Reviews 10-23-2011

Music Reviews 



Passage Through A Dream

by Phillip Schroeder

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Passage Through a Dream is the latest release from American composer Phillip Schroeder. A faculty member at Henderson State University in Arkansas, Schroeder has taught at several other universities and colleges and received a Doctor of Philosophy in Music Theory/Composition from Kent State University. He is a dedicated New Music advocate who has performed and conducted the music of many living composers in addition to his own work.

Schroeder was raised in a military family and began studying music at a very early age. His background includes playing trumpet in concert bands, singing in boys and mixed choirs, playing electric bass in rock and jazz bands, conducting orchestras and chamber groups, playing with experimental improvisation ensembles, and performing on piano. With such diverse musical influences, it is no wonder that Schroeder’s music reflects a broad range of music genres and is always evolving. Passage Through a Dream would be categorized as experimental and classical, and presents a somewhat challenging experience for listeners. The album is well worth listening to several times to absorb the layers and nuances of the various instruments and voices as well as the ethereal quality produced with the extensive use of digital delays. Schroeder also multi-tracks to create the illusion of playing several instruments at the same time. The album includes five individual pieces that are related enough to sustain a dreamy, floating feeling from beginning to end.

The title track begins the album with the sound of trills played on a piano. A duet for piano (Schroeder) and clarinet (Michael Henson), the continuous trills give the piece a shimmering quality while the slowly flowing clarinet is cool and peaceful, suggesting effortless movement through space. “ A Necessary Autumn” is darker and more mysterious. Schroeder is again on piano (three of them!) and electric bass along with Marty Walker on clarinet. Very slow and almost mournful at times, the piano’s lightly percussive touch is a fascinating contrast to the velvety sound of the clarinet. “Oceans of Green”  features Michael Henson on clarinet, Jamie Lipton on euphonium, and Schroeder playing four-hand piano. Suggesting peaceful images of vast open space with gentle breezes creating ripples in the “oceans of green,” the mood of this piece is one of calm contentment and pastoral beauty. “On Occasion” is dark yet leisurely, with clarinet (Walker), Rick Dimond on accordion and vibraphone, and Schroeder on electric bass. Slow, graceful motion with occasional musical sparkles, it flows slowly and peacefully. “Sky Blue Dreams” features soprano Erin Bridgeman along with flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, vibraphone, harp, and piano. Bridgeman’s voice becomes another instrument that adds its own unique colors to the piece. Very open and spacious with slow, easy movement, the floating, dreamlike quality is soothing and calming.

Passage Through a Dream is very highly recommended to more adventurous listeners who enjoy experimental music with substance and style.

Reviewed by Kathy Parsons of the Mainly Piano website reprinted with permission on Ambient Visions


Star Eyes

by John Fluker

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Star Eyes is an incredible follow-up to John Fluker’s award-winning debut, The Sound of Peace (2006). The twelve original tracks are a combination of piano with orchestration and solo piano, and all convey a sense of serenity and calm without becoming ear-candy. Passionate, articulate and highly-skilled at the piano, Fluker once again demonstrates why he was awarded the 2006 NAR Lifestyle Music Award for Best New Artist. Currently Gladys Knight’s musical director, Fluker started studying the piano at the age of eight and graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music. He has toured internationally as a pianist and vocalist and has performed with a long list of musicians and singers in a broad range of genres. This varied background gives Fluker an amazing color palette to work with, and I have to say that each piece on this album is a gem unto itself. I predict he’ll be taking home quite a few awards with this album, too!

Star Eyes begins with “Evening Prelude,” a 45-second opening that sets the mood and perks up the ears for something very special. “Star Eyes (Part One)” has a very haunting and passionate piano melody that flows effortlessly as the strings add washes of background color. Gorgeous! The piano on “Anytime” has a light, dancing feeling with strings and atmospheric sounds behind it. There are two versions of “After the Fall,” a beautiful ballad with a slightly bittersweet flavor. The first version has string accompaniment, and the version that closes the album is mostly solo piano. The only thing I don’t like about the last one is that it means the album is about over. “When Love Lost” is as poignant as its title suggests. There is just a hint of string accompaniment on this one, so the piano really has a chance to sing its song of heartbreak. Love it! “A Long Way Home” is a gentle, bittersweet solo piano ballad that overflows with longing. “Star Eyes (Part 2)” brings the strings closer to the forefront than Part 1 does, but this is still very much a piano piece. Two versions of such a moving and beautiful piece are very welcome. “Night Prelude” is a solo piano lead-in to what I think is the crowning achievement of the album, the stunning “Once Upon a Night.” It picks up the theme of the Prelude and develops it to perfection over 7 1/2 minutes. I listen to a tremendous amount of music, but occasionally something will grab me every time, and “Once Upon a Night” is one of those pieces. It is just Fluker and his piano on this one, and the passions and emotional depth are breathtaking. (Hey John, are you doing sheet music for this one???)

