Reviews 08-12-2001

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Amazon Song Rusty Crutcher album cover

Amazon Song

by Rusty Crutcher

"Amazon Song" is the first CD in Rusty Crutcher's Sacred Site Series.  It is, quite literally, an Amazon song.  The primary instruments are the environmental samples recorded at Tambopata Wildlife Preserve on Amazon Basin, Peru.

Rusty uses a very subtle minimalist drone and quiet complimentary ethnic instruments to augment the samples.  The arrangement of the field recordings is, in and of itself, a beautiful melody.  The soundscape also has a natural rhythm. 

The first reaction to such a description would be to write this off as a schmaltzy new age recording.  That would also be a mistake!  This CD is absolutely innovative minimalism!  Rusty has created a masterpiece from "less is more."  The subtle drones, flutes and pipes are afterthoughts, used only to embellish the flow.

This disc has tremendous appeal to ambient fans, minimalist devotees and new age aficionados.  It is both a winner and a classic!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Pure Piano Panoramas Jeff Bjorck album cover

Pure Piano Panoramas

by Jeff Bjorck 

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Once upon a time I held to the belief that the vast majority of solo piano recordings were, for the most part, self-indulgent works wherein the artist merely plays the piano.  Yet there are, albeit few and far between, those discs that are rare gems which actually portray the resonant soul of both the piano and the artist.  The jewel case for "Pure Piano Panoramas" is one such release containing that elusive rare pearl of real piano music.

From the gatefold cover shot to the evenly scaled sound of the piano strings, from top to bottom, there is continuity to the theme of Panoramas as Jeff elicits an engagingly wide open showcase of personal compositions.  When one considers the writing, the playing and the recording as a whole Jeff's second release, likened to a window, is an expansive vista into the soul of the artist.  Although the term "inspirational music" has been used to identify religious works of music, and yes there are two cover tracks of quintessential songs of faith contained within, the fact of the matter remains that Jeff possesses the ability to pass his inspiration on to the listener. There is Jeff's deft, almost angelic, touch that allows him to commune with the keyboard and coax stirring dynamic presence and tone from the strings of the piano.  The artist and the piano speak, melodically, as one and gently carry the listener along on pastoral chordal passages that elicit a feeling of warmth and familiarization with the soundscapes being presented.  The melodies seem to appear suspended above the keyboards supporting bottom end.  I offer highest marks and kudos to the engineer, and the producers, for getting it right and allowing the full tonal ambience and its attendant atmospheres of the piano to speak intimately and honestly.  Although recorded indoors there is an almost uncanny timber that alludes to the spacious panoramas that Jeff writes about and offers an acoustic ambience that supports the theme.

My favorite tracks?  Undoubtedly "Desert Cloudburst", "Soaring Mesa Cliffs", and "Sculptor of the Sky".  Each of these tracks allows me to spend a moment outside of time that is both reflective and illuminating, all the while suspending and transcending the boundaries of stereo sound playback.

There are some that may notice I have eschewed the usual two parts of my reviewing style, interspersing comments about the sound within the descriptive process.  This happened purely due to the synergistic melding of the parts as a whole.  I found the task of trying to focus on any one aspect of the music, without it being tied to either the performance or recording process, most perplexing to say the least.  It could be done, with great effort and determination, but I felt it just detracted from the listening experience as a whole.  Each time I tried to dissect the sound I found myself just wanting to listen as Jeff's music cleansed and relaxed the palette of the mind.  That being said this recording is a stunner as it reminds me of some early Mark Levinson, 30 ips two track analog, LP's that I own.  You can hear far enough into the recording to be able to discern the activation, or riding, on the sustain pedal as well as the light caress of the felt hammers, but only so far as to dynamically heighten the experience and not detract from the music.  You hear a real piano and the inner faith of an artist all in it's Pure Panoramic Glory.  Highly recommended addition to the collection of any piano aficionado, you won't be disappointed.

P.S. Listening through headphones does not put you inside the piano like so many recordings do.  In speaking with Jeff by phone he explained the microphone set up that was deployed in the recording of this project.  This critical piece of the recording puzzle has been executed flawlessly and places air and the pianos notes around your head and not on a laser beam between your ears.  Thanks Jeff and Bill, it really is recorded beautifully and lets the notes float, it sounds just the way a piano in a room should.

The listening sessions were performed in the following systems:

(1) Belles XLM preamplifier, Belles 200 power amplifier with Magneplanar MG1.6QR, & Sunfire True Subwoofer speakers.

(2)The Holo-System: Musical Fidelity A3 CD player, Musical Fidelity A3 Integrated amplifier with Altec Lansing 510 A speakers.  ( A relatively large system in an extremely small room with only one small holographic listening sweet spot)

(3)Additional listening done with Sennheiser HD 600 and Sony MDR 7509 Headphones and the Musical Fidelity X-Can v2 headphone amp.  The Musical Fidelity A3 CD Player was the direct source for this system.

Reviewed by BEAR  08.12.01

Visit BEAR's bio page to learn more about him.


Machu Picchu Impressions Rusty Crutcher album cover

Machu Picchu Impressions

by Rusty Crutcher

"Machu Picchu Impressions" is the second CD in Rusty Crutcher's Sacred Site Series.  It is available from his Emerald Green Sound Productions, named to convey "vibrancy, growth, purification, healing and vitality."

