Reviews 2-29-2004

Music Reviews 


A Place Without Noise

Wayne Gratz

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Wayne Gratz has always been a master of understated piano compositions, and "A Place Without Noise", his seventh collection of original piano solos for Narada, is perhaps his  most peaceful and introspective album yet. The fourteen pieces are solo piano, piano with Paul Fleury accompanying on cello, or piano with synth washes. Each piece is a distinctive "vignette", but the album as a whole maintains a calm and tranquil mood throughout. Wayne Gratz has been one of my favorite composers for a lot of years, and it's always a delight to savor his new music. As has been true of many of Gratz's compositions, the majority of the songs on "A Place Without Noise" are inspired by nature - "Clouds", "Mist of a Waterfal", "Willows", etc. My favorite piece is "Still Pond", a gorgeous piano and cello duet that is the absolute aural definition of peace and contentment. "Onset of Winter" is a very spare and evocative mood piece.

Gratz is incredibly good at making the open spaces between the notes and chords as important and effective as the notes themselves. I was down at the shoreline this morning playing frisbee with my dog, and "Birds in Flight" captures perfectly the feeling of having flocks of gulls, terns, and other shorebirds flying all around you - beautiful and breath-taking! "Sunday at Twilight" is serenity set to music. Gentle and thoughtful, it is easy to imagine watching the stars come out one by one as the sun sets. If you enjoy quiet piano pieces with a calming effect, you'll love "A Place Without Noise"!
I found that I enjoyed it even more each time I listened to it (about ten times), and I know this is a CD that will NOT sit on the shelf once the review is finished. Very highly recommended!

This Kathy Parsons review originally reviewed for  Solo Piano Publications website. It is reprinted here on Ambient Visions with permission.



by Craig Urquhart

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"Evocation" is a stunning collection of original piano solos by Craig Urquhart. The grace and depth of emotion conveyed in Urquhart's music is a reminder of how profound and colorful the piano can be in all its glory as a solo instrument. The
music is accessible and easy to understand, but this is not the sort of music you would use for background music. This is music to be savored many times with full attention, and perhaps in a darkened room without distractions. With nature and environmental concerns as the primary sources of inspiration, most of the songs are minor-key and melancholy, but not without a sense of hope. There is  a variety of playing styles and influences, from the light-hearted "Fruhling" ("Springtime" in German) to the tragic "The Whale's Lament"; the collection even includes to two bluesy pieces. Classical influences as diverse as Bach, Chopin, and Satie can be heard, but Urquhart's voice is uniquely his own. The pieces tend to be very spare and uncluttered, but are played with such openness and purity of emotion that each piece packs a wallop.

Each song carries a somewhat different message, and yet the album holds together as a strong and powerful whole, creating an unusually satisfying experience from the first note to the last. I played the CD three times in a row because I just didn't want the experience to end. This is a rare CD that won't sit on my shelf once the review is written. 

It is very difficult to point out a couple of exceptional pieces, as they are all incredible. "Poem" was composed for Urquhart's ailing father, and is a reflection of the peace that came upon his family with the acceptance of passage. It is structured, but has the improvisational quality of a soliloquy or a private and intimate conversation. There is sadness, but also a sense of grace. "Old Trees" is Urquhart's reaction to a world where ancient trees can be cut down for profit. The tale of the old trees is told from the trees' point of view, and is a call for mankind to leave a more reverent legacy. The
message is heartbreaking. "The Whale's Lament" represents the singing voice of the whale as he or she makes a lonely journey through the ocean. I can't imagine anyone hearing this piece and not stopping dead in their tracks to listen more closely. "Wind Dance" is a bit more upbeat and rhythmic, but is still pensive and darkly beautiful.  

This is my first review of 2003, and what a great way to start the year! I wouldn't be surprised if "Evocation" was my favorite album for the year. It is available from and I give it my highest recommendation.

This Kathy Parsons review originally reviewed for  Solo Piano Publications website. It is reprinted here on Ambient Visions with permission.


