Reviews 08-05-2006 


Music Reviews 



Reel Time

by Gabriel Le Mar

Visit Gabriel Le Mar's  website


No stranger to the world of chill/ambient music, Gabriel Le Mar splashed onto the music scene as part of the best-selling Saafi Bros. An all-around performer, DJ and visual artist, Le Mar founded the  Aural Float project, which created five soundtracks for the german cult TV-series "Spacenight." 

Reel Time is Le Mar's sixth CD (and the first on the Elektrolux label). It consists of eleven high-tech, energetic, hoppin'-'n'-poppin' dance beats and groove mixes.  The album leads off with one of my favorite tracks, "Ta2ed (Liquid Dubmix)," a seven minute sojourn into foot-tapping, spacey, techno mixes that begins with what sounds like a movie projector tape reel spinning up to speed (hence, the source of the album's name?) that quickly moves into washes of synths that is joined by a dance-beat drumkit, and the mix swirls, scratches, blends, and bounces between speakers, generating a pulse that moves one's feet in a subconscious rhythm.  The mix turns and twists several times, finally culminating with the spinning down of the "movie reel" at the end.  Nice build-up and resolution. 

Aiding Le Mar capably on several tracks in this effort are Alex Azary (also from Aural Float) and George Din (a frequent contributor to Le Mar's projects).  The aptly-named Firefly, a flitting, dance-in-the-dark number that spirals for over eight minutes, showcases the synergy that these artists are able to produce.  

Throughout the CD, the consistent, insistent beat is the hallmark of this body's structure. The tapestry that Gabriel Le Mar has woven is a complex array of sounds and textures that meld and join to form a multi-hued aural experience rather than a visual one. Yet it is every bit as deep and enticing as a fabric mural.

Reviewed by Fred Puhan for Ambient Visions



Contact Point

by Ministry of Inside Things
(Chuck van Zyl and Art Cohen)

Visit Synkronos Music's  website

The  “Ministry of Inside Things,” composed of Pennsylvania synth-man Chuck Van Zyl on electronic keyboards, and Art Cohen on electric guitar, have released another compilation of passages from their live concerts. Contact Point was recorded in various places in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including two planetaria. Chuck Van Zyl, as ambient aficionados know, is the host of the “Star’s End” music program on WXPN in Philadelphia, as well as the organizer of the ambient music festival series, “The Gatherings.” 

Contact Point follows in the “traditional electronic” style set by “Ministry” (also known as the acronym MoiT) in their previous albums and concerts. The seven tracks on the album (this time a single CD) contain a wide  variety of moods and paces. It opens with surf sounds, as the first track.  Track 2, “Serenity Cove,” is  restful, contemplative  trancemusic, with a floating, modal melodic line over a slow repeating sequencer. Track 3, “Uncharted Isle,” is more weird, spacey, and expansive, best listened to in a quiet dark place. Track 4, “Fortescue,” is an uptempo, sequencer-driven jam, accented with looping guitar by Cohen. It’s all in one minor key, sounding like the European synthesizer pop of decades past. Track 5, “River Dream,” is a more experimental piece, full of eerie sound-effects including water glurp, distorted guitars, electronic bleeps, static, and multiple echoes. An even weirder element is a distorted loop repeating a clip from a Yiddish folk song. At times, “River Dream” sinks into very soft atonal minimalism, and would be best listened to on headphones. After that, Track 6, “Nightscene,” returns to a more rock-influenced sequencer sound, led by Cohen’s sustained electric guitar melodic line. The collection ends with “The Red Sun Rises,” another evocative, gentle piece accented with natural sounds of tree peeper frogs. 

This album features a rich array of tone colors, feelings, arrangements, textures, speeds, and instrumental virtuosity. But it all hangs together stylistically. These are ambient professionals and it shows in their work. If you’re an ambient fan, you’re sure to find lots to listen to in Contact Point

Included with Contact Point in the sample package sent to me was a CD of a live solo electronic set by Chuck Van Zyl, dated October 2005. This set lasts about 26 minutes, and moves from drone electronica to hard-driving sequencers. Van Zyl provides the melodic line on keyboard over the sequence, using his wide electronic and sampling resources to sound like a flute, an electric guitar, an organ, or a more raw synthesizer sound. He also punctuates one of his more droney sections with a field recording of what sounds like a chanting sports crowd. Or is it a political demonstration? He returns to a rhythmic sequencer improvisation with a keyboard melody overlay,  before he ends with a sampled choral and orchestral sound, adding a kind of majesty and even reverence to his electronic panorama. It ends somewhat abruptly, rather than trailing off into a fade. As this is all in one single modal/minor key, it holds together tonally. 

This set is certainly worthy of commercial release, though I don’t know whether he’s planning to do it. At 26 minutes, it would have to be collected with other pieces to make up a typical hour-long CD. It shows how a talented electronic musician can continue to be creative within the “traditions” of electronic music.

