Reviews 06-05-2005

Music Reviews 



Mystical America

by Laura Sullivan

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Laura Sullivan is a pianist focusing on the New Age/Ambient style of music.  Her latest release Mystical America is a classic example of modern New Age composition and Ambient styling and exhibits her prowess as a pianist to the fullest.

In the tradition of the great New Age piano masters, this CD showcases her piano skills blended with harmonizing instrumentation and orchestration.  All but one of the tracks are her own compositions, the exception being an arrangement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.  The focus is the inspiration found in the American landscape.  The CD is divided into four sections, each containing three compositions or a trilogy.   Total play time is 1:07

The first trilogy is entitled Magical Creations, and the individual songs focus on Mystery Hill in Salem, MA, and is entitled America’s Stonehenge, Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, and Coral Castle in Florida.  All three compositions are classical in composition and arrangement, each orchestrated with accompanying strings, producing some very rich and outstanding soundscapes.

The second trilogy focuses on Sacred Symbols.  The first track is Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, then Tongrass Island in Alaska and finally The Serpent Mound in Ohio.  There is a slight change up to the music here, beginning with a more “spacey” introduction or feel to the compositions, and having a lighter, more airy or spiritual feel overall.  Again, each composition is outstanding on its own, but the idea of a “trilogy” remains in the connection of the style of each piece.

The third trilogy is entitled Mysterious Messages, and this group focuses on Red Rock Ridge in Minnesota, Pictograph Cave in Montana and The Heavener Runestone in Oklahoma.  The compositions appear to be a bit more deliberate, more on the brooding side, creating a darker note to these pieces.  This serves to accent the mysterious quality the artist was seeking to achieve, and presents a contrast to the rest of the compositions.

The final set is called Nature’s Splendor and focuses on Sedona, Arizona, the Hawaiian Islands and Mt. Shasta in California, Ms. Sullivan’s home state.  The music turns to deeper and more complex in style and composition.  While Sedona is totally piano with no accompaniment, Hawaiian Islands plays strongly to an electronica backfill effects.   Mt. Shasta is the Beethoven piece, arranged by Ms. Sullivan and expertly orchestrated.  The piece is played with a deliberate pace; giving us a presence that comes with the years Ms. Sullivan lived near this American landmark.

Ms. Sullivan’s works are deep, rich, on par with the masters of New Age piano of this style, such as David Lanz or Michael Gettel.  Her compositions are complex but not overbearing, and the feel of the material achieves the New Age music standard, to be present, and when focused on, to be fulfilling and enjoyable without being intrusive or arrogant.    It should have a soothing effect and sometimes meditative.  Ms. Sullivan achieves all this with ease.

This CD has been named #1 New Age recording of 2004, and has been a top pick by many trade publications, Ambient music shows and reviewers.  She deserves such honors for this work.  This is a first class production from start to finish and will not disappoint the average listener nor the seasoned professional.

A few notes on presentation.  The CD contains an insert explaining the artist’s view of the locations she has chosen to focus on in her music, which adds insight to the pieces.  Also included is a small package of desert sage incense, which is just as rich and relaxing as the music itself.  The cover artwork by Johanna Pieterman is also a plus and well worth mentioning.  The overall presentation of this CD makes it an excellent work of art.

If you are a lover of piano works, Laura Sullivan is not to be missed.  This CD is well deserving of the accolades it has received thus far, and is an excellent introduction of Ms. Sullivan and her work if you have never heard of her before.  Be assured that you will be hearing more of her as time goes on, as quality of this kind will not go unnoticed.

Reviewed by MA Foster




Dewa Che: Universal
Healing Power of
Tibetan Mantras

by Dechen Shak-Dagsay

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 Dechen Shak-Dagsay is a native of  Tibet who has lived in a Tibetan community in Switzerland since childhood.  Her father is a Lama and the focus of her family has been to preserve the Tibetan way of life.  Her personal interests are in the traditional music and folk dance of her Tibetan home. 

