Reviews 04-13-2002


Music Reviews 



by Matthew Zachary

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Matthew Zachary's debut album, "Scribblings", is an inspiring story of courage, spirit, determination, and the power of hope. An aspiring concert pianist in his senior year of college, Matthew found himself  losing motor control of his left hand. Headaches  and fainting spells soon followed, and Matthew could no longer attribute these symptoms to stress. At 21, he was diagnosed as having a very rare form of brain cancer. Surgically removing the golf-ball-sized tumor was his only chance for survival, but the doctors could not give him any guarantees that he would survive the eight-hour surgery, let alone walk or play the piano again. After surgery and a week in the hospital, Matthew returned home to find that he could use his left hand again, but only at the level of a first-grader. He endured a year's worth of radiation treatments, suffering horrible side-effects. Sleeping most of the time, Matthew would make himself spend 10-20 minutes a day at the piano. Still unable to write legibly, he would jot down ideas and phrases on music manuscript paper, and called these notations his "scribblings". Three years later, in 1999, Matthew fleshed out his ideas and created the music for this album.

Not really seeking commercial success, this album has been placed in many hospitals and cancer treatment centers to help patients and their families in a time of terrible stress. The music is often used in pediatric cancer cases to help children relax and dissociate before undergoing treatment. Matthew's musical celebration of life and the power of hope course through each song  on "Scribblings". One might expect the music to be sad or dark, but it is vibrant and full of passion. With all of the references to how soothing the music is, I expected it to be very quiet - perhaps along the lines of Kevin Kern's recorded music - but it overflows with the power and expression of a fully-trained pianist who has lived his life with music as his focus and the center of his being. I have been listening to "Scribblings" for the past two weeks, and hear something new each time. Four of the pieces are improvisations, and the other six are composed pieces - all are solo piano.

It is very difficult to choose favorite pieces - all of them are so good and so heartfelt. "Awakenings" is very introspective - almost a smooth jazz piece. It is full of hope with some discordant twinges here and there that I interpret as being minor setbacks followed by a surge forward. "Rain" is my favorite of the improvisations. No springtime shower here - this is a full-blown storm. Both rhythmic and impressionistic, this is a piece I'd love to play! "Recovery" is mostly upbeat and optimistic with a few bittersweet moments. Encouraging and positive, the piece almost sings "come on - you can do it!"  For more information about Matthew Zachary and his ongoing work in music in health care, and to order  his outstanding CDs, please visit

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


Distant Spirits

by Scott August

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Distant Spirits is the quintessential naturalistic ambient music CD. This debut CD from film & commercial composer Scott August utilizes understated synth pads and subtle hand drum rhythms to provide a backing for his Native American flute and and occasional piano, guitar and kalimba interchanges. The melodies he creates on the flute ranges from simplistic and somewhat naive, to hauntingly beautiful. Occasionally he uses trills and stylized birdsongs from the flute as an ambient effect,  Throughout the CD he intersperses nature sounds like crickets, birdcalls and distant coyotes to create a western ambience, further bolstered by spectacular cover photography and titles like Coyote Dance and Dawn at Mesa Arch.

Unfortunately there is little about this CD that hasn't been done before. August treads no new ground here as he follows a formula that has been long established in the ambient music genre. Nature sounds, flutes over synth pads, evocative titles, etc. are all hallmarks of the genre. Not that there's anything wrong with that... these elements have become so prevalent in this genre simply because they reach people on a spiritual level. It's a journey that's worth taking from time to time, just don't look to this disc to take you anywhere you haven't already been.

Reviewed by Allen Welty-Green for Ambient Visions



by Hadra


This is an amazing collection of world/electronica fusion from an extraordinary group of musicians. Jeffery Scott, formerly of Stellamara, plays an amazing range of ethnic instruments, in real time and as samples. Oud, darbuka, hammered dulcimer, etc all contribute to the exotic blend of textures on this disk. Michael Emenau, another Stellamara alumnus, is the electronics guru, handling drum programming, synth tracks and audio manipulations. His studio techniques are straight out of club-land, but he shows an uncanny  sensitivity to the organic timbres that permeate Hadra.

