Reviews 10-15-2005 


Music Reviews 




Earth: Element Series

by Peter Kater

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“Earth” is one of four CDs in Peter Kater’s “Elements Series,” and features Kater on piano and keyboards, Mike Hamilton on guitars, and Richard Hardy on flutes and saxophone. The music is ambient and ethereal, and the piano plays a much smaller part on this CD than on “Water,” which is also part of this series. Hamilton’s beautiful guitar work comes to the front of several of the tracks, with Kater layering other sounds with synths and sequencers to create a peaceful, serene atmosphere. Hardy’s various bamboo and Native American flutes are warm, “earthy,” and reminiscent of some of Kater’s previous collaborations with Native American artists. The combination of flute, guitar, and piano is fairly unusual and is very effective. The synth washes add subtle colors and contribute to the sense of open space and vastness. The mood throughout the CD is peaceful and calming - truly an understatement!

The CD opens appropriately enough with “Sunrise,” a quietly haunting flute solo that melts into “Celestine,” which adds the guitar, synth, and piano - a gorgeous piece that all but floats on a cloud. The next eight tracks are a prelude and then a full piece for each of the four seasons, beginning with “Summer.” All are stunning in their simplicity and beauty. The closing track is “Sunset,” which, like “Sunrise,” features the flute, but this time has synth behind it - a peaceful close to an outstanding album.

“Earth” is available at online and retail outlets that carry Real Music releases. Recommended!

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



by Benjamin Dowling

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Productions website


Benjamin Dowling is a film composer in California whose work is mainly heard on television documentaries, ads, and other commercial productions. But he is also able to create beautiful solo piano improvisations, which gently travel between jazz, classical, and ambient genres. The liner notes of this album explain that he wishes to convey a peaceful, meditative quality to the listener through his music, and this understated set of six short pieces does the job. “Ahimsa” is Sanskrit for “harmlessness.” You will hear echoes of other, better-known “soft jazz” pianists such as George Winston,  John Boswell, or even Keith Jarrett, though the influence I hear most in Dowling’s playing is that of Liz Story.

He loves his Impressionist chords, which are just jazzy enough to keep the music from being too sweet. What is nicest about this 25-minute set from Dowling is its quietness; he deliberately keeps the pace slow and never revs it up with too much repetitive rhythms or loudness. Benjamin Dowling’s playing on AHIMSA has serenity, gentleness, and even a kind of innocence that is hard to find these days. 

P.S. For some reason, the set of six pieces appears twice, and is repeated on my review CD. 

Reviewed by Hannah M. G. Shapero 10/11/2005  for Ambient Visions.



by Igneous Flame

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Records website


“Satu” is the fourth album by Igneous Flame (aka Pete Kelly), and while not a complete departure from his earlier albums (Tolmon, Intox (both 2003) and Oxana (2004)), it does suggest new terrain has been mapped out along the journey. In terms of texture, structure and feel, “Satu” shows growth, maturity, and confidence.  

Texturally, “Satu” is a varied and beautiful album, thanks to Kelly introducing recognizable 6-string parts into his usual palate of deep resonant echoes. Many of these additions are Nylon-string acoustic guitar, somewhat of a rarity within ambient music. In the ambient “soundscapes” the Igneous sound has also undergone some changes: the whole album rings and shines, yet there is immense depth and space. The contrast between light and dark is a very strong feature of many pieces, “Anthracite” being a good example, where the piece rotates between the detail of a piece of rough stone and the dazzling brilliance of a jewel.  

Compositionally, “Satu” is also more adventurous than its predecessors. Each piece has its own unique structure, the addition of extra textures has demanded new structures, and the forms twist and turn as the music suggests. The form is guided by the sound, not the sound filling in the form. This results in a very organic and natural feel throughout the album’s duration.  

While the album shows strong growth in terms of both structure and texture, it is mood that shows the greatest change. The album is only rarely ominous or foreboding, (though “Sky-Scraper” and “Magma”, the album’s opener and closer, respectively, exhibit a darker feel), allowing the pieces to explore new emotional terrains. Beauty is certainly in abundance; “Stratos” is a gorgeous piece that lets the listener wallow in distant memories, being gently revived acoustic fragments and refrains.  

“Harbour Lights” is a highlight. Starting with a gorgeous flurry of 12 string acoustic guitar arpeggios and e-bowed'electric guitar, the piece gradually expands to a wide screen of the ocean, just before sunset. At the end of the piece, the sun finally sets, and the sounds of seagulls flying overhead, accompanied by mournful acoustic guitar fragments introduce an element of uncertainty that has been lingering underneath, into the foreground.  

“Celestia” is the catchiest piece on the album, starting with a flurry of notes, finally to settle on a slightly melancholic chord sequence. The melodies gradually dissipate into mist, with only the odd tone here and there to remind you of where they all came from. It is somewhat akin to a glass of brightly coloured liquid being spilled in slow motion. Your eyes follow the different rivulets as they move unpredictably yet logically across the ground.  

“Through the Veil” is the ambient masterwork of the album: monothematic, texturally deep and varied, and the main melody a ringing guitar that shines above all. Starting with resonant and distant chords reminiscent of Budd and Eno, Kelly plays some excellent acoustic guitar, picking the perfect notes to accentuate the drones, the gauzian haze, and the ringing theme which holds the piece in static grace. Whatever it is that is through the veil, is certainly a beautiful thing. 

Satu is a solid album, with nothing negative to report. For listeners who loved the darkness on “Intox”, some of this album may be a bit too gentle on a first listen, but as always, perseverance is called for. “Satu” does not reveal its secrets easily or quickly, but when it does, it opens up a world of delicate colours and subtle textures, like a close up of a butterfly’s wing, the wind gently blowing some of the pattern across the surface. One feels that this album is the closest we have so far gotten to Pete Kelly’s true nature, and I for one, hope this exploration continues in such a strong and individual way. 

Reviewed by Christopher Orczy  for Ambient Visions.

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