Reviews 10-08-2005 


Music Reviews 




Water: Element Series

by Peter Kater

Visit Peter Kater's website

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


Imagination's Light

by Kevin Kern

Visit Kevin Kern's website


“Imagination’s Light” was partly inspired by pianist/composer Kevin Kern’s childhood experience of sitting in a darkened room lit only by firelight, letting his imagination guide his fingers on the piano keyboard. Kern continues this tradition by dimming the lights in the recording studio and spontaneously creating the solo piano tracks for his recordings. Legally blind from birth, it is fascinating that darkness is such an important part of the creative process for this outstanding composer. That process and an incredibly lyrical Steinway Hamburg concert grand gave birth to a gorgeous, shimmering collection of the gentle and delicate pieces Kern is known and loved for around the world. The warmth and beauty of the piano is accompanied on several tracks by Mike Miller on acoustic guitar and Terry Miller on acoustic and electric bass. Several tracks are solo piano (always my favorites!), and the only weakness in this recording is the canned strings, which sound flat and mechanical paired with the clarity and sparkle of the piano and guitars. That’s a small thing in the context of the whole album, and the strings appear on only a few of the tracks where they are noticeable. Otherwise, this album is stellar!

The CD opens with a beautiful piece called “Remembering the Light,” which is mostly solo piano. The dreamy flow of the piano is contrasted in parts by the crisp but gentle acoustic guitar. The strings on this piece actually add some pastel washes that soften the piano a bit and further enhance the wistfulness of the piece. “Safe In Your Embrace” is more of a duet for guitar and piano, with the two instruments taking turns with the melody. “Pearls of Joy” is one of my favorites. A piano solo, most of the piece is played in the upper registers of the piano and is in a minor mode that tugs at the emotions. Poignant is putting it mildly, and I think this is one of Kern’s best pieces to date. One of the surprises on the album is an incredible interpretation of Sting’s “Fields of Gold.” The guitar has a very big part in this arrangement, with piano and acoustic bass creating the backdrop for Mike Miller’s exquisite finger work. The arrangement is simple, clean, and full of passion. Great job, guys! “Keepers of the Flame” is another wonderful piano solo. The melody is bittersweet and full of yearning. “Musings” again brings the guitar to the forefront, taking turns with the piano with the melody. It’s a gorgeous piece, but the background strings seem to weigh it down - the sensitive interaction of piano and guitar is perfect without the additional accompaniment. “Sweet Dreams, Helena” has a very Asian flavor, indicating that Kern’s overwhelmingly successful concert tours in Asia have had an influence on his music. The CD closes with another piano solo, “And The Light Is Forever,” which I also think is one of Kern’s most beautiful pieces ever. Soulful and reflective, the piece feels intimate and deeply personal as it reaches to the heart.

“Imagination’s Light” is Kern’s eighth album to date (not counting any compilations), and should delight his many fans worldwide. It is available wherever Real Music is sold - at most online outlets and many retail stores. Recommended.

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

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