Reviews 11-11-2010

Music Reviews 



Doorway to a Dream

by Ann Licater

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Doorway To a Dream is Native American and World flutist Ann Licater’s follow-up to her award-winning 2007 debut, Following the Call. The album is an invitation to embark on “a healing dream journey to the infinite expanses of  your imagination and the sacred spaces within.” Licater is joined by an impressive ensemble of musicians that includes Jose Neto, Jeff Oster, Peter Phippen, and Shambhu. Licater performs on six different types of flutes, including wood and clay instruments and silver alto flute. She studied Native American flute with R. Carlos Nakai and facilitates “Flute For the Soul” workshops where participants explore how contemporary replicas of ancient wood and clay flutes can be used as tools for personal discovery, spiritual practice, and relaxation. Each of the fourteen tracks has its own special meaning along the dream journey, and it is recommended that Doorway To a Dream be listened to from beginning to end for an inspirational meditation for unwinding and escaping into the dream.

Doorway To a Dream begins with the title track, which offers a seductive invitation to relax and surrender to the music. Flute, ambient sounds, and delicate windchimes begin our journey. “Shades of Light” is a gentle flute duet that takes us through the “doorway.” “Into the Heart” is a favorite. Light percussion creates a rhythmic backdrop for the haunting and almost mournful flute. “Xiao Garden” is a gorgeous flute solo that takes the listener deeper into a dream state. “Angel Bird” is another favorite, and features Shambhu on acoustic guitar - very light and carefree. I also really like “Bridges In Time,” with slow, graceful flute backed by ambient sounds - very dreamy and flowing. Jose Neto joins Licater on “Earth to Sky” playing Coral electric sitar which has a fascinating sound. Troy Arnett adds some lovely piano as well. “Divine Love” is a rapturous flute duet that has  background keyboard washes for additional color. Jeff Oster appears on “Radiance” with his distinctive flugelhorn - a very unusual but beautiful combination of instruments. “Floating” brings us to the end of our dream journey, bathed in light and deeply refreshed. Piano (William Hoshal) and ethereal keyboard washes create a dreamscape for Licater’s delicate flute.

Doorway To a Dream offers the listener a very soothing hour of musical tranquility.

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


The Grace of the Green Leaf

by Lis Addison

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The Grace of the Green Leaf is Lis Addison’s follow-up to her The Song of the Tree and Medicine Drum Kirtan CDs. An award-winning composer, vocalist, and dancer, Addison has been combining the three art forms to create groups of healing tones or vocal patterns which she sets to music. First were the Vocal Chakra Healing Tones (VoCHeT) on Song of the Tree, and now Body Chants (BoCha!) for this new album. Each of the seven tracks is focused on a  specific part of the body - the base of the spine, the belly, the chest, the fingers and toes, the face, the sinuses and breathing, and the skin. “Body Chants act as focal points for meditation, healing, and ecstatic dance, so one can concentrate on these centers as the magnificent gifts they are.” (Quoted from the liner notes.)

Addison also creates choreography to her music for students of her sound/movement technique called KiVo: The Kinetic Voice. KiVo combines sound healing and chant with tribal dance, giving participants both an inner and an outer workout. Participants are encouraged to dance and sing to the music, which is a fun way to exercise the voice as well as the body. KiVo is designed to “clear the physical and energetic bodies in order to more fully receive and radiate the Spiritual Light.”

Addison holds a BA degree in Music Composition and Environmental Science and an MFA in Electronic Music from Mills College. She has written music for film, video, bands, solo performance, and the concert stage. She has been a vocal student of Nada Yoga and has studied eastern and western vocal and piano styles for more than forty years. She also has extensive training in ballet, modern, jazz, Kathak, and West African dance.

What is particularly interesting, at least for me, is that Addison has taken the ancient traditions of chant and tribal dance and set them to original contemporary music, making her approach fun and accessible to a broader group of people than using just chants and drums. Addison has a remarkable singing voice, and her rhythmic music is catchy and upbeat. To sit and listen to the chanting gets a little too repetitive, but this is music for a specific purpose and is certainly music to be active to. I used the CD for an exercycle workout, and found it invigorating. The rhythms are at a lively pace without being too fast and frantic.

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


Longing for Home

by Peter Jennison

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This is another of many albums that have received the production and performing high qualities that one has come to expect from Will Ackerman and his team. However, the most profound performance and creativity is not found in Ackerman et al but rather in the very personal compositions and presentation of pianist Peter Jennison. Titled Longing For Home (Songs From War) this album is not just a tribute to the soldiers and the families that sacrifice their relationships for our homeland but more so this is a musical memoir of Army Captain, Medevac Pilot and intensely sensitive pianist Peter Jennision.

This represents Peter’s debut recording album that was written during his second deployment during the Iraqi war. Written back in 2006 and 2007, Jennison expresses that the album is a means by which the listener can experience through evocative music the impact war has on all who are touched by it. And there is no better place than via the opening track “War” that begins with a rather solemn piano introduction that quickens in its tempo followed by subdued percussion from Jeff Haynes that almost sound like bombs exploding in the very far distance as the soldier darts while he attempts to advance.

