Fire In The Rainstorm by Kori Linae Carothers

album coverOne of the main focal points of the feature articles I write here on Music and Media Focus, in addition to highlighting the music on an album, is an in-depth profile of the artists themselves; their inspirations, motivations, background, and more. In the case of pianist Kori Linae Carothers this back-story is as inspirational as the elegant expressive music she creates. So before delving into her new release, Fire In The Rainstorm, I’d like to share a bit about the fire within her that helped get Kori to where she is now in her career.

If I had to choose one word to describe a motivating characteristic of Kori’s spirit it would be “overcoming.” I recently had the opportunity to meet Kori at the ZMR Awards in New Orleans, and in a subsequent interview I asked her if she had anything in particular to share with readers of this feature article. To which she replied: “I want people to know that they can live a life they really want. I am a living testament to that, so if anything is standing in your way… overcome it.” These are lofty words, and as the saying goes: “easier said than done.” However, Kori speaks from deep personal experience.

When she was just 5 years old, it was discovered in a health screening that Kori was deaf in one ear. Sheartist-kori-linae-carothers was teased about it by her young peers, but perhaps worse was that doctors and others told her throughout elementary and high school that she would never become a musician. However, the warrior nature within her emerged and, undeterred, she continued learning and practicing in pursuit of her dream. Now, many years later, Kori is facing another major challenge – a debilitating neurological vocal disorder that is threatening her speech. But, as in the case of her hearing disability, she is resolute not to let it deter her from what she wants to achieve in her life and career.

Against the odds, Kori began classical piano lessons at the age 8, and actually began composing her own songs when she was 14. She continued on, eventually studying music at Brigham Young University. I have always found it fascinating in my 30 years as a music journalist to hear how many contemporary musicians were influenced by The Beatles to take music lessons and pursue a career in that field. And Kori was one of them. However, another very different early influence was a cassette that her parents bought her of John William’s soundtrack to Star Wars, which captured her imagination and opened her mind to new musical frontiers.

Imaginary RoadA bit later in life another “tipping point” for Kori was when she discovered the music of Windham Hill with artists such as George Winston, Liz Story, Alex DeGrassi, Scott Cossu, and others. In her words: “Upon hearing the label’s music, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.” So you can imagine what a thrill it was when, in 2008, Kori had the opportunity to meet the GRAMMY winning guitarist and founder of Windham Hill Records, Will Ackerman. After hearing Kori’s music, Will was so impressed that he invited her to his Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont where she recorded her previous album, Trillium, and now a few years later, this current release, Fire In The Rainstorm. About this new album, Will shared: “Kori’s music has evolved in its complexity and richness over the years, but the strength of her artist voice is powerful and singular enough to unify all of her work as purely her own. In her latest work, Fire In The Rainstorm, there is a freedom and expansiveness that is the product of an artist who has come utterly into her own with poise and confidence.”

So, what is the sound and soul of this intriguingly titled album? I’ll start our by saying that the sound quality isSteinway in studio as exquisite as you would expect being produced by the dream team of Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton along with Kori. The highly modified Steinway piano at Imaginary Road Studio is legendary and has provided the instrumental voice of numerous outstanding pianists over the years. The opening track, “A Day Like No Other,” touched me emotionally right from the start with its dreamy and slightly wistful melody. I appreciated the sense of dynamics in Kori’s playing – knowing when to lean into it and when to lay back, as well as finding the balance between notes and space. This blend of technique and feeling, for me, is one of the hallmarks of a great musician. I also enjoyed the peaceful pastoral ambience of a track called “Meadow,” which was as warm and welcoming as a sunny day in the countryside. According to Kori: “This was inspired from working in the meadow with Will. He was cutting down a Birch tree. It was one of those moments in life where time slowed down… one of those ‘ah, ha:’ moments.”

I was curious as to what the title track would sound like given its enigmatic name. It turns out to be quite descriptive as the notes in the opening movement fall from her fingers like the first drops of rain in a summer shower. As the composition evolves, the flames are fanned. However, again, the sense of dynamics I spoke of earlier is evident, and just as a fire needs oxygen to exist, there is breath within the blaze as she refrains momentarily to provide some air and a release from the buildup. The maturity and level of expression in Kori’s playing are impressive.

In our interview, I asked Kori whether there were any tracks that held a particular significance for her. As she told me: “Time Passages has to be the one that really stands out for me. When I play it I see in my mind’s eye the seasons coming and going reflecting the various changes in different landscapes, and watching my children grow from toddlers to the interesting persons they are today, and as the song fades out, I see a leaf falling off the tree… leaving the continued memories open to more growth and understanding.” It’s a lovely piece that evolves through a variety of moods and movements to tell its touching tale. And speaking of touching tales, a poignant piece called “The Day” is dedicated “to those that lost their lives on that fateful 9/11 day and those that gave their lives to save others.” This is an updated solo piano version of an electronic piece that Kori featured on an earlier album 10 years ago.