If you aren’t yet familiar with John Fluker, do your ears and your soul a favor and discover this exceptional artist. Those who familiar with his previous albums are going  to be thrilled with this one. Guaranteed to be one of my favorites of 2011! It’s available from, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!

Reviewed by Kathy Parsons of the Mainly Piano website reprinted with permission on Ambient Visions


Journey Aournd the Sun:
A Mayan Odyssey

by Bill Wren and Frank Ralls

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Bill Wren and Frank Ralls began their unusual musical partnership back in 2008 when Wren wrote his impressive debut One Day In A Life relying on the arrangement and performance of Frank Ralls. This time around the partnership has now grown to Ralls receiving co-credit as his production and performance has now also extended to songwriting credits taking Journey Around The Sun into a more worldly and progressive theme. The results equally match the impressive debut.

Of the fourteen tracks, six of them were penned by Ralls alone though three of them come more in the form of an interlude. His most impressive solo written contribution comes in the form of the melancholy beauty “Eternal Hope” that closes out the album. Otherwise the remainder of the album is co-written with standouts being the percussion driven optimistic “Apocalypse Island” which is in contrast to “The Lost City Of Maya” that is mystical, exotic and offbeat but nevertheless compelling.

Once again Bill Wren, a guitarist in his own right does not perform on his own album and the musical partnership has only become even more blurred with Ralls heavier contribution and co-credit this time around.  Despite the unclear boundaries the results in contrast are very impressive as Wren and Ralls present a musical project that include songwriting, production, arrangements and musical performances that are nothing short of impeccable.


Reviewed by Michael Debbage of the Mainly Piano website reprinted with permission on Ambient Visions


Rainshadow Sky

by Jeff Pearce

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In the world of New Age music, Contemporary Instrumental music or whatever the current trendy phrase we are using now, the two instruments that are spotlighted the most are the piano and the guitar. Sure there are other instruments that receive some attention such as the cello, the flute and the saxophone to name a few but what about the Chapman Stick? Many of you may say “The what?” It is a very unique 8, 10 or 12 string bass that has a range of five octaves that integrates the sounds of a bass, guitar and almost a harpsichord. Making full use of the 10 string Chapman Stick, in this particular genre Jeff Pearce is peerless, who has managed to caress his very own unique ambient music that will immediately melt away your worries.

Jeff Pearce has several recordings to his name and has fully embraced the use of this very unique instrument to take us to the mystical but reassuring and peaceful world of the ambient genre. In 2005, Pearce joined forces with Will Ackerman’s engineer Corbin Nelsen to record the critically successful Lingering Light that continued to embrace his magical workmanship where the melodies were never overstated but the music never uninspiring. This is fully captured courtesy of the elegant “Jasmine In Lingering Light”. If the title of the song sounds exotic well the music is in complete tandem with its title.

The gentle exotic factor continues on his latest full length recording Rainshadow Sky despite the fact that it is a live recording. The x factor is largely because the performances are directly recorded into the sound board or computer thus avoiding the distraction of the audience sounds yet capturing the improvised and vulnerable nature of a live performance.  These are select recordings from house concerts from late 2007 through the summer of 2008 which features previously recorded pieces that took their own shape live. With the recordings completed by his wife Anastasia, the mixing and mastering of the final product was placed into the hands of Corbin Nelsen with Pearce assisting on the mixing.

Recorded in 2008, Rainshadow Sky is currently Pearce’s last full recording. Nevertheless he is currently busy with The Provision Series that is a yearlong music project from July 2011 to July 2012 in which the artist is releasing one mp3 single per month donating a portion of the profits to the matching charity of that particular month. Yes, Jeff Pearce’s unusual and out of the box vision is not just limited to his music but also to extends to the way he lives…different, commendable and inspiring.

Reviewed by Michael Debbage of the Mainly Piano website reprinted with permission on Ambient Visions