Reviews 03-28-2010

 

Music Reviews 

 

   

Relax Your Ears

by Joel Styzens

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The one thing that I love about running Ambient Visions is the chance to discover new music and to have some of that new music find its way into a regular rotation in my daily listening habits. I'm just like everyone else as I choose music to go onto my portable player to listen to throughout the day or what I choose to put on my stereo system to relax to at the end of a stressful day which means that I have music that I gravitate towards more often than not. I'm sure in the coming months Joel Styzens' CD Relax Your Ears will end up being played long after this review has been written and I am on to the next new discovery.

I have always found that acoustic guitar music is a very soothing and peaceful way to spend an evening when I want to do nothing more than just sit back and let the day that has just past drift away. The extra added bonus here is that Joel is not alone with just his guitar but has Katinka Kleijn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing cello on all of the tracks. The liner notes mentions other players on the CD who do indeed add their own flavors to the mix but Styzens and Kleijn are the heart and soul of this CD and as such I will spend my time in this review focused on the interaction between them and the environment that they create with these 12 songs.  

The combination of guitar and cello on these tracks is nothing less than hypnotic. Styzens and Kleijn create a rich soundscape that is filled with emotional content that allows the listener to enter fully into the songs rather than just being passive observers of the scenes playing out in front of them. You can feel the passion in the playing as the guitar and cello share the center stage with one another with each taking the lead and then deferring to the other so that the listener feels like waves of sound are washing over them delivering sonic pleasure. Even though the music on this CD is for the most part filled with gentle tones and serene atmospheres there are a few places during the 12 tracks where the emotions behind the music demand expression and they burst forth in some powerful strumming from Joel on his guitar.  

I have seen at least one review that refers to Joel's CD as a jazz album and even though it has jazz elements especially  when the saxaphone kicks in on the track entitled Take Anything I would not characterize the project as a whole as a jazz album. There is always a gray area when talking about instrumental music and I'm sure that it depends on a person's orientation as to what a piece of music will strike you as but Joel's music is a lot more akin to William Ackerman's guitar playing style of music than some of the jazz guitarists that I have listened to in the past. His combination of guitar and cello reminded me a lot of Tim Story's music who also featured cello in many of his compositions.  

One of my favorite songs on this CD has to be Life Line which allows Joel's guitar playing to shine and spotlights the marvelous blending of the two instruments as well as any other track on this album. Kleijn's soaring cello and the harmonics that Joel achieves  on his guitar make this track a stand out in my mind and well worth listening to over and over again just to appreciate the work that has gone into the production and rehersal end of this project. I'm not sure if Styzens and Kleijn have played together before but to my ears they move as one when it comes to the interpretation of this music and allowing it to breathe through their instruments.  

The improvisational nature of the track called Humbolt was the weakest track for me as it did not seem to fit the rest of the project but not all of Humbolt was improvisational so it was only partially out of sync for me but over all this was only a minor glitch when considering the album as a whole. I only mention it because most projects have at least a couple of weaker songs on an album and out of 12 tracks this is the only one that gave me pause as I sat listening and writing this review.  

All in all Relax Your Ears was a pleasure to listen to and did indeed give my ears a chance to listen to something a little more sedate than what I am used to listening to all day long at my job or out on the streets. Joel and Katinka again and again show us their mastery of their instruments as they call upon them to take their emotions and translate them through their strings and put them out for everyone to hear on the tracks of this CD. The production is polished and professional and shows that a lot of thought went into making this album and lots of time and effort were expended to get it right before releasing it. Hats off to Joel and everyone associated with Relax Your Ears for turning out such an enjoyable and inspired set of songs. Definitely recommended!

Reviewed by Michael Foster editor of Ambient Visions