The final touch is provided by Khazakhstan native Irina Mikhailova. Her sinewy vocalizing (in an unidentified language) create a perfect hybrid of the Eastern European styles of the Bulgarian Women's Choir, and other exotic locales such as India, Morrocco, even east Asia. Throughout the whole disk,  Mikhailova's voice threads in and out of the electronic/organic tapestry.

I can't help but draw comparisons with the aforementioned Bulgarian Women, and with other world/electronic pioneers such as Dead Can Dance and even Adiemus. But throughout the disc, Lumin maintains a "groove-conciousness" that sets them apart from these worthy artists... Fortunately, the grooves never lapse into the mindless repetition that characterizes so much electronica... and the electronic timbres tend be be warm and blissful, rather than hyper-kinetic - even the they kick the beat up a notch. So while these tracks would be right at home in club-land... they also fit nicely into ambient space!

Standout tracks for me are Garden, with it's shimmery hammered dulcimer work, Meta, with it's masterfully brisk and hyperactive drum programming (which cunningly mesh warm, crisp tablas with pure electronic tones), countered by layers of warm synth washes.

Reviewed by Allen Welty-Green for Ambient Visions



by Darshan Ambient

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Darshan Ambient (the name under which musician Michael Allison records) is a new artist to me, and after hearing Providence I wish I'd come across him earlier. What stands out on this album is the subtle, and understated, melodic nature of the music. Most tracks contain a mixture of laid back piano and synths or other effects.

What struck me about Providence is the mood it conjures up, somewhat like A Sunday in Autumn by Jon Mark. This mood is one of a relaxed peaceful feeling that all is well, the kind of mood I sometimes get into on a sunday afternoon when the weather is nice and there's time to sit back and appreciate life.

There is very little in the way of rhythms on Providence, most of it consists of gentle melodies and sounds. What I presume are samples from outdoor recordings of ambient and natural sounds round it off nicely.

If you want a peaceful album which invokes a sense of reverie and well being then look no further, you shouldn't be disappointed.

Reviewed by Dene Bebbington for Ambient Visions.


Finding Paradise

by David Lanz

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"Finding Paradise" will be a surprise for many of David Lanz's longtime fans and should introduce one of my very favorite composer/pianists to a whole new audience in the smooth jazz category. Long known as one of the founding fathers and trail-blazers of New Age piano, "Finding Paradise" is Lanz's progression from "heavy mellow" to "smooth age". Not a huge leap, perhaps, but the music on this CD is much more collaborative than previous recordings, and while some pieces are introspective, others are joyful and full of the fun of making music. Lanz is joined on several tracks by Dave Koz, Mark Antoine, and Greg Karukas, and David Benoit arranged two pieces.   "Lost in Paradise" knocks me out every time I hear it. David played it as a piano solo in concert last fall, and it made my fingers itch (can't wait to play it from the songbook!).

I was delighted to learn that Charlie Bisharat (another of my favorite musicians) joined David on violin on this track. Bliss!!! Rhythmic and upbeat, David and Charlie throw in some heartrending passages that convey both the irony of being lost in paradise and the tragedy that paradise has been lost here on planet earth. At the peak of this piece, both musicians are absolutely soaring. What a blast it would be to see them play this song together! I think this is David's strongest piece in years, and is worth the price of the CD by itself. But wait - there's more! There isn't a weak track on this CD. The first half of "Finding Paradise" is jazzier and more rhythmic, and the second half includes pieces that are more "classic" Lanz, so there should be something for everyone. The CD opens  with "That Smile", a  sunny toe-tapper. The gospel-tinged "Walk on Water" was co-written with TV composer Snuffy Walden.

