Reviews 01-26-2008

Music Reviews 

 

   

Carpe Lumen

by Elijah Bossenbroek

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“Carpe Lumen” is the second release from young Arizona pianist Elijah Bossenbroek. Fiercely original, Bossenbroek’s music is a combination of piano with digital accompaniment and sound effects. The music is strong, powerful, and full of emotion. My only real criticism of this CD is the piano itself, which sometimes has a brittle, metallic sound that electronic pianos often have. It isn’t as noticeable when there are layers of other instruments or sounds, but when the piano comes to the forefront, these ears wish for the resonance of a good acoustic instrument. That being said, this is a CD that deserves to be widely heard. The music is too “big” for new age, too contemporary for classical, and not jazz or pop either; Bossenbroek seems to be headed in the unclassifiable direction where art happens. At a time when so many recordings are in a cookie-cutter mold, this is an exciting find! The CD liner notes and Bossenbroek’s website give very little information about the music or the artist, but this CD seems to be telling a very personal story. Three poems with the same titles as three of the pieces are included (not written by Bossenbroek), telling part of the story, but making it even a bit more mysterious. 

“I Give Up” opens the collection on a rather dark note, as the title implies. Intense and swirling, this piece has a huge emotional range. “Prism” is much gentler and more playful, much like colored sparkles dancing in the light. “Rest” is one of my favorite tracks. A minor key waltz with an infectious energy and a beautiful melody, it is both melancholy and hopeful. “Life’s a Stage Play” is an incredible piano solo that would be so much better served by a “real” piano. Emotionally compelling and powerful, this one reminds me a little bit of Dax Johnson (one of my favorite artists). “Assault” is very dark and anguished yet extremely beautiful - a real powerhouse of a piece (also a favorite). “Always Faithful” has several sonic references to the military, undoubtedly a reference to the composer’s time in the Marines. “Deserted” is agitated and in turmoil while “Wonder” becomes much calmer and more innocent. “Reality Begins” is introspective, but much more hopeful and optimistic, coming from a place of darkness and pain. “Falling Away” seems to be continuing to move toward a lighter and happier place, a transformation of sorts. The closing track is a lovely arrangement of “Amazing Grace” that begins very quietly with just the melody line and then several variations that conclude this fascinating musical journey on a lighter note. 

I’m very impressed with “Carpe Lumen” and the music of Elijah Bossenbroek, and think we have a artist to really keep an eye (and ear!) on! His music is available from cdbaby.com and iTunes. Very highly recommended for a powerful musical experience.   Kathy Parsons   1/20/08

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

 

   

Angels

by David Hicken

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“Angels” is “Part 2” of David Hicken’s incredibly beautiful trilogy of original solo piano CDs that began with “Goddess.” Some of the music on “Angels” is a bit more complex than “Goddess,” and some is more classical in style, but it is just as soothing, uplifting, and relaxing. A new face on the solo piano scene, David Hicken has had extensive classical music training from a very early age on both piano and organ, and released several CDs of classical and original organ music over the past seventeen years. He has been a music teacher himself for almost twenty years. With a studio set up in the garden area of his Hawaiian home, the creative juices have been flowing and the results are a wonderful gift to those of us who love gently evocative solo piano. (I also love solo piano when it’s kind of wild and crazy, but that’s another story!) Hicken says in the liner notes, “My aim is to produce music that enriches the lives of my audience by helping to melt away the stresses of everyday life.” Mission accomplished - bigtime! And there is good news for the pianists out there - a companion songbook is on its way! 

The twelve pieces on “Angels” are each named for a specific angel, and all of the compositions are exceptional. I wish there was a short “blurb” in the liner notes about each angel to identify who they are, but this is a very small missing piece remedied by a visit to Google, I’m sure. “Celeste” is the first of the “Angels.” Full of grace and sweetness, it provides an elegant beginning. The rhythm of “Michael” has a swirling motion to accompany the simple, heartfelt melody. “Seraphina” reminds me of the passionate minimalism of Michael Hoppe’s music. The melody for “Rosetta” is very simple and graceful, with a sparkling accompaniment - similar in style to Saint-Saens’ “The Swan” - gorgeous! “Indriel” has a flowing left hand that gives the piece a sense of motion that would lend itself well to ballet. I love the unexpected chord changes in “Akasha,” my favorite on this album. The rolling left hand and passionate melody are delicate and exquisite. “Aurora” is a bit more playful while “Raphael” is quietly reflective. “Gabriel” is darker and more melancholy - another favorite - ending the album on a haunting note. 

David Hicken is off to a fantastic start with two incredibly good CDs, and a third on its way. (I’ve had a sneak peak, and “Faeries” is every bit as beautiful as “Angels” and “Goddess.”) “Angels” is available from www.davidhicken.com and cdbaby.com. Very highly recommended!  Kathy Parsons  1/10/08

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

 

   

Solace

by Doug Hammer

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“Solace” is Doug Hammer’s first solo piano CD, and a beautiful beginning it is! Hammer started playing the piano at the age of three and started lessons at six, going on to graduate from the Berklee School of Music. Hammer has his own production studio near Boston called Dreamworld Productions and Design, and has worked with many musicians as well as the media with commercial jingles, voiceovers, and film and video scores. Many years in the making, “Solace” is the first of several solo piano CDs in the works, and is clearly the work of an accomplished composer and musician. Serene, soothing, and uplifting, Hammer keeps a consistent mood throughout the CD that is a suitable backdrop for other activities, but each piece is strong and individual for the more focused listener. The pieces in the first half of the album seem to be a bit more classically structured while the second half is more spontaneous. 