Reviewed by Hannah M.G. Shapero for Ambient Visions




by Drifting in Silence

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Derrick Sternbridge is the man behind the name Drifting in Silence. Among his talents other than music are graphic design, illustration, and photography. Don't be fooled by the artist's moniker because this album is actually an interplay of ambient tone poems and rhythmic groove pieces utilising guitar, bass, and keyboards. All the tracks are song length, with the longest coming in at over five minutes.

The scheme of this album is to alternate between upbeat and reflective pieces. It's like continually changing places between a peaceful lounge and a dance club. In the wrong hands this could become annoying or disorienting but somehow it feels natural here. The opening track "Uphillbattle" is an odd man out though, consisting of languorous and soupy guitar musings that generate delicate resonances into the background.

Into the second track "Shadow" and we're in the main flow of the album, though this piece is unusual in that it contains vocals. After an intro of synth chords a lively rhythmic passage of percussion and drums gets underway as blistering riffs and stretchy synth lines add a raw edge to the music. In parts there's an earnest male voice singing the lyrics, and some quieter sections to punctuate the lively nature of the piece.

Typical of the reflective tracks is "Process of Now". Almost orchestral sounding chords conveying a sense of seriousness flow in and out like a gently undulating landscape passing beneath us. All the while an echoing piano melody of sparing notes adds a sense of yearning or melancholy.

Ladderdown is one of the more exciting albums to have come my way recently. It's particularly effective with the volume cranked up, but at modest volumes the meditative pieces work best. Derrick has a deft musical touch on all styles employed on this album; it's effect on me is to reach for the repeat button a lot. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Dene Bebbington reprinted from on Ambient Visions



Such Dreams

by Rick Seaton

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CD Baby website


“Such Dreams” is Rick Seaton’s follow-up to 2003’s “Ivory Angels.” This time out, all of the music is comprised of very impressive original piano solos that tell stories and express feelings and emotions. Most of the songs are fairly light and optimistic, and a few remind me of Kevin Kern’s gentle musical sunshine. A classically trained artist who has earned two degrees in music, Seaton’s compositions have the authority and confidence of someone who really knows what he’s doing and the ease of someone who is accomplished enough to be able to express whatever he wants without any technical difficulties. There are strong classical influences in Seaton’s music, but it is fresh, accessible, and contemporary, satisfying the more astute listener as well as someone who just wants to have some beautiful piano music in the background. From the cover artwork of “The Twelve Apostles,” a collection of natural limestone stacks off the shores of Australia, to the amazing closing track, this is an exceptional CD!

“Simpler Days” opens the CD on a buoyant, joyful note. Free and uncluttered, the piece suggests springtime and a very laid-back mood. “At Last the Rain” is somewhat more pensive, but still very peaceful like a gentle, refreshing rain. I really like “Area 52,” which is livelier and in a minor key, creating a bit more drama. Some sections sound improvised and have jazz touches, making this an especially interesting piece. The title track has a very simple, evocative melody that goes through many transformations in a kind of theme and variations style that becomes almost hymnlike near the end - lovely! “Tiny Hands” obviously conveys a father’s love and sense of wonder for his small children. “Lonely Planet” is a bit more abstract and moody, showcasing a variety of emotions ranging from reflective and quiet to sparkling and jubilant. My favorite track is the closing piece, “Smooth Aegean.” This one really demonstrates Seaton’s playing chops and classical background. Somewhat flashier than some of the other pieces, it describes the tranquility of a calm sea as well as the turbulence of a storm on the water.

“Such Dreams” is excellent from start to finish!

Reviewed by Kathy Parsons reprinted from Mainly Piano on Ambient Visions



From a Distant Horizon

by J. Arif Verner

Visit J. Arif Verner's  website

Visit Spotted Peccary's  website

J. Arif Verner's third release on the Spotted Peccary label From a Distant Horizon blends acoustic instrumentation, samples, and synthesised sounds to create a unique sound experience. This is ambience that is comfortable in both its abstract and emotional elements. Offsetting the formless ambient passages on a few tracks is percussion by guests Mar Gueye and Jeff Haynes. Also, there are a couple of almost melodic tracks which feature a plucked guitar played in an expressive manner.

Beginning the album is one of the percussive tracks, "Follow the Stream Entry". Sounds of slowly sprinkling water open up to shimmering ribbons like the sparkling peaks of a not quite calm expanse of water. Heavier sonic washes and glistening pads then continually scan across the soundscape while a purposeful thrumming rhythm keeps the tempo up. This piece conjured up the image of a small inanimate object being swept along on and under the surface of water that starts peacefully in a stream and ends up in a fast moving river. The other percussive tracks "Reflections in the Memory Garden" and "Between the Divide" also have a dramatic intensity underpinning them.

