Reviews 03-03-2010

Music Reviews 




by Michael C. Bell

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Ballerina is the debut recording by pianist/composer Michael C. Bell.  Originally released in 2006 as In The Stillness, Bell had the music professionally engineered and mastered in 2009 and re-released the album as Ballerina. The ten tracks include six piano solos and four orchestrations. The piano solos are quiet and intimate while the orchestrations have a more cinematic feeling to them and give the album an intriguing variety of sounds and styles. A mostly self-taught musician, Bell has been composing music since he was a youngster.

His father gave him his only piano lesson and then turned him loose to discover the ins and outs of music on his own. A gentle, uplifting grace permeates all of the music, allowing the mind to drift while visualizing soothing images and colors. 

“Lullaby” begins the set with a sweet and tender piano solo that invokes a relaxing sense of well-being. The title track comes next. Also a gentle and graceful piano solo, it makes it easy to visualize a solo ballerina dancing for her own enjoyment and personal expression. “Unspoken” is the first of the orchestrated pieces. Primarily strings and French horn, the piece is darkly mysterious, but not at all threatening or frightening - more like the anticipation of something unknown (or unspoken). This piece is definitely film soundtrack material! “Blue” is one of my favorites. Slow and bittersweet, this piano solo conveys the beauty of a reflective mood or subdued state of mind. “Hero” is strings with trumpet and flute, and has a sweeping sound that would be perfect in a film. Slow and regal, it’s a very inspiring piece. “Sadness Falls” is another favorite. Slow, intimate, and spontaneous, it’s not unlike a conversation between two people who are (or were) very close. “Adagio” is my favorite of the orchestrations. An elegant piece for a variety of string instruments, the mood is somber and introspective yet uplifting. Gorgeous! “Hope” is a gently reassuring and warmly optimistic solo. “Sedo” is the closing track and a piece for harp, clarinet, piano, flute, and strings. The first few bars remind me of a variation on “Canon in D,” but that impression doesn’t last long. A sparkling and light-hearted yet tranquil mood is beautifully conveyed, leaving the listener with a contented sigh. 

Ballerina is a very impressive first album, and I hope there will be many more to come! It is available from, Amazon, CD Baby, and iTunes. Recommended!

Reviewed by Kathy Parson's Mainly Piano website reprinted with permission on Ambient Visions


If Only

by Galya

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If Only is a stunning solo piano debut by Galya, a young composer originally from The Ukraine, now living in France. Considered the best student at the conservatory she attended and the first place winner of international competitions, Galya’s mastery of the piano allows her the freedom to do whatever she wants musically. She calls the eleven pieces on If Only “new age,” but they are so much more than that. Her music often reminds me of Clara Ponty and Michael Dulin, two composer/pianists who had a similar rigorous training and are capable of creating musical perfection at the piano.

Galya’s music is rich in emotional expression and depth, sometimes sparkling and dancing and sometimes a bit more subdued and nostalgic. Her melodies are colorful and accessible, but it is also easy to get caught up in her flawless technique and effortless grace. In a nutshell, this could easily be my favorite album of 2010. 

If Only begins with the title song, a flowing daydream of a piece. The main theme overflows with longing as the shorter themes meander here and there - a gorgeous beginning! “Breath” has a graceful, swirling energy that dances all over the piano - love it! “Ashka” is darker, with a feeling of loss or tragedy. “Une Fois Encore” is another favorite. Slow, passionate, and intimate, it is truly a glimpse into Galya’s soul. “The Diary of Jane” also feels deeply personal and poignant - heartbreakingly beautiful! As its title suggests, “Air” is light and constantly moving. “Riverland” has a gentle, easy grace that evolves as it flows effortlessly on its course. “So Me” begins as a lighthearted dance that twirls and leaps with happy good humor and joy. The second theme is a bit more serious, but just a bit, and then returns to the carefree first theme. “Angel Dust” is spectacular! The first movement has a bright, sparkling energy that lightly dances all over the piano keyboard. The shorter second movement is a much darker and slower interlude before returning to the brilliance of the first. What an incredible album! 

I believe Galya is poised to become an international piano phenomenon, and I’m anxious to learn more about her. If Only is nothing short of breathtaking, and I give it my highest recommendation. It is available from, CD Baby, and iTunes. Hear it for yourself!