MarvinAnother song that holds particular meaning for Kori is the unusually titled “The Kindly Beast.” In her words: “Since the passing of my much loved little dog Marvin, The Kindly Beast is an eternal reminder of who he was to me. I wrote this piece when he jumped up on my lap and kept putting his paws on my hands in order for me to pat him and hug him. The song was written around that.” It’s a heartfelt tribute that moves between major and minor modes like a playful and sometimes mischievous puppy. The album draws to a close on an elegiac note with “When The Trees Fell,” that was inspired by the demise of “the beloved five sisters”, a giant tree with five trunks growing from one root system that was taken down by a terrible storm.

The ability to communicate stories and emotions in her music is a gift that Kori is eager to share with the world. As she describes: “I love playing the piano and composing. I also listen and within my minds eye. I have stories in each of my compositions. My vision is to compose uplifting pianoscapes for the spirit. The true goal is to touch people’s lives. Letting them know…when they hear it, it’s authentic, real, and speaking to their souls.” Kori Carothers is truly an inspiration, both as a musician as well as in the example she has set in her life to not let anything deter one from following their dreams and pursuing their passion in life. Fire In The Rainstorm is an eloquent artistic statement from a highly regarded pianist/composer whose music resounds with heart and soul.

The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart

A big congratulations to the two recording artists I did feature articles and promotional packages for in this past year who have received nominations for the 2019 GRAMMY AWARD in the New Age category:
PETER KATER, and LAURA SULLIVAN, who won the category!

Also, congratulations to CARLOS SANTANA, a 2019 Kennedy Center Honoree. My feature article about him and his music was published in Awareness Magazine, as well as on this site.
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I’m excited to present my own forum to shine a spotlight on some wonderful and inspiring new CD’s, video, books, etc. A site where I could provide promotional resources and give exposure to a greater number of talented artists. (See Writing Services on the link below for more details.)

Music and Media Focus

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy what you read here. And please click on the “My CD’s” and “Magic Theatre” page links below to check out some of my own music, video, and links.

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“When the power of love overcomes the love of power,
our world will know peace.”
Jimi Hendrix

The Atlantean Legacy by Paula Bates

With a title like “The Atlantean Legacy” it’s easy to conjure up an image of a large time-worn leather bound manuscript with yellowed parchment pages, yet in reality, this book couldn’t be more 21st century. I received my copy on a CD-ROM disc that I read on my computer, and it is also available as an on-line download for your Kindle or other e-book reader. It came as part of a multi-media package that also contained a separate CD of music inspired by the book. I’ll talk about that later, but first a bit about the book and it’s author.

Paula Bates holds a Masters Degree in Counseling and works as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. She is also certified in Hypnotherapy, Reiki, and a number of other holistic health practices, with a particular interest in women’s spirituality, which she facilitates groups and workshops in. Not surprisingly, she is also an accomplished visual artist and painter. I say “not surprisingly” because of the incredible level of detail and imagery with which she paints her word pictures in the book, reflecting her artistic inclinations. According to Paula: “Since I was a child, creating art has been an integral part of my life. As a mother, a writer, and a trained therapist, I find the details in my subject matter are very important to me.” Her highly descriptive narratives leave little to the imagination while allowing it to soar at the same time.

The book dives right in and immediately immerses the reader in the story of Akana, a gifted young lady who is about to become a priestess on the mythical continent of Atlantis. This fictionalized account is steeped in metaphysical lore and pays particular attention to life and rituals in the sacred temple where she is in training. The book contains something for everybody with elements of mysticism, spirituality, ancient history, adventure, romance, and intrigue. Having read many books over the years by Edgar Cayce and others about Atlantis, I found a number of kindred themes woven into the fabric of this story, such as the use of crystals, energy grids, extra-terrestrial connections, dimensional gateways, and more. Readers who enjoyed the classic book “Initiation” by Elizabeth Haich will find a lot to like in this story as well.

The aforementioned descriptiveness of Paula’s writing style definitely drew me into the story and imbued it with a cinematic quality. Having drawn comparisons to “Avatar”, this would indeed make a wonderful movie – an idea not lost on the author who holds the hope that this will one day come to pass. Whether one believes that Atlantis was real, this story takes you into a fascinating and magical world that holds relevance and parallels with our own, as shortsighted modern day people continue to experiment with powerful energies that could ultimately lead to our destruction, as they allegedly did in those ancient times. “The Atlantean Legacy” is an intriguing blend of metaphysics and fiction that takes the reader on a journey of imagination and vision – an artistic bit of storytelling that makes you feel like you are there. And, who knows, maybe we were?