Rusty is a very talented and diverse composer and performer.  This CD is loaded with nature samples, ethnic instrumentation and deep atmospheric minimalism.  On the first - and even second - listening, it would be easy to file this as a new age symphonic recording.  Deeper listening reveals the soulfulness and spirituality of the set.

The minimalism and ethno-tribal music surrounds "a background of environmental (that) were recorded at Machu Picchu, Peru, during the harmonic convergence, August 16 and 17, 1987."  The field recordings augment the music gently, tastefully and lovingly.  Rusty's pastoral melodies seduce the listeners, pulling them in while toying with them.  The actions are not malicious.  The intent is to convey the spirit and the beauty of the event.  It succeeds dramatically!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Appassionato Peter Xifaras album cover


by Peter Xifaras

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Appassionato... is an artistically enhanced lifescape, utilizing a palette of guitars, and synthesizers, in a dramatically auspicious release by Peter Xifaras.

This artist understands the romantic nature afforded by allowing sonic splendor to wrap around and imbue the listener within the air, space, and very soul created by the delicate and seductive nuances of his music.

The twelve tracks contained therein are structured in three suites, or movements if you will, entitled Appassionato Suite, Two Sketches for Guitar and Greensleeves Variations.  Any preconceptions formulated upon seeing Greensleeves in print must be abated here and now as the four tracks contained within the movement afford a startlingly eye opening voyage into the art of impressionism.

Appassionato suite is comprised of six songs; each based upon a similar three-note motif.  The opening track, "Dreamscapes", introduces the major character voices for your journey.  A gorgeously recorded guitar, made by Roger Borys, introduces a seductive, breathy, synth space, which blends into a vibrantly rich bottom end of piano. At the 2:47mark percussion awakens the senses and completes the cast of characters as the voices all join together to set the stage for the weaving of Peter's intricate spell.  Technology, used both effectively and judiciously, is juxtaposed with the earthy warmth of the acoustic guitar throughout the remainder of the disc.  Percussion and rhythmic pace are introduced within each track of the suite keeping the listener transfixed by the very chameleon like nature, continually drawing you in and guiding you along the path as one listens to the melodic revelations unfold.

Two Sketches for Guitar are exactly as advertised.  Brief interludes, one soft and sultry, the second quick and classical.

Greensleeves Variations are the most creatively instructional renditions I have ever heard.  Breathing New Age life and a newfound appreciation for a timeless, classic, melody.  The four variations are "Homeland", "Espanol", "Melancholia", and "Aeolian".  Each track is as diverse as the four winds and as refreshingly enlightening.

I must also confess to an unfathomable desire to listen to the symphonic rock classic "Close To the Edge" by Yes almost every time I listen to Appassionato.  And yes Martha that is a very good thing.

Sonically robust with a discerning ear for the delicate; Appassionato continually draws one into the music in a dramatic yet subtle manner.  Appassion"to by Peter Xifaras contains everything I enjoy about New Age Music; drama, introspection, melodic journeys, and superior sound quality; a highly recommended addition to every New Age collection.

Reviewed by BEAR  08.12.01

Visit BEAR's bio page to learn more about him.


Millennium Medwyn Goodall album cover


by Medwyn Goodall

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There comes a time in every reviewer's life when the temptation to gush with blathering bluster and superlative accolades presents itself.  So be it!  I humbly submit, a blather free, non-gushing, rational explanation in lieu of typing I love this disc over and over.

Millennium contains six tracks or mini-suites which, to these ears, present a startlingly evolutionary, unpedantic, release of accumulated dreams and visions of the artist.  Perhaps more eloquently illuminated by the artist himself when he states "Like any musician, I have early influences, and Millennium allowed me to openly acknowledge them and their work: Mike Oldfield, early Genesis, Supertramp, Pink Floyd, Vangelis, and much of the 1970's mystical rock scene.  Millennium finally allowed me to 'let my hair down' and play in a manner in which I've wanted to for years."

The richly layered, lush soundscape, and fine tuned production techniques facilitate intimate participation with the music and active engagement/recollection of the eclectic influences of my own early musical influences. Millennium allows me to finally 'let my hair down' and listen in a manner in which I have actively sought for years.

Why does this music really trip my musical trigger?  Most likely because my musical roots and influences are extremely similar to the artists.  Why do I really like this disc?  Because it presents the heritage of New Age/Ambient/Progressive Rock in a fresh, state of the art, aural tapestry of everything I enjoy about the genre?  Most definitely a resounding YES!

So what does it sound like BEAR?  Everything in and nothing like my entire audio library.  Many readers may desire a comparative compendium or honor roll of artist's 'sounds like' tally sheet.  I won't do that here.  Primarily because, at any give time, the list would change depending upon the moods invoked. Of which all the moods encountered in the course of a Millennium listening session are most desirable companions as a soundtrack for my lifestyle. 

As the host/producer of a specialty radio show, called the New Age Sampler, I am often asked to suggest a recording that displays the essence of the program.  Millennium affords the definitive response.  Recently a production room project turned into an impromptu listening session by a diverse group of 90FM staffers.  As the last track faded a young DJ commented "that is the coolest disc I have ever heard".

'Nuff said!  Millennium is an enthusiastically recommended, must have, addition for your collection and moves onto my personal definitive recordings for Ambient/New Age music list.

Reviewed by BEAR  08.12.01

Visit BEAR's bio page to learn more about him.


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