In contrast, the longest track "In the Color of Air" showcases J. Verner's delicate, though still earnest, musical touch. Like looking through a stained glass window on a sunny day, beautiful drones of different hues sedately whistle, wash, and whisper along moving in such a way as to form an indistinct dance of sounds. For me this is the music of air and light, it's like sitting atop a small hill overlooking a pretty landscape and watching the clouds move and the light change as the day progresses.

From a Distant Horizon is the first album by J. Arif Verner that I've heard and already I want to hear his others. Listening to it is like walking through a gallery containing pictures that call to the imaginative and reflective parts of one's being. It's a must have ambient album in my opinion.

Reviewed by Dene Bebbington reprinted from on Ambient Visions



Through the Rings

by VoLt

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Visit Groove Unlimited's  website

Through the Rings is deep ambient space music disguised as Berlin school electronica. VoLtMichael Shipway and Steve Smith– improvised these four pieces during live studio recording sessions and they assure listeners that “no synthesizers were harmed during the making of this album.”

the set begins with a definite Berlin school piece. It is light and airy with gentle sequences. As ”Journey to the Rim” fades, ”Dark Entrance” unfolds with some ultra-cool experimental sounds, deep drones and vast atmospheres. There are sequences but they are stretched out and compliment the ambient elements. ”Through the Rings” and ”Soaring Beneath the Surface” continue the deep space adventure with expansive atmospheres that border on minimalism.

The good folks at Groove have always been willing to push the envelope and provide listeners with a wide variety of e-music. This disc is, indeed, an essential ambient treasure.

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts for Ambient Visions




by Embrase

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Visit Groove Unlimited's  website

Dreamworld is the debut cd from Embrase, a play on Marc Bras' name. It is an absolute treasure and another gem in Groove's catalog of great electronica.

This disc features ten relatively short compositions and clocks in at 80 minutes. It is firmly and deeply entrenched in the Berlin school of e-music. The heavy sequences do generate some cool atmospheres but they are secondary to the symphonic synths and the retro sounds.

That is all very cool but this cd goes farther and pleases on many levels. The melodic airs and metallic textures are smooth, evoking imagery of vivid colors and sci-fi terrain. The orchestral timbres allow for variations on Marc's theme but there is no hidden agenda. This is 'in your face, listen to me' electronica with no apologies needed or made.

This disc is absolutely essential for hard core Berlin school fans. It will also appeal to many casual fans of the style as well.

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts for Ambient Visions



Piano and Cello Duet

by Brian Crain and
YuJeong Lee

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I have always loved the soulful sound of piano and cello duets, and Idaho pianist/composer Brian Crain has created a full album of duets for himself and Korean cellist YuJeong Lee - what a treat! This is Crain’s twelfth album to date, and is certainly one of his very best. All fifteen tracks are distinctive, but the mood of the album is consistently one of quiet reflection and warm contentment. Several of the tracks are new arrangements of pieces that were featured on Crain’s previous albums. Ms Lee has studied with cello masters around the world and is obviously at one with her instrument. She and Crain have a shared sensibility about the music that communicates as a sensuous musical dialogue.

The CD opens with the gentle and wistful “Spring Waltz,” a lovely piece full of hope and renewal. “Across the
Bay” is dreamy and slightly bittersweet, wondering what it’s like on the other side. “Rolling Clouds” sounds a bit ominous, but these are definitely the white fluffy kind. Mostly a piano solo, this piece reminds me of some of Robin Spielberg’s lighthearted music. “One Morning in June” is a knock-out! Darker and more melancholy, this piece is a perfect blending of both instruments, and if it doesn’t tug at your heart, something is definitely out of whack! “Song For Sienna” is one of the older pieces, composed in honor of Crain’s little daughter (at the time). Warm and full of love, this is another beauty! “Butterfly Waltz” is a carefree ode to springtime and innocence. I love “Early Light,” which more than suggests Erik Satie’s influence. Also a piano solo, Crain really pours his soul into this piece - very haunting and elegant. “Northern Sky” was the title track from Crain’s 2000 release. Gorgeous as a piano solo, the cello makes the gentle melody even more poignant. “Lavender Hills” is also exceptionally nice with a wonderful counterpoint between the two instruments - very peaceful! The closing track is a solo “Tribute to Dax Johnson,” an incredibly talented and charismatic artist who died much too young last fall. Dax was a friend of mine, too, and this piece reflects the sense of loss that all of us who knew him and his work felt and will always feel. The piece is a touching and memorable tribute.

“Piano and Cello Duet” is one of my favorite albums so far this year, and it’s been a good year for new piano releases.

Reviewed by Kathy Parsons reprinted from Mainly Piano on Ambient Visions


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