CD REVIEW:

Musical Inspirations From The Atlantean Legacy
Amy Camie and Janiece Jaffe

I can imagine nothing more gratifying to an author than for their work to be the inspiration for another artistic creation, as is the case with this CD being inspired by the writings of Paula Bates in “The Atlantean Legacy.” Amy Camie is an award-winning harpist, recording artist, and public speaker on the healing power of music, whose lush entrancing harp playing evokes a feeling of ancient times. Janiece Jaffe, who is a professional jazz performer with an extensive background in sound healing and various holistic modalities, adds ethereal textures on bowls and toning. Her beautiful crystalline voice reminded me at times of Enya. They are joined by Kim Taylor, a registered nurse, holistic healer, and teacher who creates invocations in an ancient language which adds a far away feeling of another time and place.

The story of how this music came about is an interesting one. The three came together, set up their instruments, and after a section of the book was read, they spontaneously created music in the moment based on the vibe of the writing. The energy flowed and the entire recording of 12 tracks was done in three hours. It really captures the magic and feeling of the story and creates a perfect background ambience while reading the book, or for listening later to immerse yourself in the spirit of Atlantis. If ever the book becomes a film, this would be a wonderful soundtrack.

Key Of Dreams by Galya

 A child prodigy is defined as “someone who, at an early age, masters one or more skills far beyond his or her level of maturity.” There can be little doubt that virtuoso pianist Galya grew up fitting this description. Although she is a young adult now with a number of CD’s and professional accomplishment’s to her credit, her extraordinary talents were recognized at an early age where she lived in her Ukrainian homeland close to Russia. Her love affair with the piano began at the tender age of 6, and the next year she attended a music school for children, where she studied music and piano. Remarkably, when she was only 12, she received an offer from the largest Ukrainian sheet music publisher to publish her works. Galya eventually graduated from music college and continued on to be awarded two higher diplomas as a pianist and composer from the University of the Arts. And as if that wasn’t enough, she was recognized as the best student in the conservatory and was first place winner in international competitions.

Moving to France in 2002, provided Galya with a fresh perspective and a supportive cultural context, known for its nurturance of the arts. All this inspiration only served to fuel her creative pursuits and in 2009 she released her first album entitled: If Only. Supported by her solo concert performances, the album garnered considerable radio airplay both in France and abroad, and the music eventually became available as a songbook a year later. As her popularity grew, she released “Winter Love,” an EP and songbook containing Christmas songs for piano. And in 2011, by popular request, she published an instructional songbook called “Easy Romantic Piano,” specifically geared for the beginning student.

Categorizing Galya’s music is an interesting challenge. Years of formal training have given her a deep appreciation and love for composers such as Bach, Prokofiev, and Debussy, who she cites as her favorites. However, she also finds inspiration in contemporary pianists such as Yanni, David Lanz, Keiko Matsui, and others. In her words: “The basis of my musical education was classical music, but in my life, I have been engaged in jazz, songwriting, and other modern styles. I have also written a lot of music for children.” All of these various influences combine in her personal style that is indeed romantic, emotional, and expressive. She goes on to speak of her mentor who taught her that in music, “it is not only the knowledge, but most importantly – the heart. It was he who showed me that the most important – and most difficult part is to create a beautiful melody. Music written only by the head and not by the heart is stillborn.”

Which brings us to her latest CD release, “Key Of Dreams.” From the first notes of the title track, it is obvious that the qualities of the head and heart are both present and are as integrated as the symbol for yin/yang. As I began listening to this track for the first time, I looked out my window at the fog rolling in on the San Francisco Bay and couldn’t help thinking that this song, “Key Of Dreams” made a perfect soundtrack for the misty vision outside. On Galya’s website, her music is described as having: “finesse, sensibility and a small tinge of nostalgia,” and there definitely is a wistful air that permeates a number of her melodies, adding to the dream-like quality referenced in the album’s title. Another feature I noticed in the first song, as well as in others, was how often the music would take unexpected turns, sometimes just for a note, a chord, or a phrase. I liked how it caught my attention and kept me listening closely for what would unfold next, as well as leading me to appreciate her outstanding abilities as a musician and composer. Throughout the course of the album I continually marveled at how she could come up with such intricate and poignant melodies. Galya’s playing is remarkably mature for someone so young. Although the music may be classified as “new age” and exhibits the expansiveness and free flow generally associated with the genre, her years of classical training are particularly evident and her influences are close to the surface – a wonderful blending of styles and inspirations.