The CD begins with “Unfolding,” a tranquil piece with a gentle flow and a beautiful melody. A few scattered notes in the deep bass of the piano provide drama, but not jarringly so. “Sunrise” has a quiet, optimistic grace that grows as the piece evolves. “Flying High” provides a very calming effect with its rubato flow and open structure. “Gabrielle” is a tender piece that spills over with peaceful contentment. “A Warm Place In Winter” has a high snuggle factor. Its warm and inviting comfort brings a smile and a sigh. “Emmanuelle” is a tender love song that conveys both gentleness and strength. “A Dream I Once Lived In” is one of my favorite tracks. Reflective and somewhat bittersweet, it paints a vivid picture of experiences from the past. I also really like “Soliloquy.” As the title implies, it has the clarity and honesty of a personal truth. “Sorrow” is the standout track for me. Very spare on notes but full of poignance and deep emotion, it feels like a late-night session at the piano, playing in the dark or by candlelight. This is the kind of piece that reminds me why I love the piano so much. “All These Moments Will Be Gone” shares quiet musings at the piano. Reflective and sincere, it seems to come from the depths of Hammer’s soul. “The Way Things Must Be” is more resigned, but without negativity. “The Road Home” is unhurried, but moves forward with a gradually intensifying sense of anticipation and excitement, bringing the CD to a rich and satisfying close. 

“Solace” is indeed a very promising debut, and we’ll look forward to whatever Doug Hammer has up his sleeve next! “Solace” is available from www.doughammer.net , cdbaby.com, and amazon.com. Recommended!   Kathy Parsons  1/28/08 

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

 

   

Borderlands

by Evan Bartholomew

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Evan Bartholomew is better known as a producer and DJ under the name Bluetech. His release Borderlands is one of the more intriguing albums to have come my way in recent times. It's an eclectic combination of neo-classical and ambient sensibilities that against expectations works well.

The album is structured as eight pairs of tracks each exploring a different theme between one thing an another. It's about aspects of life from birth to death and beyond. A gentle pitter-patter of notes begins “birth: between becoming” then cello-ish refrains briefly push across the soundfield and are echoed by synths. Short bursts of something like a mouth recorder and a build up of the other sounds give the impression of something trying to break out of its pre-birth environment. Small then expansive cello, flutey, and other string sounds in “birth: and being” suggest a new life taking its first breaths and view of the world.

Duality in the thematic structure is reflected in the musical structure. In “dream: between idea” delicate atmospheric tinkles ripple here and there over soughing pads. Then in “dream: and emotion” clouded electronic sounds slowly flicker across the soundscape in soupy refrains.

In under an hour of music we experience many styles and sonic flavourings. For a few minutes it can be neo-classical or ambient then soon after, such as in the track “medicine: initiation”, there's an air of Eastern exoticism and mysticism with a deep humming drone and thrumming plucked strings.

Borderlands is one of those works which leaves mixed first impressions. The raft of short tracks each being sonically and emotionally different makes it feel like walking into an antique shop and trying to take in all the different objects on show. Give the album time though and you may well come to savour it.

Reviewed by Dene Bebbington reprinted from Melliflua.com on Ambient Visions

 

   

Fire Within

by Dan Pound

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Coming thick and fast from Dan Pound are his ambient/shamanistic fusion albums. Another recent work is Fire Within, a slightly less intense exploration of Dan's now signature style and sounds. For me these works often conjure up images of the Australian outback and aboriginal rituals around fires in the darkness of night.

A particularly atmospheric piece is the opener “New Beginning” where drawn out chants conjure up images of American Indians supplicating to their gods. The haunting nature of this piece is increased by eerie pads, whistles, and occasional low growls of a didgeridoo; while a rolling rhythm of bright notes gives a sense of being on a journey.

The resonances throughout the album are often deep and throaty. A guitar effect is introduced on “Carrying the Flame” in despondent refrains giving a feeling of dusty plains and tumbleweeds blowing by. A centre stage throbbing rhythm comes in along with various pads whistling across the soundfield, and animalistic effects inhabit the backdrop like wildlife seen from afar.

No album with shamanistic themes would be complete without at least one especially hypnotic piece. Here it's “Calling the Spirits” in which percussion like shaken sand combines with hallucinogenic drum rhythms, atavistic chants, and pads worming their way round the soundscape.

Listening to a Dan Pound album is to take a journey back to mankind's earlier days where unspoilt landscapes provide a home to people whose lives revolve around survival and placating the spirits and gods. The integration of modern electronics with voice, didgeridoo, drums, and natural percussion is seamless, lifting both above what they could have otherwise been.

In Fire Within Dan Pound manages to explore similar musical territory to his previous releases yet still subtly develops his style enough to retain listener interest.

Reviewed by Dene Bebbington reprinted from Melliflua.com on Ambient Visions

 

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