Her first appearances to the public include a “Maxi Single CD” in Europe in 1989, with Swiss Musician Roger Dupont called “Bodhicitta” dedicated to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, a track on German producers Oliver Shanti’s album “Tai Chi” which sold over 300,000 copies, and then the recording of the same track “Chenresi, Flame of Peace and Compassion” for the Ryuishi Sakamoto’s film “Little Buddha”.

Her debut album is “Dewa Che” – a collection of healing Tibetan mantras.  The title means “The Great Peace”.  Ms. Shak-Dagsay focuses on inner peace and tranquility in her music, and this CD is the achievement of both, as well as being an excellent example of this classic Tibetan form of chant.  These are “shortened forms” of the traditional mantras which can be very long as they are “the blessings of all enlightened beings”. 

The music is a provided by various flutes played by Peter Hienrich, sitar/koto/tanpura by Klaus Falshlunger, bass/tanpura/monochord/singing bowls/harmoniums and arrangements by Acama.   Klaus Falshlunger is known for his sitar work in Europe, and Austrian composer Acama is well known for his relaxation music and his work with Tibetan Temple Bells.

The accompanying booklet goes into much detail about the Tibetan Mantras and how to benefit from their healing effects.  There are a total of eleven tracks on the CD, for a total playing time of 72:21.  This is an excellent quality studio recording.

The mantras themselves are passed down from Buddha, and offer protection from negative energies.   While the titles of the tracks are in Tibetan, the booklet does give a “subtitle” for each piece.  Each mantra is described for its use, such as “Men-Lha – The Medicine-Buddha Mantra” which the Tibetan Lamas use to “help improve the patient’s condition”, or “Drip-Sel – The Colored Rain Shower Mantra” which is “recommended to regain clarity of vision and a state in which our actions can be reasonable and wise.”  The booklet is a key element to understanding the mantras and contains much information for using them to their best advantage. 

Ms. Shak-Dagsay’s voice is light, rich, floating and comfortable for the western ear.  The music truly accompanies the vocals here, never overpowering them.   I never found the CD to be droning as some of these CDs can get with repetition.  Rather, I found this to be relaxing and spiritually contemplative.  Her vocals are very enjoyable, almost soothing to the ear as well as the spirit.   At times she harmonizes with herself, again presenting soft harmonies, never intrusive.  The music almost disappears behind her voice, yet comes to the front to fill the spaces between the phrasing.  But all of it can be moved to the background while working, so it is never invasive.    I found personally that the combination of music and mantra promoted a very gentle feeling of comfort and peace. 

Overall I found this CD to be a wonderful introduction to Tibetan Mantras, delightful, insightful and a piece of interesting and historical culture.  The art form is expertly preserved for us by Dechen Shak-Dagsay and if you are interested in cultural art, Tibetan chant and mantras, you will find this an excellent addition to your collection.

Reviewed by MA Foster



Essence of Well-Being

by Various Artists

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 This is a three CD collection featuring some of the artists of the New Earth label.  The focus of this collection is to provide relaxing, soothing music for use by bodyworkers, ie. masseuses, physical therapists, Reiki practitioners, shaman, and anyone working in the “healing touch” modalities.   

The choices for these CDs were based on the three themes the producers had in mind, one disk for relaxing, one disk for healing and one disk specifically for Reiki.  All of these CDs are re-releases of previous works of the artists, and are gathered here in one place for the listener to appreciate as a collection. 

The first disk, focusing on “Relax” is a 55:31 minute piece by Al Gromer Khan and Amelia Cuni .  It is titled “Monsoon Point and was originally released in September of 1995.  Al Gromer Khan is probably best known for his superior sitar abilities, having been formally trained by the Khan-i-Gharana family of sitarists, a family which dates back to Mughal India.  On this piece, Mr. Khan plays electronic keyboards of his own composition, which is accompanied by the accomplished Dhrupad singer Amelia Cuni. 

Dhrupad is said to be the oldest form of vocalization/music originating in North India.  It has become the basis for the classical form of Indian music, and its roots are said to be found in the recitation of sacred Sanskrit texts.   