One of my favorite pieces on the album is “Ocean Song” with its rolling arpeggios that conjure images of waves lapping on the shore and its refrain echoing an emotional depth like the sea itself. Another composition that references nature and the elements is “April Snow,” although displaying a distinctively different ambience. With its’ swirling and dancing melody, it captured, for me at least, a picture of a snowfall, not in the cold gray dead of winter, but at a time when Spring and hope are in the air – an intriguing contrast. I also very much enjoyed a track entitled “Lightness,” of which there is a beautiful video on Galya’s website that shows her dressed in a flowing red formal gown performing the piece live on a world-class Boesendorfer grand piano. I was impressed by the elegance of it all and by the graceful expressiveness of her hands on the piano. Key Of Dreams is a blend of exquisite musical technique and evocative composition that eloquently reflects an expression of both head and heart.

Accidental Etudes by Milana

accidental etudesWhile some composers may spend great amounts of time and effort carefully writing each note and chord change of their music with pencil on notation paper, others choose to create spontaneously according to their inspiration in the moment. Pianist Milana is one of the later, who as poet William Blake described: “kisses the joy as it flies.” The title of her new album Accidental Etudes is descriptive of this aspect of her creative process. In her words: “It never ceases to amaze me how music finds its way to come through us from the world and back into the world. Anything that surrounds us can become the inspiration that ends up being a musical story, a journey on the ivory keys: a sight from a window, a child’s laughter, bad weather, good weather, tranquility of a forest, rumbling storms, pain and happiness, madness within and falling in love. Every time I get a chance to escape to my world of music with a touch on keys, I feel like I discover another improvisation hidden in my effort to compose. These improvisations of mine are purely accidental: they are moments in time that never repeat.”

Given that everything around her can serve as inspiration for her music, Milana has a lot to draw from. In addition to being a pianist, vocalist and music school graduate (with honors), she has had the life experience of living in very different cultures around the world.  Born in Ukraine, Milana lived in Israel for many years and eventually moved to Canada in 2008 where she lives now. Not surprisingly, her music is diverse as well and has been described as “embracing a variety of styles – everything from folk, blues, opera and Middle Eastern, to her soft spots for rock and jazz.” This diversity is actually part of her creative process, as she describes: “It’s fun to go over different genres and moods in some kind of a loop: jazz, blues, rock, classical, ambient, mad, angry, relaxing, meditative, melancholic, contemplative, surreal, and so on, and so forth. Never know what will inspire another improvisation and how it is going to sound.”

Milana has released three piano albums, one ambient/ new age album and one album pianowith her original songs (mainly jazz and soul, with piano as the leading instrument). Her music has earned her a number of awards and honors on SoundCloud, ReverbNation, and AudioSparx. As a composer and lyricist, her style has been described as “reminiscent of Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan.” Much of her musical influence and life experience blend and are reflected within the tracks of her fourth album release, Accidental Etudes.” Among these influences heard on the title track which opens the album is neo-classical, which is not surprising as Milana is a fan of Beethoven. In her words: “One of the reasons why I love Beethoven and am inspired by him – he was among the first ones (if not THE first one) to use piano as a full orchestra, playing both low and high octaves, unlike previous composers who tend to use the mid octaves.”

Some of that keyboard range is heard on the second track, an upbeat tune called “Sunny Keys,” where some of the mid and lower registers are brightly accented by sparkling sounds of the higher octave keys. With a generous 18 songs on the album, there isn’t room within the scope of this article to write about each one, but I’m happy to share, what are for me, some of the highlights. Expressing her individuality is a track called “Dare to Be Me,” which starts off bold and assertive, yet expresses some more reflective sentiments within. Showing what is perhaps a more vulnerable side is a spacious and impressionistic piece entitled “Feel My Pain.” With a bit of jazz influence, this piece brought to mind Keith Jarrett in particular passages. I particularly liked Milana’s performance dynamics and the sense of determination in a piece called “I Won’t Give Up.” A different side of the emotional spectrum is displayed in “The Madness Within,” which as the title implies is quite intense, and reveals her classical influences. On a more contemplative note is “Missing the Sun.” Something I was aware of in this track, as well as in many of her other songs is the unpredictability of her chord changes and the flow of the music. This is a positive thing, and I enjoyed be continually surprised at where the music would go next within a song’s movements as it unfolded.

MilanaAgain, in a case of the title capturing a song’s essence, “When I Am in Love” is a lovely romantic ballad with shadings of pop and jazz elements. This, however, was not always the case. A song called “Dancing with Hades,” was not what I would have expected at all, and certainly did not conjure up any hellish imagery. It was actually quite touching and serene. By the time I got to track 15, “When I Can’t Fly,” I thought I had a fairly good idea of Milana’s stylistic range, but she managed to surprise me once again. On this track, she introduces a bit of dissonance, not heard in her other pieces. It gives the piece a little more edge that some listeners may find adventurous. One of my favorite songs was the stately and elegant “Waltz of a Dying Candle.” I found this one emotionally evocative and I liked the imagery that the title kindled. However, for me, the best was saved for last with a gorgeous piece called “Out of the Dark,” which was moving, full of hope, and a perfect way to end the album.

