New Age music should border on classical, melodic, easy on the ears, but it can be strong. It should allow the listener to concentrate on the music for enjoyment, or blend into the background and become part of the environment, bordering on the edges of silence while filling the spaces between.
It should have good production values, in other words it should not sound like it was recorded in someone’s basement. Preferably it should sound like someone put the time, effort and interest into producing quality music for the listeners enjoyment. And it should sound like the composer is putting his best effort into the work.
Peter Kater is one such composer/artist. Nominated for “Best New Age Album” in 2003 and 2004, he is very accomplished at this particular genre.His newest work is a grouping of four CD’s on the elements – Earth, Air, Fire and Water. For this review, I chose Water.
The focus is to present the Element of Water in a series of compositions that would connect the element to the listener. This production is all acoustical, and gives us Peter Kater on the piano, Paul McCandless on oboe and English horn, and Mike Hamilton on guitars.
First, the production quality. For an all acoustical production, it is excellent. You can hear the piano strings vibrate as he holds the notes, the guitars resonate and you can feel the depth of the oboe. You are given an environment that touches you personally. Excellent recording and production values.
There are eight tracks on this CD for a total time of 60:23. The CD cover and liner notes are lovely designs and reference about the CD itself. From the opening track Substance of Life you get the feel for Mr. Kater’s piano. Soft, subtle, yet it takes command of the composition. His notes are purposeful, deliberately bringing your attention to the work. This piece is abstract in its composition and yet there is a base melody that carries through the entire piece. Like the flow of a gentle fountain, you hear the guitar, and the oboe against the piano like drops of water that harmonize. A lovely composition and a good start to the work.
The second work, Surfacing, is another slow and deliberate work. Starting off with piano scales, it plays on the boundaries, allowing you to soak in the sound of piano and the harmonies of the strings. This is when you appreciate a quality piano and good production work. The oboe breaks the spell, moving it to another level of consciousness. The two play back and forth, harmonizing and complimenting each other. The feeling is the instruments rising to the surface of your mind, like bubbles on a calm surface.
Water Ballet again plays the piano with the oboe, this time in a more of a dance, a duet, as opposed to the previous piece in which they play back and forth. This piece has a very “classical” air about it and is very composed in nature.
Gently Dreaming is another piece that is classical in nature, and I almost had an impression of Debussy in the feeling of this piece. The composition is beautifully executed on piano, and is a work that exhibits the artist’s talent on the piano as well as his composition skills. Strong melody, purposefully executed, with the oboe joining further into the piece to rework the main melody and bring it to the surface, never breaking the serenity of the piece.
Silent Steps is more a mood piece. It almost broods, becomes contemplative in its feel but never hits melancholy. The piano backs the oboe in the opening of this piece, allowing the guitar to backfill melody against the oboe. The piano comes to the front, moves aside for the guitar and the oboe. A personal impression of the feeling of the music is a rainy day on the streets of your favorite city. A lovely work, highlighted by the guitar work of Mike Hamilton.
Lakeside is a piano composition that has a classical feel, but a bit more abstract in the melody. Nicely worked, very calculated in its timing and structure, like ripples on still water. Cascade builds on single notes into many notes, working the concept expertly. Again, abstract in its feel, the composition is very deliberate. There are some lovely piano rifts as this piece builds, this being one of the more dynamic offerings on this CD without ever intruding on the listener. This all piano work eventually shifts gently back into the recesses of the mind, leaving the listener as peaceful as it first found them.
The end piece Calling You again gives a hint of Debussy in feeling, almost a sonata, presenting a lovely melody with a hint of Spanish rifts. A more pronounced piece, the piano makes a strong finish inviting the oboe to compliment the melody. This is an attractive close to this CD.
This is a lovely work, paced slow and purposeful to draw the listener in. There is much piano here to appreciate, and the oboe work is a delightful contrast and compliment to the compositions and the piano.
If you like New Age material, this is a classic example of how it should feel and sound. It may be a bit slow for some folks, but the movement of water is never good when rushed. This work does not hurry the listener, but rather allows them to drift, taking the time to enjoy each note and phrase of the compositions. This is a nice addition to any New Age library.
Reviewed by Margaret Foster