Monday, October 29, 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

CD Review – Eleven Drops, by Paz del Castillo


The latest release from Paz del Castillo features eleven solo piano tracks that reveal the artist to be a dynamic composer and performer and a master of taste and subtlety.
 
For Castillo, the title of the album conveys the idea that each tune on the album is like an individual drop of water that represents a different aspect of her life, mood, and/or personality. This is absolutely the case because the songs run the gamut of emotions and feelings, from inner peace and calm, to mystery and discovery, to wonder and awe.
 
The title is also apt in the sense that, although each number is unique and distinct, the album flows from one track to the next with a consistency and effortlessness that result in a unifying whole, like drops of water becoming a steady stream. Castillo’s dexterity and creativity engage the listener from beginning to end, making this a satisfying and enlightening experience.
 
This is another worthy offering that will be appreciated by aficionados of solo piano music.
 
--Raj Manoharan

TV, Music – Tis the Season, Charlie Brown


It’s that time of year again – the period from late October through late December where we go through Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, complete with pumpkin picking and trick-or-treating, Butterball and football, and decked halls and snowfalls. In terms of entertainment, we have costumes, parades, and the Rockettes, along with numerous television specials and holiday music releases. However, nothing captures the pop culture spirit of the season like the Charlie Brown TV specials. Good old Chuck, Linus and Lucy, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang epitomize the holidays like no one else.
 
If you don’t have the time (or the stomach) to watch all the holiday programming that will be overwhelming the airwaves over the next couple of months, your best bets are the Charlie Brown specials, including It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving; and A Charlie Brown Christmas. These are all available on DVD, but there’s something magical about watching them on network television during the season.
 
In terms of holiday music, you can’t do better than the soundtracks to the Charlie Brown specials. As enjoyable as holiday releases by major and independent artists can be, they don’t compare to the beauty and innocence of the scores for the Peanuts specials. There are several albums that cover the music of the Peanuts shows, but I really recommend the actual soundtracks to the programs composed and performed by Vince Gauraldi. Like the shows, his timeless Charlie Brown recordings exude the peace, contentment, and happiness of the holidays.
 
--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, October 27, 2012

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


I’ve been listening to a bunch of old Andy Summers albums in between my regular CD reviews, and this one has really been resonating with me. 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 Manieri 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

Sunday, October 21, 2012

CD Review – What’s Real? by Silentaria


If you’ve been a loyal viewer of the Fox Broadcasting Network over the last 15 to 20 years, you might remember an enigmatic illusionist who went by the moniker of the Masked Magician for his dark, face-obscuring apparel and who revealed all the secrets of his trade. Now we have a Masked Musician with a similar appearance but who’s covered in white, and rather than reveal the mysteries that inform his shadowy music, he leaves them for the listener to ruminate upon and unravel.
 
The fact that Silentaria, aka Rixa White, wears a fa├žade takes the focus off his identity and visage and puts it squarely on his music. His mask also reflects the main theme of his muse, that of the tenuous line between illusion and reality.
 
But whatever his motivation, the significant factor here is his sonic artistry, which I would call orchestral electronica. Silentaria builds a basic foundation with keyboards and synthesizers and then adds flutes, violins, strings, drums, percussion, digital choirs, and electric guitars to the mix, creating an intoxicating blend that is at once ominous and exhilarating, electronic and organic, introspective and grandiose. This is music that is visceral in its pungency and cinematic in its reach. Silentaria’s work here reminds me of Jan Hammer’s darkly dynamic Miami Vice soundtracks, filtered through Silentaria’s unique mind’s eye.
 
If you desire to embark on a musical sojourn beyond the ordinary, take a ride with Silentaria. You will not be disappointed.
 
--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, October 14, 2012

CD Review – Tales of a Gypsy, by Johannes Linstead


Johannes Linstead is a true gypsy indeed, and not just because the guitarist is of English-German descent and divides the year between his native Canada and the Dominican Republic. He is a world traveler, both literally and figuratively, in the language of music, and the Spanish guitar is his passport.
 
Linstead’s guitar is the musical thread that weaves together a multilayered fabric consisting of his keyboards, udu drum, shakers, and percussion effects, as well as congas, bongos, drums, oud, acoustic guitar, accordion, timbales, doumbek, pan pipes, operatic voice, and violin from an outstanding lineup of excellent musicians. The result is a musical mosaic that reflects a diverse range of styles including flamenco, merengue, classical, new age, and jazz. This is truly a fusion of world music, presented with unrelenting passion and vigor.
 
The album shows Linstead to be one of the most accomplished guitarists and composers on the music scene. His far-reaching vision and his ability to execute it, both on his instrument and as a bandleader, bring this CD to life. These are gypsy tales you won’t tire of hearing.
 
--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, October 7, 2012

CD Review – Zion and Bryce Canyon Soundscapes, by Jill Haley


Jill Haley, who plays English horn on many of the CDs reviewed on this site, presents a collection of original compositions inspired by and dedicated to the Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in Utah. Naturally, the music is as grand and as epic as the subject matter that informs it.
 
In addition to English horn, Haley also plays piano and oboe on the recording. She is joined by David Cullen on guitars and bass, Dana Cullen on French horn, and Graham Cullen on cello. While Haley’s compositions and instruments are the major components of the album, the contributions by the Cullens are just as integral to the overall musical portrait Haley paints of these majestic American landscapes.
 
The key to unlocking the beauty and grandeur of the Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in musical form is in creating subtle and gentle impressions that evoke humbled awe. Haley understands this and executes this with aplomb, aided and abetted by the skillful and passionate playing of the Cullens. As enjoyable as this CD will be to anyone who appreciates well-crafted instrumental music, I imagine that this would be a perfect soundtrack to take on a trip to the Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.
 
An added bonus to the release is the album package itself, which includes Haley’s photographs of the Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks and makes for a nice commemorative keepsake. The cover features a beautiful photograph of one of the stunning rock canyons, and the attached interior 12-page photo booklet includes more breathtaking views of the park sites that inspired each of the tracks.
 
--Raj Manoharan