While this recording is easy to enjoy, it’s harder to classify, given the variety of influences that shape it. According to Milana: “I am not a ‘purist’ when talking about styles and genres, my playing style is a blend of neoclassical, jazz, blues, soft rock and some others. It turns to be quite troublesome to get a review in piano-related magazines for such a ‘non-purist’ piano album. ‘Lovely, but doesn’t fit our format’ is a typical answer.” However, on the other hand, its’ stylistic inclusiveness opens the door to a wider listening audience. I appreciate the improvisational nature of Milana’s creative process and hope she continues to have more musical “accidents” in the future.

Reiki Meditations by Nandin

cover_20Reiki_20image002People are drawn to music for a wide variety of reasons and purposes. For flutist and multi-instrumentalist Nandin, music is a vehicle for spiritual attunement and healing… although it wasn’t always like that for her. In her earlier years Nandin (rhymes with Kathleen) studied with famous flutists, practicing for hours daily, getting a music degree in composition, winning competitions, playing in a professional orchestra and various ensembles and finally teaching at the local University and Music College in her native Canada. While she first studied piano and guitar, when she was 16, hearing the sound of a flute was like the call of the Pied Piper to Nandin and she was entranced by it. In her words: “I heard someone playing the flute, and suddenly I had to have one. I mean, I really had to have one! I saved up by working at the local summer fair in Calgary.”

About the same time Nandin started playing flute she also began doing yoga, which opened her up to a sense of Nandininner peace and spirituality. At a point along her path, Nandin felt a strong calling to the spiritual teacher Osho, which led her in new and unexpected directions. As she describes: “When I first played for Osho in India, he gave me one of his penetrating looks, and for me, time stopped. I was filled to the brim with presence and tears came afterwards as an overflow in a kind of peaceful joyousness.“  She became drawn to playing meditative music for its calming effect on listeners, as well as on herself.

Also after years of formal musical training Nandin began to discover joy of improvising and being in the moment with the music. In her words: “Once I got away from classical music, Hari Prasad Chaurasia became for me an icon since he is the absolute master of the Indian bamboo bansuri flute. Indian music is mostly based on improvisation, which also appealed to me. I was always attracted to improvising, but only got good at it after my classical training gave me really good technique to rely on. Now I can simply let go and play.”

goddessplaying0Building on the calming effect of meditative music, Nandin began to study various forms of healing as well. In this regard she shares: “I have studied many healing techniques – including Reiki, Prana Healing, Divine Healing, Shiatsu, Cranio-sacral healing, Rebalancing, Intuitive Massage, Attunement, Essence Healing, and the Enneagram.  I have personally felt the release of energy and emotions of the people that I was working with. In many of these techniques, we work with intention, and I would say that similarly, the intention behind the music also carries over to the listener.” The particular healing modality this album is based on is Reiki, which Nandin describes in this way: “Reiki is a Japanese form of what we call in the West “the laying on of hands”, which has been around unofficially for centuries. (Even some doctors are said to depend on their “bedside manner,” with regard to the healing process of their patients.)  Basically, we are energy receivers and transmitters, and Reiki is one way to access this.”

Which brings us to her Reiki Meditations album on the Malimba Records label. According to Nandin, “A different meditative instrument provided the inspiration for each composition on the CD.” In addition to her silver and alto flutes, accompaniment includes a variety of singing bowls, bells, gongs, chimes, harps, ambient keyboards, piano, and tambura (more on some of these instruments later.) The album opens with a track called “Flute Invocation,” that is certainly quite serene and dreamy, creating the perfect sonic space for the listener to let go and attune to Nandin’s energetic intention over its nine and a half minute length. As she describes: “The way I created the first track ‘Flute Invocation’ was to follow the musical energy intuitively while creating the underlying sound carpet. This intuitive response to the energy is also what I follow when giving a healing session like Reiki.  I then recorded the alto flute, also from that meditative state.  The underlying music simply called forth the flute line, so to speak.”

Track 3, “Gratitude,” is the first to use one of the more ancient instruments; in this case Himalayan Singing singing-bowlsBowls. Nandin’s creative process with these is interesting, as she describes here: “The tracks with the traditional meditative instruments were created by playing these instruments first, and then shaping the music to match them. Usually, these kinds of percussion instruments would be added later, but I wanted to use them and their particular qualities as the foundation for each piece. This meant that I started with the meditative character of those traditional instruments, and molded the music around them to reflect that. These instruments are also traditionally used to balance energy, so it was perfect to use them as the basis for the composition instead of adding them ornamentally later.”