Though “War” is probably the liveliest track on the album the more mellow tunes to follow do not diminish the visual images that Jennison continues to create. Such is the case on “Time Passage” that begins with Jennison playing on his piano the opening chime of a grandfather clock that you hear on the hour prior to it chiming. Though it reminded Jennison of his own Grandfather the music also effectively marks the extended time a solider spends away from their family. Such a simple musical idea that is profoundly visual.  And then there is the more melodic “Longing For Home” that represents the beating heart and quickened pulse of that dedicated soldier right before they return to embrace their loved ones that they have dearly missed. The color yellow on the ribbons surrounding them on that day have never looked so bright.

Where Peter’s other songs are not quite as visual but nevertheless no less beautiful, his personal comments on each song assists you as the listener to feel the struggles of our armed forces and their willingness to lay down their life for their country with the hope that one day war will be no more. This is beautifully illustrated by the heart wrenching closer “Anthem (When We All Come Home)” that once again effectively uses Jeff Haynes well placed percussion embellishments.

Pianist Peter Jennison has not only recorded a beautiful and stunning debut but has also shared a deep part of his soul that has faced the brutal effects of war on the soldier and their families in hopes that others will be soothed by his therapeutic music. Peter will begun to write his follow up album next year that will be unfortunately driven by  his third deployment to the parched deserts of Iraq. We will wish him traveling mercies and protection as this very heartfelt musician and soldier continues to bear arms and his soul for his country both at and away from war respectively.

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

Heart Strings

by Steven C

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A prior member of the Manheim Steamroller, in recent years Steven C Anderson, now affectionately named Steven C, has refocused his efforts on recording his own solo material. A few years ago he released the impressive Signature which compares with that of the mainstream artist Jim Brickman. This time around the pianist decided to pay a visit to the famous Abbey Road Studios in England and also employed the London Symphony Strings to record his latest effort Heart Strings bringing a more underlying classical feel to his still accessible style.

Strangely, one would think that that you would take full advantage of your environment but there are times when this does not seem to be the case. And when Steven does the results are magical as found on the opening track “My Angel” as well as “Heartstrings in F#” that brings to mind a composition that one may expect from the great David Foster. Similar results can be found on “Grace” and “Romance” however with the orchestration being limited to the strings the album begins to feel one dimensional despite the string embellishments. Adding a horn and percussion section could have resulted in a completely different listening experience but perhaps that was not the intent of the artist.

The ingredients of a very talented pianist, the magical recording studio of Abbey Road Studios along with the London Symphony Strings there is no doubt that the expectations are very high. Unfortunately this is not the tour de force that one would expect. But this should not take away from the fact that Heart Strings is a very enjoyable and warm recording that Steven C has added to his recording portfolio.

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



by Michael Brant DeMaria

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Gaia is the third in Grammy-nominated composer/musician Michael Brant DeMaria’s Healing Sound Project. Two years in the making, DeMaria’s multi-instrumental work takes us on a musical world tour exploring earth (Gaia) as a living presence and chronicling her awakening on down through time. DeMaria’s instruments of choice are Native American flutes, but he also performs on an impressive array of other instruments - Xiao, Shakuhachi, keyboards, piano, synthesizers, world percussion, and his own voice. Native flutes have a haunting quality to begin with, and DeMaria’s expressive playing makes this music unique and deeply emotional. DeMaria’s excellent liner notes explain what each of the fourteen pieces is about and what the titles mean, but I think one of the quotations says it all: “What we need most is to hear the sound of the Earth crying. -Thich Nhat Hanh.” DeMaria continues: “These are my tone poems and sound prayers offered up in honoring our common heritage as Native Earthlings on this precious planet and showing how music connects us all.”

Gaia begins with the title track, which depicts Gaia in her sleep, drifting in endless space. Piano and Native flute create the feeling of effortless floating in vast openness -  dark, safe, and warm. In “Anima Mundi,” Gaia begins to awaken. Piano, flute, percussion, and DeMaria’s voice add mystery and intensity. “Alchera” takes us to Australia as Gaia breathes through her vast sky. Demaria’s breathing suggests wind while light flutes, percussion and didgeridoo inform us of where we are. “Asase Yaa” takes us to Africa where the children dance to light percussion and flute as an expression of joy. “Ja-Neb’a” journeys to Siberia, expressing bitter cold as Gaia watches those who have forgotten she is alive. The grief and sadness in this piece go right to the heart. “Zazen” expresses the ancient art of stillness and being. Flute and deep ambient sounds create a dark and mysterious feeling. “Balinasia” is soothing and comforting as Gaia’s heart embraces all who suffer. “Kishar” is a gorgeous prayer for peace in the Middle East. The gentle rhythm and simple melody express tranquility and serenity. “Danu” ends our journey with a quiet celebration of Gaia’s living within each of us - endlessly nurturing us and giving us hope.

Gaia is another amazing musical achievement from Michael Brant DeMaria. His musicianship is incredible, but to put so much research as well as heart into his music puts him in a category of his own. I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more about this fantastic album! I give it my highest recommendation.

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