Sunday, July 28, 2013

CD Review – The Blue Rose, by Al Conti

West meets East in this fusion of world musical cultures, the fifth release from Grammy Award-nominated multi-instrumentalist Al Conti.
Based on an ancient Japanese fairy tale, the album presents the global new age style mastered by and unique to Conti and fuses it with elements of the Orient, resulting in a work that celebrates the best of both worlds.
In addition to keyboards, synthesizers, and other mainstream and ethnic instruments played by Conti, the CD features the talents of Ann Licater on flute and Hannah Beth Crary on fiddles.
My favorite tracks are “The Princess and the Emperor,” “Silk and Jasmine,” “Heart in Bloom,” and “The Blue Rose.” These are perfect examples of new age music, with lush, dreamy synthesizer textures and elegant, classy cascades of piano. “Heart in Bloom” even has a bit of an African flavor to it, which is actually very welcome and not at all out of place here.
This is a worthy addition to any discerning listener’s new age/world music library.
--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, July 21, 2013

CD Review – Music for Telecommuting Volumes 1 and 2, by Ken Elkinson

As perfect a set of new age CDs as Ken Elkinson’s Music for Commuting Volumes 1 through 4 are, his Music for Telecommuting Volumes 1 and 2 are even better.
Both volumes of the new release are contained on one disc for a total of 20 tracks, which are among the best examples of new age music I have heard. Elkinson sticks to synthesizers and does not play or simulate any other instruments. This is a pure new age synthesizer CD that features a plethora of sonic textures filtered through majestic, awe-inspiring themes.
With just his synthesizers, Elkinson creates more of a substantial impression than many people do with a full ensemble. The compositions are both cosmic and intimate in their reach, conjuring a sense of inner and outer space, as well as humanity’s place within those realms.
If I had to, I could pick a couple of tracks that I could consider my favorites, but there is really no need for that. The entire album is a wonder to behold from beginning to end.
Words don’t do this kind of music justice. It needs to be heard, felt, and experienced.
--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, July 14, 2013

CD Review – Future Memory, by Stephen Savage

This is one of the best CDs I have ever heard, and as near-perfect a jazz/rock/new age/fusion album as you can get.
The disc is the debut release from keyboardist Stephen Savage, who has taught music for over three decades at such prestigious institutions as the Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. Savage is obviously not only a master of music academia and theory, but he is also an accomplished composer and performer as well.
The album primarily consists of Savage on keyboards, synthesizers, guitars, and drum programming, with his student and producer Michael O’Connell playing drums and percussion on several tracks. The numbers with O’Connell have a fresh late 1970s/early 1980s jazz/rock fusion vibe, which is refreshing in this current musical period of redundancy and regurgitation. Even though these tunes only feature Savage and O’Connell, the duo sounds like a full band, with Savage displaying great fusion guitar chops and O’Connell unleashing a kinetic sound that reminds me very much of Stewart Copeland of The Police. These are so good that Savage should seriously consider starting a trio or quartet with O’Connell and going on tour.
The solo songs with just Savage are perfect examples of new age, with broad, sweeping melodies and shimmering, ethereal textures, sounding very much like a futuristic sci-fi soundtrack. This is the kind of music that would be at home in a planetarium. It’s soothing and full of mystery, wonder, and awe.
While each and every composition is unique, none sound out of place.
This is both a winner and a keeper.
--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, July 7, 2013

CD Review – Renewal, by Kyle Pederson

Kyle Pederson does it again, taking classic spiritual songs and putting a contemporary, piano-based spin on them, in the process making them his own.
The album lives up to the title, as this collection makes these storied tracks live again. The songs are a mix of hymns from the Middle Ages, the Age of Enlightenment, and early to mid-contemporary times. Tunes include “Be Thou My Vision,” “What Wondrous Love Is This,” and “Lord Whose Love in Humble Service.” The standout is “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” not only because it is the most recognizable and the most durable composition here, but also because Pederson’s interpretation is a real accomplishment precisely because of those reasons.
Pederson deliberately chose not to use the organ on any of these tracks because of the instrument’s inseparable identification with this music. Pederson’s performance on piano keeps the recordings classy and elegant, with some accompaniment by other musicians on guitar, mandolin, bass, violin, cello, and oboe. The extra instrumentation provides just enough of a hint of embellishment without overwhelming the sacrosanct nature of the songs.
People who enjoy hymns should enjoy Pederson’s take on these classic spirituals, but people of all faiths, if any, should appreciate this disc as well, as was Pederson’s intention.
--Raj Manoharan

Thursday, July 4, 2013

CD Review – Masako, by Masako

On her self-titled debut, Masako proves herself to be a classy and elegant composer with an ear for music and a golden touch on the keyboard.
The entire album exudes the serenity and tranquility of New England, which is no surprise considering that it is inspired by the Japan-born artist’s adopted home state of Vermont.
Under the creative guidance of Grammy-winning guitarist, Windham Hill Records founder, and producer William Ackerman and the technical acumen of engineer Rob Eaton, Masako’s beautiful collection of piano-based tunes showcases her unique and rare affinity for combining high and low keys. There is also the sense of Masako’s Japanese culture and heritage nicely filtering through the prism of contemporary new age music, especially considering her various influences, such as George Winston and many of Ackerman’s former Windham Hill artists.
Helping Masako realize her vision is a fine ensemble of world-class musicians who accentuate various tracks with tasteful hints of their brilliance. These include Premik on wind synthesizer, Charlie Bisharat on violin, Eugene Friesen on cello, Jill Haley on English horn, Tony Levin on bass, and Jeff Haynes on percussion.
This is an excellent recording and essential listening for those who enjoy fine piano-based music.
--Raj Manoharan