2-1-16-Product-Shots-8215_largeIn my interview with Nandin, she provided a wealth of information about the instruments. I found her description of the Seven Metal Tibetan Bell used on track 4 quite fascinating: “The bell and Puja stick are two items traditionally used by many spiritual traditions throughout the East. The bell represents wisdom and the feminine aspect of the divine while the Puja stick represents the creative and forceful male energy. During ceremonies and rituals the bell is held in the left hand while the stick is in your right hand. As the sound of the bell resonates the bell and stick balance the negative with the positive to harmonize one’s life and surroundings. These items are also used for space clearing in Feng Shui.”

Track 7, “Meditation Arises,” uses Japanese Rin Gongs, which are found in Zen meditation temples in Japan. In swarmandal-910002addition to these traditional instruments, each of the 8 songs on the album are built on a sound bed of ethereal synthesizers with string and/or choir sounds that create a very subtle background ambience for Nandin’s airy flute to drift peacefully over, accompanied on some tracks by the above mentioned healing instruments. The final track entitled “Joyous Return,” has a particularly Eastern ambiance with the drone of a tambura and the celestial sound of the swarmandal, or Indian harp. This piece evokes a sense of timelessness and makes for a wonderful conclusion to this tranquil listening experience.

I had to make sure my feet were still on the ground when getting up after hearing this album with headphones. Reiki Meditations is quite transcendental and it’s hard to imagine a better soundtrack for meditation, yoga, massage, healing work, or just relaxing. Nandin’s flute playing is exquisite and I appreciate the intuitive and improvisational nature of it. Her go-with-the-flow approach is perfect for her and in our interview she shared that during the recording process she very rarely needs to do more than one or two takes.

IMG_2278-Nandin-playsA perfect way to conclude this feature article is with a quote from Nandin in reply to my asking: “Why are you a musician, what does it mean to you?” In her words: “Music touches me deeply, and a life without it would definitely be emptier.  There is something magic about what we can do through music.  Shamans have used it since time immemorial, and almost every religion uses music to bring the listener back to their own being.  J. S. Bach wrote his music ‘To the glory of God’ which always impressed me.  I would like to think that I am also doing that in my own small way.”

In the Season of Fading Light by Jeff Pearce

Looking out my window at the sun slowly slipping below the horizon of the San Francisco Bay this mid-November evening, the music and the title of Jeff Pearce’s latest CD, In the Season of Fading Light, create a most appropriate soundtrack. As on the cover of his album, clouds tainted in muted yet luminous hues are breathtaking in their beauty, while they subtly signal the coming darkness of winter in this transitional time of year. And speaking of transitions, there is a major one to be found on this, the tenth album in Jeff’s extensive career as a recording artist. I have been a big fan of his music over the years and am certainly among the many who regard him as one of the premier ambient guitarists in the new age music genre. His sonic explorations on electric guitar with special effects and looping, as well as an esoteric 10-string instrument called the Chapman Stick have expanded the spectrum of guitar-based music with a textural ambience that is often mistaken for synthesizers. So the aforementioned transition to this primarily piano-based CD, came as a surprise, and marks another chapter for this innovative instrumentalist.

Before delving into his new music, and the interesting project it evolved from, I’d like to share briefly about Jeff’s journey to this point in time. He started playing guitar in 1980 at the age of 13 and continued on into his college years when his world became expanded by a number of unlikely influences. While many young guitarists of that era were drawing inspiration from the likes of Led Zepplin and Van Halen, Jeff’s musical perspective was broadened by his discovery of medieval polyphonic composer Hildegard von Bingen. Although I can’t think of many (or any) electric guitarists who cite her influence, Jeff was inspired to explore this path less travelled in his music. Another revelation for him while in college was the landmark ambient music of Brian Eno, and in particular, his seminal Music For Airports. In 1993, Jeff released his first album and he has been a prolific recording artist ever since. His music has received critical acclaim, success on the charts, and extensive airplay on syndicated radio programs like “Hearts of Space,” and “Echoes.” In addition, his music has been used in high profile projects by The NBC Summer Olympics, Muzak, and Mercedes Benz, as well as in film and video soundtracks.

This abbreviated retrospective brings us to the present moment and Jeff’s latest release, In the Season of Fading Light, and the project behind it. The music on this album is from his “Provision Series,” in which he created a new musical track each month for a year and made them available by digital download with a percentage of the profits going to different charities. Among them were: the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. American Heart Association, American Childhood Cancer Organization, Special Olympics, Goodwill Industries International, the Search Dog Foundation, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, and the Red Cross. This new album contains all of the tracks from the series, with $1 from each CD sale going to Feeding America, a charitable organization, which services food banks around the country. Jeff is certainly to be commended for his efforts, both musical and humanitarian.