Traditional Dhrupad is in two major parts, alap and Dhrupad.  Alap is vocalization without words, and is the meditative part of the traditional compositions.  The second part, Dhrupad, is usually chanted accompanied by a two headed barrel shaped drum called a pakhawaj.  The alap portion usually builds the raga and the dhrupad part becomes a worded chant in rhythm cycles.   It is a very complex construction of composition, and to be a Dhrupad singer requires years of practice and a lifetime of devotion to the art form.   

Al Gromer Khan provides a composition here that is soft, floating, never intrusive and allows for Ms. Cuni to fill the spaces between the keyboard accompaniment with her mellow vocals.  I believe the piece never progresses beyond the alap form, allowing this to be a completely meditative composition.   

To some people, dhrupad may be an acquired taste.  If you are not familiar with this form of music it may seem foreign to the Western ear.  However, Ms. Cuni’s skills make this an excellent example of the art form.  Mr. Khan has provided a background somewhere between Eastern and Western music styles, giving enough “Eastern Influence” to allow Ms. Cuni to not seem out of place, yet having enough “Western Influence” to allow the "Western" listener to find some hold on the music.   

The style is floating, soft, like a still pool on a calm day, allowing Ms. Cuni to produce gentle ripples on the water.  This is not traditional Dhrupad, which is why it works well to the Western ear.  But the composition successfully achieves what it sets out to do; set up a background of meditative music to allow the client space to meditate and the bodyworker to calmly apply his trade to the client.  This is a very lovely and effective work provided by both Al Gromer Khan and Amelia Cuni.  

The second CD is entitled “Shamanic Healing” is by Kamal.  This CD was originally released in January of 2000.  Considered his best by many, the focus of the CD is, as the title suggests, healing. 

The CD contains seven tracks, for a total time of 60 minutes of music.  All are a blend of keyboards, vocalizations, flute (including bamboo and Ney) and various accompaniments by digeridoo, chimes, percussions and santoor.  The backup artists are Om Kellenkamp on Ney flute, Ramadan on santoor, Ariel Kalma on bamboo flute, and Dr. Didge Dolphin on digeridoo.   

The flavor of the music is spiritual, not really specific to any cultural style, but reminiscent of Native or Eastern music with a very Western touch.   The tracks are soft, melodious and pleasant to the ear.  It allows for meditative journeying and simple relaxation.  The final track, "Completion” is a 3:32 track of “sea sounds”, waves gently lapping the shoreline, and is a lovely finish to this collection.  The individual soundscapes highlight the artists’ excellent abilities with both instruments as well as composition.   

This is a lovely collection of compositions by Kamal.  The CD does what it sets out to do; provide a healing atmosphere for bodyworkers.  It works well in the healing modalities and again, is another good choice for this box set. 

The third CD is “Reiki Touch of Love” by the artists Anuvida and Nik Tyndall.  This is a re-release of their work from January of 2000.  This is a collaboration by German born guitarist Anuvida and German composer and keyboardist Nik Tyndall.   On this CD Anuvida plays the Kiboe, a harplike instrument Anuvida  devised and some “electronic devices”, Nik Tyndall works the synthesizers and added environmental sounds.   

This CD contains five tracks for a total play time of 52:05 minutes.  The focus of this CD is to provide background accompaniment to the healing art of Reiki. 

The two artists combine their talents to provide gentle, floating soundscapes that allows the client to relax and focus on the attentions of the Reiki practitioner as the healing modality is applied.  The kiboe provides the placid melodies while the keyboard provides soothing backfill.  The titles “Entering the Mystery”, “Gently Floating” and “Blissful Arrival” are suggestive of the feeling the artists successfully convey with this work.   There are elements of water and other "environmental sounds” which adds to the soothing nature of this music.  Each piece smoothly melds into the next, never lifting the feeling of the music from the listener.   

