Wednesday, February 23, 2011

CD Review – Elements, by Matthew Schoening

All the elements come together perfectly on Matthew Schoening’s latest CD, which has the composer and musician leading a rich symphony of sound composed of guitars, bass, keyboards, horns, and percussion. Being in charge of such a tight unit comes naturally to Schoening, especially since all of these elements are literally under his direct control – all of the aforementioned instruments (or their sounds, at least) are generated entirely by Schoening on his electric cello live in front of an audience of 75 people, with no prerecorded tracks or postproduction editing or overdubs.

Thanks to the technology of live looping, Schoening functions as a one-man band, and the results are stellar. This kind of showmanship can easily be gimmicky and come at the expense of true, creative musical expression. Not so in this case. While Schoening’s inventive capability is something to marvel at, it is only more impressive because it is simply a tool used toward a greater end – that of making beautiful, compelling music.

And beautiful and compelling the music is. The album is one 45-minute suite composed of five movements: “Water,” “Air,” “Fire,” “Earth,” and “Spirit” – the elements of the title. The movements have numbered program changes strictly for the purpose of identification, but they really function as one complete whole. Stylistically, the music is jazz improvisation embellished with the lush sonic textures of New Age.

This CD is quite the achievement in terms of both Schoening’s ingenuity and artistry. Innovatively and compositionally, Schoening is to the electric cello what Pat Metheny is to the electric guitar. Schoening at times even sounds like the Pat Metheny Group, without the Group. One of the finest recordings available in the marketplace, the album deserves to be an instant classic and warrants the attention of serious music devotees.

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

CD Review – Midsummer, by Uwe Gronau

German composer, musician, and performer Uwe Gronau’s latest album is a 2-CD set of delightful, upbeat music that’s perfect for any season, not just the one indicated by the title.

The first CD features synth-rock in the vein of Jan Hammer and Tangerine Dream, while the second disc is more comparable to the quieter, pastoral reveries of Vangelis, George Winston, and Jim Brickman. Regardless of the style or tempo of the music, Gronau maintains interest throughout with gorgeous melodies, hook-laden grooves, lush sonic textures, and kinetic percussion channeled through his piano, virus-synthesizer, organ, bass, and acoustic guitar, as well as his and producer Clemens Paskert’s drum programming.

Standout tracks include “Magic Forest” and “Left Hand” (both featuring crazy wicked guitar by the U.S.A.’s Martin Brom – I want to hear more from this guy!), “Gliding Flight” (which includes clean, tasteful fusion lines by German guitarist Wolfgang Demming), “Steps in the Snow” with its gossamer, Knight Rider-like mystique, and “Midsummer,” “Passage,” and “Rivers Bound to Sea,” which are the perfect blend of New Age and art rock.

Although Midsummer is primarily instrumental, perhaps the most effective and moving tune on the album is its only vocal song, “Silence.” Both the lyrics and Gronau’s voice evidence an earnestness, honesty, and humility that are instantly appealing and perfectly encapsulate the spirit of the album.

If you like the aforementioned artists, as well as independent musicians such as Michael Stribling, David Wahler, David Mauk, and Al Conti, Midsummer by Uwe Gronau will be at home in your collection and deserving of several very good listens.

--Raj Manoharan