As mentioned, Jeff Pearce is best known for his impressionistic ambient guitarscapes, so the release of this decidedly piano-centric album was an unexpected event for people familiar with his previous music. Traces of his guitar electronics are found on some of the songs, such as the title track, which opens the album. Ethereal sustained guitar softly shadows the chord changes on this atmospheric and melancholy composition. A similar air pervades “A Secret Of The Moon,” where the guitar takes on the semblance of a string section, gently supporting the wistful piano melody. Other songs, such as “Where All Rivers Begin,” “Harvest Prayer,” “Newfallen,” and a number of others are all piano solos, and evoke memories of some of the classic Windham Hill pianists. This is not surprising, however, given that Jeff has been studying with one of the best of them – Philip Aaberg.

I was intrigued while listening to a tune called “After The Frost,” when, about two thirds of the way into the song, the piano was joined by a cello-like tone, which sounded to my ear like an electric guitar being played with an Ebow – an electronic device which sustains the string producing a bowed effect. Another interesting use of sustained guitar is found on Winter Waltz where extended notes are gently pitch bent, trailing off ghost-like into the distance. Perhaps my favorite song on the album was “Words From The Rain,” a dreamy drifting piano soundscape with clouds of guitar ambience and the sound of rain providing imagery for the minds eye. While I have been pointing out some of the guitar accompaniment, the piano is clearly Jeff’s primary voice on this recording. The guitar work in this context is tasteful, yet understated. As much as I have always appreciated Jeff’s exquisite ambient guitar playing, and look forward to hearing more of it in the future, I acknowledge him for stepping out to explore other avenues of instrumental expression.

I was impressed with how well the music evoked the feeling of the title: In the Season of Fading Light. Other than a few songs toward the end, such as The Road and the Wind,” and “Into Spring,” which as the titles would imply, express more lightness and motion, the album’s aura could be described as reflective, haunting, and ruminative, portraying in sound the spirit of approaching winter. The audio quality of the CD is excellent, and sparkles from the expert polishing in the mastering stage by Grammy winning producer Corin Nelsen. The album closes with the appropriately named “Where All Rivers End.” This was another of my favorites and featured a subtle sonic tapestry of guitar gracing a meditative piano journey.

In speaking about the inspiration for his artistic endeavors, Jeff shares: “There are many different things that can inspire music: nature, memories, paintings, etc…. and I’ve been inspired by all these things at one time or another. Usually, the music flows best when I’m in a state of peace in my life.” There is a sense of peacefulness that comes through in this atmospheric music and I have no doubt that listeners will find just the right moments where it would make their own perfect soundtrack.

Jeff Pearce will be making a rare west coast appearance at AMBICON in May of 2013. Sponsored by Hearts of Space, this is the premier event for fans of ambient music.


Deep Alpha by Steven Halpern

A recent article in the LA Times described Steven Halpern as an “internationally acclaimed composer, recording artist and producer whose healing music put the field of sound healing on the map.  Halpern is known as “a founding father of the New Age music genre.”  He was also recognized in Keyboard Magazine as “One of the most influential keyboard artists of the past 35 years, who changed the way we compose, market and listen to music.”

One of the distinguishing features of Steven’s music is the way non-linear time, space, and silence, are integral parts of the music. As a listener, this kind of music makes it easier to get into the timeless present moment.  As such, “Deep Alpha is optimally experienced in a quiet space, with or without headphones, and eyes closed so that the listener can immerse their self in its resonance. In this way, they can tune their brain to the frequencies of bliss, healing and deep meditation without years of practice. The result is a ‘natural high’- at the speed of sound!

Deep Alpha can help you feel like you’ve meditated for an hour in only five minutes,” according to Halpern. “So if you’re stressed out and only have short amount of time to spare, listening to any song on this album can be beneficial. However, to get the full effect, it’s best to listen to the entire album,” Be assured that “Deep Alpha can be enjoyed purely as a recording of exquisitely beautiful music, without needing to focus on the psychological research and intention behind this project. The music on this CD is the classic dreamy sound that many people have come to associate with Steven Halpern.

A major part of his sound from the beginning has been the Rhodes electric piano, which has a warm bell-like tone that is unique to this instrument. On Deep Alpha, Steven is playing the latest updated version of the Rhodes – the Mark 7. In his words: “The sound of this instrument produces the purest tone of any instrument I’ve ever played.” Along with the electric piano are subtle washes of synthesizer and a few tracks feature the tambura, a meditative Indian drone instrument that is mixed quietly in the background. Some songs are also enhanced by the fretless bass playing of Michael Manring, a world-class musician best known for his work on a number of Windham Hill recordings.

