Saturday, March 24, 2012

CD Review – Dawn of Peace, by Lynn Yew Evers

Peace is what it’s all about on this collection of eleven tranquil solo piano tunes by Lynn Yew Evers.

The music is gentle and soothing, perfect for relaxation and getting away from it all. It is very melodic and intricately structured, making for a very fine listening experience.

Evers, who performs both in her native Malaysia and in America, displays exceptional songwriting skill and brilliant musicianship on all the tracks. Although this is strictly a piano recording with no embellishment or augmentation from other instruments, Evers manages to maintain interest throughout with a variety of nuanced techniques that take the music in different and engaging directions.

The subtle beauty of Evers’s playing is brought to the forefront by the excellent production of Grammy Award-winning guitarist Will Ackerman and his team at Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont. The recording is crisp and crackles with the warmth and immediacy of an intimate venue.

This is a worthy addition to the catalog of solo piano albums out there, and both aficionados and casual listeners will find something of value here.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, March 18, 2012

CD Review – Soundscapes, by Steve Bowe

Soundscapes are usually associated with typical New Age music that is soft and pastoral. On the contrary, the music here by multi-instrumentalist Steve Bowe is full of energy and rhythm and never lets up.

Bowe, who hails from and is based in Great Britain, plays all the instruments, including keyboards, guitars, basses, and percussion. Bowe creates dynamic synthesizer patterns and textures underscored by bouncy bass lines against a driving, almost techno backbeat. Over these he drapes lush acoustic guitar backings and sprinkles hot little flashes of electric guitar. Throughout, subliminal vocal samples create a sort of narrative continuity.

This is also a true world music album, with sounds from Egypt to France and everywhere in between working their way into the overall mix. However, the musical multiculturalism never detracts from the universally catchy hook-laden grooves and melodies. The result is authentic global New Age rock.

Standout tracks include the rocking opener “Prayers,” the mystical “After the Storm,” the eclectic “Orpheus,” the pensive “Caledonia,” and the Genesis-like coda “A Farewell.”

I have just one criticism -- Bowe doesn’t play enough electric guitar on the album. He definitely has the chops, and his labyrinthine style has a crackling fusion crunch to it.

Sparse electric guitar notwithstanding, this is the work of a musician with a clear, defining vision and the wherewithal to bring it to fruition. This is definitely a CD to add kick to your commute or pizzazz to your party.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, March 11, 2012

CD Review – Awakening: Raga Bhairava, by Dan Blanchard

A lot of musicians dabble in Indian music, but not Dan Blanchard. A student of Indian classical music and santoor for nearly a decade, as well as a certified yoga teacher and therapist and soon-to-be ayurvedic practitioner, Blanchard takes his art seriously. The result is an album of Indian classical music as authentic as if it were done by one of the Indian masters themselves.

Blanchard designed the music on this CD as an accompaniment for morning meditation and spiritual practice, and it sounds as if it is ideally suited for that purpose. This is due to the authentic nature of the music itself. Blanchard plays classical Indian instruments such as the santoor, harmonium, tanpura, and swarmandal. He is also backed by Nisha Narsai on vocals, Sheela Bringi on bansuri flute, Sangeet Mishra on sarangi, Gabe Marihugh on udu and djembe, and Brian Campbell on tabla.

Due to the serious, disciplined classical nature of the music, its appeal beyond yoga and spiritual applications will most likely be geared towards more discerning and open-minded listeners. This is not popular Bollywood music. However, the last two tracks, “Transformation” and “Integration,” which feature Narsai’s beautiful voice, have an East-meets-West sensibility that will be of interest to those familiar with the Indian music explorations of George Harrison, Andy Summers, and 2002.

Blanchard has poured his heart and soul into creating a masterful, high-quality recording that, because of his sincerity, passion, dedication, and talent, takes its rightful place among the classics of artistic and spiritual Indian music.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, March 4, 2012

CD Review – In the Wake, by Ann Sweeten

Ann Sweeten returns refreshed and renewed with a collection of tranquil piano tunes that seek to move beyond the pressures of the past and look ahead to the future with determination.

Once again, Sweeten turns to producer Will Ackerman and his Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont to provide a crisp, state-of-the-art recording that brings out the nuanced subtleties of Sweeten’s masterful keyboard skills. This gives the CD the sense of an up-close-and-personal performance at an intimate venue.

Sweeten is joined on this outing by Ackerman on guitar, Trisha Craig on flute, Akane Setiawan on English horn and oboe, Andrew Eng on viola and violin, and Liz Ehrman on cello. These musicians are as masterful in their restraint as they are in their technique, perfectly accentuating the piano-based focus of the music and providing just a hint of embellishment in keeping with the overall quietude of the album.

As usual, Sweeten’s compositions are striking and beautiful, complemented by Sweeten’s gorgeous performances. Some of her playing is simple and understated, and some of it is very complex and involved. But it is all effortlessly and expertly controlled, evidence of a true maestro at work. The result is a perfect mental getaway and a fine listening experience.

--Raj Manoharan