In response to the events of 9/11, Lanz arranged Neil Diamond's classic, "America", to honor those who have come to this country seeking the paradise of freedom and in the hope that someday we'll all be free. "Dorado" is another favorite. With its Spanish rhythms and haunting melody, this is both classic Lanz and a slight departure that really works. "Tears for Alice" is a signature Lanz piece reminiscent of "Leaves on the Seine" and "Return to the Heart", which were both also composed for David's wife, Alicia. This is Lanz's tender musical side, and this piece tugs at the heart, as Lanz does so well! "Luna" is a beautiful, gently rhythmic piece that would be a wonderful slow dance.

Dave Koz's sax complements Lanz's piano perfectly, making this a stand-out. "Theme From the Other Side" is a rather unusual but very elegant piece that I really like. It has a melodic line, but feels almost ambient and floating. Jeff Beals' muted trumpet adds an otherworldly feel, and Jonn Serrie adds some of his distinctive "spacey" keyboard sounds. The closing track, "Love Lost...Love Found"
 is again classic Lanz, ending this excellent collection on a pensive, hopeful note.  I really think "Finding Paradise" is David Lanz's best and strongest album to date, and that's saying a lot since I've been following his impressive career since the early '80s. Give yourself a treat and experience the range of Lanz's playing and composing styles. You can't miss with this one, and may find your own little bit of paradise!

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


Dust Theories

by Kim Cascone

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The first two tracks, entitled "Dust Theories 1" and "Dust Theories 2", offer some bizarre experimental aqua-sonic sounds. These sounds are slowly enmeshed into a world of quirkiness and short incomplete samples. At times there is a feeling that your feet are wading in a small stream, only to see your feet wet in sound. At first the samples do not seem to fit smoothly into the music. This tends to make the music rather unpredictable, but that does not indicate a negative sounding album. There furthermore seems to be a strong sense of chaos, which tends to enhance the unpredictability that Kim Cascone has placed upon us. A few places show some signs of wanting to break into something collectively ambient, but eventually continues on its unpredictable path. There does not seem to be much change within the first two tracks. Totaling 40 minutes together, both tracks remain rather challenging to those who listen (preferably with an open mind).

Track three, "Edgeboundries 123", uses similar sounds, but with a faster pace. The samples sound more like they are being used in "hyper" mode, creating a microcosm of tiny structures. There tends to be more of a consistent base as opposed to the previous two tracks, however the chaos still remains to some degree. This track is much more experimental sounding.

Track four really takes off. Again, the samples remain similar, but this time Ben Nevile  re-mixes "Edgeboundaries 123". There seems to be an emergence of a beat and more grooviness to it. Less experimental and more defined in the way of music. Electronically heavy in nature, this is the most pleasing track on this album.

Track five is a rather soft drifting ambient piece with some sonically bizarre samples that build and flourish within this track. The minimal synth provides a working background to allow the busy samples to collaborate and unite into something magnificent. It is journey with a nice distortion of reality.

Reviewed by Jack the Tab for Ambient Visions


Resonant Memory of Earth

by Max Corbacho

Max Corbacho's website


Max Corbacho's new release, Resonant Memory of Earth, should appeal to lovers of slow, quiet, dreamy ambience such as James Johnson's Entering Twilight and the second disc of Steve Roach's Dreamtime Return. Although nominally divided into four tracks, Resonant Memory is really a 73-minute opus with no breaks and few overt differences between the separate pieces.  Most of the album is composed of long, sweeping motions, too protean in form to be considered drones.  Overtones from single pitches slowly divide and merge into each other, fed by occasional swaths of white noise.  There are hints of melodies in Lands of Sacred Silence, and the distant promise of wildlife and morning birdsong in the beautiful long title track that closes the album, but elsewhere we hear gentle shimmering, poised halfway between sleep and waking.  The ambience is still and beatless except for a ten-minute interlude in the title track, where Corbacho introduces a simple rhythm loop of hand drums and seed rattles.  Corbacho is a Spanish artist whose previous releases have been highly praised, and which focus on summer nights and nocturnal breezes.  With this release, he provides a very spacious sound, layering the sonorities between both channels and with enormous reverberation that gives the listener a peaceful sense of distance.

