has the experience and wisdom of a man who's comfortable with where he is in his life now, rather than the sometimes off-putting and staged artistic moodiness of his youth. This comes through in his demeanor, which is relaxed and natural, and his voice, which is as heartfelt as ever.

As I said before, Hayward has a style that blends country, folk, pop, and rock. Interestingly, if you take away the lyrics and the vocals, many of the songs would be considered new age. That's not a knock on any of those genres, including new age. That's the just way it is. The same goes for new wave and new age. The new wave sound without lyrics and vocals is also a part of new age. And there's nothing wrong with any of that.

When I saw the listing for Justin Hayward: Spirits...Live, I knew I would be in for something special. In terms of both the televised concert and the companion CD, I wasn't wrong.

--Raj Manoharan


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Andy Summers in New York City (and on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon) This Weekend

Police guitarist Andy Summers will be in New York City this weekend to promote Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police, a documentary film co-produced by Nicolas Cage and based on Summers’ 2006 memoir One Train Later. Further information can be found at www.cantstandlosingyou.com.

Summers will also be appearing on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on Friday, March 20, 2015.

To mark the occasion, I am listening to World Gone Strange, Summers’ only solo album not to be recorded in his adopted home state of California. The 1991 release was in fact recorded in New York City. Below is my review of the CD:

CD Retro (Fan) Review – World Gone Strange, by Andy Summers

Of all of Andy Summers’ albums, this one has really resonated with me over the years. In fact, as I get older, I find myself returning to it again and again. It's the most focused, consistent, and guitar-centric album of Summers’ entire solo discography.

There’s no flash or pizazz here – just classy, elegant electric guitar music, with hints of jazz, blues, and funk. There isn’t one lackluster tune on the CD. It is flawless from beginning to end.

Summers’ spot-on backing band includes Tony Levin on bass, Mitchell Forman on keyboards, and Chad Wackerman on drums, with guest performances by Eliane Elias on piano, Victor Bailey on bass, Nana Vasconcelos and Manola Badrena on percussion, producer Mike Mainieri on marimba, and Bendik on soprano saxophone.

Andy Summers has a varied body of work, all of which is enjoyable, some more than others. I consider this to be his most timeless and universal. It’s my favorite.

--Raj Manoharan


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Music, TV: Spirits... Live, by Justin Hayward

I've never been a fan of The Moody Blues, but I love their 1980s hit song “Your Wildest Dreams” and I love their early 1990s PBS special A Night at Red Rocks. And I love Moody Blues lead singer/songwriter Justin Hayward's new PBS special Spirits... Live just as much as Red Rocks, if not more. Both are excellent presentations of excellent music.

If you like the same singer/songwriters I'm into, such as John Denver, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Michael Nesmith, you'll most probably enjoy Justin Hayward as well. He operates in a similar country/folk/pop/rock vein, yet with his own inimitable, irresistible style.

On this outing, Hayward performs many of his old band and solo classics (“Nights in White Satin,” “Tuesday Afternoon”) and introduces new wonders (“The Western Sky”), but with a slightly stripped down sound. Foregoing a bassist and a drummer, Hayward sings and plays lead and rhythm on various acoustic guitars, with another guitarist providing electric and acoustic accompaniment and two keyboardists providing backing vocals and lush orchestrations and percussion.

Hayward has never looked or sounded better, especially at 68 years of age. Like Nesmith, he just has the experience and wisdom of a man who's comfortable with where he is in his life now, rather than the sometimes off-putting and staged, artistic moodiness of his youth. This comes through in his stance, which is relaxed and natural, and his voice, which is as heartfelt as ever.

As I said before, Hayward has a style that blends country, folk, pop, and rock. Interestingly, if you take away the lyrics and the vocals, many of the songs would be considered new age. That's not a knock on any of those genres, including new age. That's the just way it is. The same goes for new wave and new age. The new wave sound without lyrics and vocals is also a part of new age. And there's nothing wrong with any of that.

Even though I'm not a die-hard or even casual fan, when I saw the listing for Justin Hayward: Spirits... Live, I knew I would be in for something special. I wasn't wrong.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, March 8, 2015

CD Review – Sounds From the Circle VI, by Various Artists

The year's best new age music is represented on this sixth edition of the New Age Music Circle collection, curated and produced by former German pop star turned worldwide new age music mogul Suzanne Doucet.