Reviewed by Kathy Parson's Mainly Piano website reprinted with permission on Ambient Visions


Time Stands Still

by Mike Howe

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It has been a long winter’s day at work and you open the door to be greeted by candles everywhere you walk. To your surprise your spouse has drawn a deep hot bath that is bathed  in the silhouettes of scented candles allowing you to soak your aching muscles and worries away for another day. Now that’s being smooth and romantic and to make it complete, without a doubt the soundtrack for this tender moment in your life would be Mike Howe’s superb and silky Time Stands Still. Born in Wales, which is attached to the west side of England surrounded by the Irish and

Atlantic Sea, Howe’s country has a typography that is so inspiring. From its highest point courtesy of Mount Snowden in the north to the sweeping beaches of Rhossili Beach in the Glamorgan southern county and everything in between, Wales has a rich landscape to draw inspiration from. And for just over 55 minutes that is exactly what Howe does.

Howe’s impressive debut focuses on the melody not the performance with the majority of his music contemplated on his acoustic guitar that has a deep rich resonance to it. His music is supplemented by his bass, keyboards and non intrusive percussion every now and then that gives his music a little variety though never veering away from the pastoral theme. This is best heard on the mid tempo ballad “For Claire” and the more enthusiastic “Musselwick”, a perfect recording for a gentle car ride in the countryside away from the commotion of the city. Otherwise, Howe sends you to the land of relaxation luxury courtesy of the peaceful “Heading West”, “The River May Rise” and the gorgeous “Run Deep” among too many others to mention. That said, there is no filler here, leaving you with the only expectation of wanting to know when and how Howe will manage to follow up this incredible debut.

The beauty of Mike Howe’s music does not come from an exhilarating execution that will take your breath away. Frankly, his music is precise and simple focusing on ultra smooth melodies that will allow you to take the deep breath of life and forget about the worries that each and every day brings. Enjoy the relaxing 55 minutes of Time Stands Still and live in the moment…live for today.

Reviewed by Michael Debbage from theMainly Piano website reprinted with permission on
Ambient Visions


Spirit Touch

by Joseph Akins

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Spirit Touch is the anxiously-awaited follow-up to Joseph Akins’ very popular and critically-acclaimed 2007 release Masterpeace.  As much as I enjoy Masterpeace, Spirit Touch blows me away. Akins wanted his new album to be more like his live performances, and that seems to be the difference. There is more variety in the music and Akins clearly demonstrates what an incredible pianist he is. A musician since childhood, he has the effortless grace of someone who has played the piano all of his life and is happiest with a keyboard at the end of his arms. This music incorporates more improvisation, giving a feeling of freedom and spontaneity.

I was lucky enough to see Akins perform in concert a couple of weeks ago, and heard some of this music for the first time there. I was impressed! All but one of the eleven tracks are originals, and about half of them are solo piano. This is sure to be one of my favorite CDs of the year. 

Spirit Touch begins with “Spirit Prelude,” a warm and inviting improvisation that sets the tone of the album. Cello accompaniment adds to the soulful sense of well-being. The title track was composed while Akins and his wife were mourning the loss of their 23-year-old kitty. Sad and reflective, the emotions expressed are honest and stirring. On the opposite side of the emotional spectrum is “The Butterfly Ride,” a piece that gracefully glides through the air without a care in the world. “Cascades” is lightly orchestrated and has a gentle jazz rhythm that evokes visions of tumbling, sparkling water. I love this one! “Night Shadows” is another favorite. As the title suggests, this piece is dark, moody, and a little spooky - gorgeous! “Feeling Joy” returns to lightness and exuberance, dancing gleefully all over the piano. “Little Arwen” reminds me Michael Hoppe’s simple, bittersweet melodies. A tender, heartfelt waltz, the piece was named for Joseph’s newly-adopted kitten - I love this one, too! The exciting “Dance For My Ancestors” demonstrates Akins’ impressive chops. Light and swirling with occasional dark accents, it has an infectious energy. “1001 Nights” is the most orchestrated piece on the album as well as the most dramatic. Based on a Middle-Eastern sounding scale with exotic rhythms and sounds (including Akins strumming the piano strings with his fingernails), the piece is mysterious, beautiful and a little bit ominous. This is my favorite ! “My Rainbow” is an improvisation that Akins dedicated to his wife. A sweeter love song there never was! The final track is “Tennessee Waltz,” a piece Akins played with his father’s country-music band as a youth after his dad taught him the melody one note at a time. Akins’ arrangement is nostalgic and flowing, concluding one terrific album! 

Joseph Akins has outdone himself with Spirit Touch! Give your own spirit a treat with this outstanding album! It’s available from, Amazon, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!

Reviewed by Kathy Parson's Mainly Piano website reprinted with permission on Ambient Visions