Reviewed by Caleb Deupree for Ambient Visions


Turning Point

by Terry Oldfield

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Terry Oldfield's "Turning Point" was inspired by the early voyagers who were ready and willing to leave everything familiar behind and sail through the oceans into the "great unknown". Writing the music coincided with some major changes in Oldfield's life. He had a dream a couple of years ago about being in an old library, and browsing through an old book. The words "turning point" jumped out at him, and he knew he had to make some major changes in his life. He moved his family from England to Australia, and also changed record labels. The songs reflect that transition, and also seem to be a tribute to the dreamers and risk-takers of the world. Most of Oldfield's earlier recordings (at least the ones that I'm familiar with) were primarily instrumental in nature, but this album consists of six vocal tracks and one instrumental piece. I tend to prefer the instrumentals, but the variety of vocalists and their individual singing voices and styles is very interesting and evocative. Oldfield provides most of the instrumentation with his signature flutes and keyboards. Some of the vocals have kind of a folkie feel to them.

The lyrics are simple and direct, and with guitar and flute in the background, there is an easy-going mood. This is especially true in "Bright Star", which includes a charming children's choir and sounds of the ocean. I also really like "Into the Blue", which is darker and more complex, and the lyrics are haunting. "I'm taking the first ride out of my mind", and "I'm lost but I don't mind anymore" give you an idea of the searching and the emotional impact of the words. Matt Oldfield's vocals and guitar are strong and convincing, and Terry's Irish low whistle and keyboards are atmospheric and powerful at the same time. "Lost For Words" is the lone instrumental on "Turning Point", and is beautiful with alto flute, pan pipes, and keyboards. It is a "big" piece that would do well in a film soundtrack (something Oldfield has done a lot of!), but it also brings out visual images and lets you sail on your own imagination. "Some Kind of Miracle" is poetic, and Jenna Monroe's vocals are warm and inviting. There are several instrumental interludes in this piece, making it leisurely and open. "Guardian Angel" has a lovely melody, but I have to admit that the words reminded me a little bit of a stalker who is at least sane enough to know he can't control the person he is watching. Then I thought maybe it was a father watching his daughter and wanting to protect her, and that made it very pleasant to listen to. There is an mpeg video of "Guardian Angel" included in the CD that will play on Mac or PC. "Turning Point" is a very enjoyable and moving chronicle of a man's spiritual and physical journey and the emotions that go with a major turning point in his life.

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


Didjeridoo Trance Dance

by Various Artists

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What hath Nomad (aka Adam Plack) wrought?

With a few exceptions, this is a CD of high speed techno dance tracks, segued together into essentially one continuous wall of sound. In fact, I frequently had to check the display on my CD player to know when a new track had begun!

The unifying element on all tracks is the sound of the didjeridoo, though I hesitate to say that there is much actually didjeridoo "playing" on this disc. With the exception of a few transitional drone breaks, most of the didj work on this CD consists of samples of various short didj grunts and braps woven into the rhythmic tapestry... just one more element in the non-stop beat. And except for the didj timbres, there is not much here to distinguish this collection from most other techno dance disks.

The standard elements are all here... percolating synth bass tracks and blippy arpeggios, studio trickery like rhythmic echos and swirly reverb washes, all laid over drum machine beats and percussion loops. Some hallmarks of the individual tracks include breakneck "jungle" beats on Gurrupurung by Gondwanna and Anyway I Tell Ya, by Ganga Girl (along with a few sampled horn stabs for good measure), vocal chants on Awowedas by Lost at Last, subtle guitar loops on Didge-Na-Gig by Global. Andy Graham's Thunder includes some organic-sounding ethnic percussion interspersed with the drum machine beats, and a slightly melancholy melodic fragment that underpins Factory Farm by Didjworks.