Incidentally, in 1987 Doucet opened the first and, at the time, only new age music retail store in the world, Only New Age Music. The store was located in the trendy Melrose district of Los Angeles, California, until it closed in 1992, eventually becoming an online business (http://www.newagemusic.com/onam.html). I wonder if I ever passed by the shop during my family's trip to Los Angeles in 1989, when new age music was at the height of its popularity and I was just getting into it.

The three-hour-plus CD features 40 tracks representing Grammy Award nominees and winners from around the world, including Anaya Music, AOMusic, Margie Balter, Hennie Bekker, Beloved Heartsong, Jeff Bova & Carole J. Hyder, Heidi Breyer, Bryan Carrigan, Christaal, Louis Colaiannia, Merrill Collins & Michael Fitzpatrick, Cosmo Frequency, Jennifer DeFrayne, Suzanne Doucet, el’Aima, Sherry Finzer & Darin Mahoney, Mala Ganguly & David Vito Gregoli, Steven Halpern & Michael Diamond, Michael Hoppe’ & Harold Moses, Pamela Jamian, Fiona Joy, Craig Karolus, Ricky Kej, Wouter Kellerman, Ann Licater, John Luttrell, Cristian Paduano, RAVEN WOLF, Jerry Rockwell, Lia Scallon, Sensitive Heart, Arun Shenoy, Vibeke Sonora, Peter Sterling, Laura Sullivan, Tron Syversen, Glenn Richard Treibitz, Natascha Wilczek, Jane Winther, and Danny Wright.

If you're new to the world of new age music and don't know where to begin, or you just don't follow every single artist in the genre, the New Age Music Circle's Sounds From the Circle series is a great starting point and overview.

--Raj Manoharan


Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015): He Who Was Spock and Lived Long and Prospered

It is with a heavy heart full of illogical human emotion that I absorb and reflect upon the passing today of Star Trek icon Leonard Nimoy.

True to the philosophy of his half-human, half-Vulcan alter ego Spock, Nimoy lived long and prospered for 83 amazing years.

Although he was an accomplished and versatile actor, writer, director, and producer both on and off Star Trek – in addition to releasing music, poetry, and photography – he will forever be synonymous with Spock, whom he portrayed in the original Star Trek television series (1966-1969), the animated series (1973-1975), two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1991), and eight feature films (1979-1991, 2009, 2013).

I was born four years after the original TV show ended, so I couldn’t enjoy it during its initial broadcast run, and I was too young to be aware of and comprehend the animated series. But starting when I was nine years old and beginning with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982 (I missed Star Trek: The Motion Picture in theaters in 1979), my family had a blast going to the cinema to watch the new adventures of the original cast on the big screen every two or three years. Even though these actors’ exploits had begun seven years before I arrived on the scene, their continuing treks sustained me from grammar school through college.

A real highlight and thrill for me happened when, in 1997, I had the privilege and honor of interviewing Nimoy by telephone. At the time, he and John de Lancie (Q on Star Trek: The Next Generation and other Star Trek shows) were staging radio plays in the spirit of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre (famous for the infamous, mass hysteria-inducing War of the Worlds radio broadcast in 1938). The office I conducted the interview from was right next to the movie theater where my family saw Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, featuring Nimoy and his original costars, 15 years earlier.

While the new Kirk and Spock Star Trek movies are the best Star Trek movies since the original Kirk and Spock movies and continue a great tradition and legacy, they can never recapture or replace the magic of the original cast, a magic that briefly resurfaced when Nimoy returned to his classic role of Spock twice more in the latest feature films.

Nimoy was so much more than Spock and Star Trek, but we all love and will miss him because of Spock and Star Trek. To paraphrase one of Nimoy’s popular sayings as Spock from the earlier movies, he has been and always shall be our friend. And to quote Dr. McCoy from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “He’s really not dead as long as we remember him.”

May Leonard Nimoy’s katra live long and prosper, as Nimoy himself certainly did in this life.

--Raj Manoharan