This CD provides the final piece for this excellent choice of works to make this compellation complete.   Overall, the CDs do exactly as the title of this box set promises, to provide a soundscape for an “Essence of Well-Being”.   

If you do not have any of these CDs, this is an excellent opportunity to obtain all three in one set.  These are excellent representations of the artists’ abilities, being among the best of the works produced by these artists.  And if you are a bodyworker, or seeking musical backgrounds for your meditations or for relaxation, this set is an excellent choice.  And finally, it is an introduction to the artists of the New Earth label.

Reviewed by MA Foster




Sleeping Lotus:
A Reflective Hour
into a Timeless Tradition

by Professor Li Xioangting

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 A guqin is a seven stringed zither like Chinese instrument.  It is the oldest stringed instrument, going back more than 3,000 years.  Historically, it is considered an instrument of high culture in China, and is also considered the essence of Chinese music.  Xiao is a single piped Chinese bamboo flute with a soft and gentle sound.  Traditionally this flue has six holes, and plays a major scale.  This flute appears as pottery subjects and wall paintings dating back to the 200CE era. 

This CD focuses on music that blends the best of both instruments.  The music is intended for meditation purposes, or relaxing, and is self described as “improvisational” rather than traditional.

Professor Li Xiangting is an acknowledged expert guqin player and he showcases his skills on this CD.  His studies and credits with this instrument reads like a “who’s who” of Qin masters.  He is a teacher as well as an accomplished master of the instrument and he has revived the tradition of “improvisational” guqin which has not been part of Chinese music for over 3,000 years. 

The style of playing is very artistic, allowing both the musician and the instrument to show off their various abilities.  Not just plucked, the instrument in a master’s hands can sing, sway, slide and provide some haunting melodies that will hang in the recesses of your mind long after the music is done.

Professor Xiangting also plays the xiao, or vertical bamboo flute.  This instrument is the perfect accompaniment to the guqin, filling the spaces between with soft, hushed tones and emphasizing the voice of the guqin.  However, Professor Xiangting’s skills with the xiao are not second to his skills with the guqin.  There are a few tracks on this CD which showcase the xiao and this master’s ability to play the instrument with skill and ease.

The CD contains eleven tracks for a total playing time of 59:38.  There is a small fold out included with the CD giving a brief history of the instruments and a short bio for Professor Xiangting.

The titles are suggestive of the mood of the piece, such as “Lilac Dreams” and “Phoenix Spreads Wings”.  The titles reflect Chinese topics and are just as lovely as the music itself.  Give some thought to the title “A Spiral of Smoke at Twilight” or “Clouds Reflected on a Winding River” as you listen to the associated tracks.   These are all original compositions of Professor Xiangting and are just as beautiful as their titles to listen to.  Each piece is soothing, calming and conducive to meditation or relaxation and makes an excellent background for pensive and reflective activities. 

If you are looking to create a contemplative atmosphere in your home or office, if you are looking for some meditative background music, or if you are interested in the history and fine art of Chinese music and musical instruments, this CD is an excellent choice for your library. 

Reviewed by MA Foster




At Ease

by Various Artists


 This compilation focuses on music and musicians which recording label Dharma Moon has selected for use with massage and relaxation.   What they succeeded in doing is creating a very restful CD of music fit for any kind of calming contemplation.

Artists like Emmy Award winning Jamie Lawrence, keyboardist Clifford Carter, Emmy Award winning and Grammy Nominated David Nichtern, composer, percussionist and vocalist Kirby Shelstad, and Master bansuri flute player Steve Gorn, to name a few, make this a Dharma Moon all star collection of some very fine music.

Steve Gorn is the featured artist with the title track ‘At Ease’.  This composition features the haunting sounds of the bamboo bansuri flute.  Steve Gorn has played with such well known artists as Paul Simon and Richie Havens.  He also appears on the track ‘Home Again’ with the group Drala that also has David Nichtern on guitar.  This track combines the best of the bansuri and guitar to give us a warm, inviting day dream with Asian influences.