Nirvana Cafe

by Karunesh

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"Nirvana Cafe" is Karunesh's second release for the Real Music label. More adventurous than the earlier "Zen Breakfast,"  I really like the variety of sounds and moods on this album. Although intensely spiritual in nature, "Nirvana Cafe" conveys more of a zest for life than many recordings of this type. Some of the tracks are quiet meditations, but others bring in strong bass and percussion, just begging to have the volume cranked  up a few notches! Govi contributes outstanding guitar work on four tracks, and the rest of the varied sounds are multi-instrumentalist Karunesh working his
musical wizardry. I love "Revelry", a rhythmic confection with pan flutes playing a simple but compelling melody. Other instruments are introduced as the song goes on. I hit the "replay" button on my CD player for this one all the time. "Keeper of Mystery" is more ambient, but also has a strong rhythm. It is dream-like but also catchy. "Chuang Tzu's Dream" tells the story of the Taoist sage's dream that he was a butterfly. Upon waking, he couldn't tell if he was a man
dreaming he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was himself. Very beautiful, soothing, and intriguing with Asian influences and lovely flute work. "Sapphire" is another beauty with lots of open space to float around in. Actually, all of the tracks are really good - those mentionedare favorites, but there really are no weak spots.

Very highly recommended!

This Kathy Parsons review originally reviewed for  Solo Piano Publications website. It is reprinted here on Ambient Visions with permission.



Opal Fire

by Omar

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I LOVE THIS ALBUM!!!!!!!! I first heard Omar's music on the Real Music compilation "Freedom to Love," and his track, "Last Dance," was my favorite on that album. I was really looking forward to Omar's debut CD, and it is even better than I was hoping! A classically-trained pianist with an international upbringing (he is the son of a UN diplomat),
Omar mixes acoustic piano with synthesized orchestrations, creating a sparkling musical palette with colors from all over the world. It is impossible to not compare Omar's music to Yanni's early work - it is full of fire and excitement as well as beauty and emotion, and the instrumentation is varied on each track. One major difference is that Omar's piano always sings through, and he is obviously a pianist first rather than simply using the piano as one of an assortment of instruments. My favorite piece is still "Last Dance," which grabs me every time, and stays in my head long after the CD has finished playing. It starts out with a light piano melody, and is gradually filled in with other instruments and rhythms. This is not a sad "last dance," although there is a slightly bittersweet quality to the melody - the piece is really quite joyful, and I can't get enough of it.

There are no weak tracks on this album, but a few others really stand out for me."Morning Rain" is a beautiful, gentle piece with mostly piano and guitar. The melody is simple, but so beautiful and passionate that this one sticks in my head, too. "Farewell For Now" has a classical feel when it is just the piano with background instrumentation, but then the rhythm track kicks in, bringing it right back to the 21st century and giving it a big grin. "Innocence Lost" is one of the few sad tracks, but demonstrates Omar's range of playing and composing styles - just gorgeous! "Gypsy Woman" is big and noisy in parts more subdued in others, and is full of fun. It's hard to believe that the guitar parts are synth. "Longing" is a quiet piece, mostly piano and strings, and full of passion - again compellingly beautiful. "Opal Fire" is definitely one of my "top 5" favorite albums for the year so far, and I can't wait to hear more from this incredibly gifted artist. I give "Opal Fire" my highest recommendation. It is available from,, and, as well as wherever Real Music's albums are sold.  

This Kathy Parsons review originally reviewed for  Solo Piano Publications website. It is reprinted here on Ambient Visions with permission.


Pure Joy

by Russel Walder

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Russel Walder's debut on Real Music is a wonderful surprise from many angles. Half of the very successful team of Ira Stein and Russel Walder, the piano/oboe duo had two hits on Windham Hill in the "80"s and a release on Narada's Sonia Gaia label in 1990. They then parted ways, and pianist Ira Stein formed his trio. I hadn't seen anything more about Russel Walder until this new release, "Pure Joy". Oboe as the principal instrument sounded like it could be kind of awful, but it is instead rather awesome! All of the nine tracks are ensemble works that include piano, keyboards, guitar, vocals, and strings, but Walder's oboe sings with and soars above them all in a marvelous mix. The pastel yellow cover art with a guy literally jumping for joy made me think that this might be a really fluffy album, but it is anything but fluff. With a multitude of influences,  "Pure Joy" is expressed as the joy that comes from deep within and lasts - not a momentary burst of exhilaration. Drawing on faith, love, grace, and a sea of emotion, Walder paints his portrait of joy with tinges of sadness and melancholy, as joy never remains as an absolute. To weep tears of joy, one must experience tears of pain and sorrow, and Walder's music conveys both with a profound depth of emotion. This is a great album, and I highly recommend it! It is available from most of the online music dealers and


This Kathy Parsons review originally reviewed for  Solo Piano Publications website. It is reprinted here on Ambient Visions with permission.