The final two tracks break form the formula a bit. In lieu of the standard drum machine timbres, Kemetic Song by Hayan features a hypnotic dumbek/conga groove with a riff that sounds like it might be from a sampled log drum underscoring some lively, seemingly authentic didj work, and Entrance, by Si, features an almost imperceptible shaker rhythm backing up a pair of real didj tracks creating a lovely primal drone.

Reviewed by Allen Welty-Green for Ambient Visions


Every Step of the Way

by Matthew Zachary

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Matthew Zachary's second solo piano CD is stunning. I didn't think he could improve on his first album, "Scribblings", and was surprised at first at how much more complex musically "Every Step of the Way" is. The reason for that is simple - in 1999, Matthew was still recovering and retraining his left hand after surgery in 1996 to remove a malignant, golf-ball-sized brain tumor. He had to start from scratch with his left hand not only with playing the piano, but writing, and most other functions. If you are not familiar with Matthew's story, please see my review of "Scribblings" on this same page to learn more about this incredible young man who has been to hell and back and survived, determined to share his message of hope and encouragement with those less fortunate than he is and who are still struggling with the ravages of cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Now six years in remission, Matthew's two CDs are being used extensively with health care providers and organizations to provide messages of hope and inspiration through "InspirationTherapy". Classically-trained for ten years, Matthew Zachary successfully blends classical and jazz elements into his own distinctive style, keeping the tone positive, but not shying away from the discordances that are part of life and reality. Three of the eleven pieces are improvisations, giving us a marvelous look at the inner workings of an incredible musical mind. As with "Scribblings", it is difficult to single out any favorites. All of the pieces are strong, colorful, and full of hope. I do especially like "Followthrough", with its moving forward, catching its breath, and then surging forward again. "Aura" is one of the improvisations, and is a swirling, roller coaster of a piece. "Kaleidoscope" was composed for a child's ear, simple, direct, and positive - a musical warm and encouraging smile. If I had to choose one favorite piece from this outstanding CD, it would be "Believe". One of the improvisations, I love the shifting rhythms and a phrase that also appears in "Rain" on "Scribblings". This piece is an anthem to Life and to the joy of beating the odds. I love it! "Wynter" has traces of Vince Guaraldi's compositions for the Peanuts Specials, and was composed as a tribute to Charles Schultz. "Autumn Drive" starts out peacefully and builds to describe country-side scenery blurring at high-speed on a back road. Also full of joy and  exhilaration, this is another great piece in a great collection! "Every Step of the Way" is sure to be on my Top-10 for 2002!  Matthew Zachary's CDs are available from at his website.

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


Asian Drums II

by Kiyoshi Yoshida

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Yoshida is a synthesist who incorporates traditional Japanese Taiko drumming with electronic timbres and samples of traditional Japanese instruments like Shakuhachi and Koto. This is the second of his Asian Drums series. The music here takes the same approach to Japanese music that "Riverdance" took to Celtic music... indentify the most accessible aspects of a particular musical idiom and infuse them with western style beats until you have a very "safe" collection of music that manages to evoke it's sources without requiring much effort on the part of the listener. I'll leave it to the reader to decide if this is a valid approach.

The thunderous drums of the Bonten taiko ensemble roar away in the background of every track - it's definitely not space music! Above it all, you hear electronica-style beat box tracks supporting the sparse pentatonic melodies. If you took out the taiko drums, you would still be left with nice, asian-flavored electronica. Likewise, if you stripped away the synths and beat-boxes, you'd have a great album of taiko drumming - as is hinted at in a few intro passages where the drums wail away for a bit before the electronics kick in.

Most tracks on this CD follow essentially the same formula, but a few standouts include Duel - an aptly-named work that features a shuffle-y sort of tech-beat which meshes interestingly with the solid taiko playing;  Mad Spider's Web, with it's intensely driving beat; and WAZAWAI, easily the standout track, with its solid electronic/organic interplay punctuated by eerie banshee wails in the chorus sections. This is the point where Yoshida's efforts finally seem to gel.

Reviewed by Allen Welty-Green for Ambient Visions


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