David Nichtern presents us with two tracks of his own:  ‘Shambhala Moon’, an upbeat tune with lovely vocal accompaniment to the guitar by Falguni, and ‘Simplicity’ which focuses on subtle guitar and fiddle by Kenny Kosek.

Clifford Carter’s ‘Earthdream’ is a spacey, pensive keyboard offering allowing you to drift.  His experience as a keyboardist includes working with such well known names as James Taylor, Natalie Cole and George Benson.

Falguni, who worked on the track with David Nichtern, also has a track of her own – ‘Subah’ which is an excellent platform for her classical Indian vocals.  This piece is a chant that will ease you into a very meditative state.

Kirby Shelstad, who is a composer, percussionist and vocalist melds Sanskrit and Tibetan chants with some very western electronica in a piece called “Sangye”.  This piece is surprising in its feel and blending, and shows the hand of a master in this arrangement.

The final track presents the talents of Michael Hewett in ‘You Won’t Let Anybody Down’.  We see the influences of New Age music here, in a classic composition that lifts and pleases in its light guitar rifts.

All in all, a very good choice for music from well known and tested musicians with music that is true to the CD’s title.  A good choice if you are looking for background music for either body work or meditation, or to ease the stress of everyday work.

Reviewed by MA Foster




Impressions in Black and White

by Jeff Bjorck

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Impressions in Black and White is pianist/composer/Renaissance-man Jeff Bjorck’s third release to date. While Bjorck’s first two albums were inspired by nature, most of the music from “Impressions” came primarily from his imagination. A clinical psychologist and professor at a theological seminary in Southern California, Dr. Bjorck always has a lot of diverse irons in the fire, and his music reflects those various influences. This is a mostly peaceful solo piano album, with a few more upbeat and energetic pieces that allow us to see another side of Bjorck’s musical personality. As he did on his first albums, he has framed his original compositions with two classic hymns, “Day By Day” and “Be Still My Soul,” which happens to be my favorite track on this CD.

“Feather’s Flight” is another favorite. With the left hand playing the part of a gentle breeze and the right hand a floating feather, this is truly an impressionistic piece that is hypnotic and soothing. “Walking With Tevye” is quite different. Referring to the lead character in “Fiddler On the Roof,” this is Bjorck’s idea of what it would be like to join the milkman on his delivery route. Very minor and Russian-sounding, this piece has a lot of energy behind its melancholy melody - a very interesting and enjoyable concept. “Return to Catskill Meadow” is a variation on a theme from an earlier piece, and is Bjorck at his best. The spaces between the notes are as important as the notes themselves, and the beautiful fluidity makes it feel like an inspired improvisation. One of my favorites of Bjorck’s previous works is “Desert Cloudburst” (now available in sheet music!), which so wonderfully describes a rainstorm in the desert. “Sun Shower” is similar with its percussive “fat” raindrops splashing on the ground and causing steam and rainbows - played with energy and enthusiasm. “All I See Is Air” is a tale of unrequited love that Bjorck originally composed when he was sixteen. Hope and longing fill this sad and touching piece. “First Carnival” is an autobiographical recollection of Bjorck’s own experience as an excited and hyperactive child, running breathlessly from ride to ride and to all of the exhibits. Light and full of fun, this may be a bit of a surprise for Bjorck’s fans, but I like it! “Swans” is another quiet, introspective composition that reflects the grace of a pair of swans gliding on the water as the sun sets - very peaceful and serene! The closing hymn, “Be Still My Soul” is breathtaking in its beauty. A favorite of both of his parents’ as well as his hero’s, this quiet hymn obviously has very deep meaning for Bjorck, and his arrangement is so emotional and personal that I was immediately enraptured by it. I could listen to this one all day!

Impressions in Black and White is one of those albums that gets better the more you listen to it - I like that kind of complexity! There is always something new each time you hear it. Recommended! It will be available from,, and on June 1, 2005 and two free pre-release full length MP3s are available now at:

Reviewed by Kathy Parsons reprinted from Mainly Piano on Ambient Visions.