The album begins with deeply resonant bass and cellos, adding an ascending series of notes that you can feel move up your spine. From the very first notes you may become aware of a shift in how you feel. It can happen within seconds – you may notice your breathing slowing down, your muscles relaxing, and tension beginning to release. A breathtaking arrangement featuring Halpern’s iconic piano and Grammy winner Paul McCandless on oboe touches the heart with every listening.

What makes Deep Alpha of special interest is that the focus of the music is to help “entrain” or synchronize the brain waves of the listener into the ‘Alpha zone’, at precisely 8 cycles per second, characterized by deep and blissful relaxation that nurtures the heart and soul. Utilizing his trademarked Aural-Sync technology, Halpern combines his soothing musical compositions with brainwave sound technology that gently but effectively ‘entrains the brain’ of the listener.

As Steven explains: “Your brain is being entrained all the time, whether you’ve been aware of it or not.   Every time you tap your toes to the beat of the music, you’re being entrained. Every time you’ve enjoyed the flickering flame of a candle or fireplace, you’re being entrained. The former affects your entire body and the later affects your brainwaves. So the question really is, do you want to become more aware of what’s up in your world, and make more conscious choices that support your physical, emotional and spiritual health?”

He goes on to say: “I believe that tuning in to the world of brainwave entrainment music can make a positive addition to our lives. I predicted this during my on-camera TV interview with 48 HOURS on CBS back in 1991. That statement may have been ahead of its time then, but I think it’s an idea whose time has come.”

In a career spanning over 35 years, Steven has released over 60 albums, which have sold more than 7 million copies worldwide. As well as being an originator of the modern field of healing music with his quietly revolutionary approach to composing and recording elegant soundscapes that create a beautifully peaceful listening experience, Halpern also pioneered the ‘functional’ use of music to support the body’s natural ability to heal itself.   His new album takes both aspects into a higher octave. On Deep Alpha, Steven Halpern explores new sonic territory with some of the most radio-friendly soundscapes of his illustrious career.

Check out Steven’s enlightening and entertaining articles and videos on brainwave entrainment music at www.StevenHalpern.com.

Elders & Ancestors by Agrelia’s Castle

EldersandAncestorsIf I had to choose one word to describe the music on Elders & Ancestors, it would be “enchanting.” It’s diaphanous tones and textures, along with strings, subtle percussion, and sounds of nature create a magical soundscape for ethereal vocals and earthy Native American flute to drift dreamily over. Agrelia’s Castle is the musical identity of husband and wife team Paul and April Brown. According to them, this offering to the world is their way to give back to all of the wonderful teachers they have met along their journey, many of whom are no longer with us, who have shown them how to live, under difficult circumstances, with beauty and grace. This music is dedicated to all of them. These words serve as a preface to the inspiring story behind this album.

“Brother Paul” Brown is a GRAMMY nominated producer and keyboardist for the well-known Celtic folk/rock band from the UK called The Waterboys that began in 1983. Although Paul has been involved with the music world for quite some time, April was drawn into it much more recently, in a roundabout way, as a result of circumstances beyond her control. While that may sound mysterious, it is an essential part of the story behind this music.

As April tells it: “Our story started in June of 2017, when Paul and I met. Not two months later, I found out I had breast cancer. So, our story has always been entwined with my cancer journey. I feel like God – or the universe, or whatever appellation you might give to what I have come to understand as the collective consciousness of everything – brought Paul into my life just when I was going to need him the most.” In 2018, April’s breast cancer had returned and spread Native fluteextensively through her body, beginning a long and difficult road of intense challenges. One time, while on a healing retreat, April participated in a drum circle and she became entranced by the sound of the Native American-style flute, which she found to be a soothing and magical instrument. She goes on to say, “Paul gave me my first flute for my birthday that year and it felt as if I was being united with an old friend. I felt so much peace and joy when I played.” According to Paul, “It was as if she’d played this instrument all her life. Her articulation, her vibrato and her choice of the very notes themselves all just completely blew me away!”

Paul and April’s first musical collaboration was on a guided meditation recording, on which Paul insisted that April be involved on every level as a participant rather than a spectator, much to her reluctance. As he shares: “Not long at all or perhaps even right as we were nearing the finishing line of the guided meditation album I knew in my soul that we had to keep somehow keep this going.” As Paul recollects after recording their first track of original music they created together: “When we finally played the last note and looked at each other I swear it felt like we had just made the most amazing, intimate passionate love without as much as a single physical touch. Then we went back and listened to the track in the control room and as this AprilandPaulBrowntrack was playing I felt this overwhelming mountain of joy welling up! Like we’d just hit the relationship lottery! That for me is truly what every track on this album represents. Every track has been a healing, growing challenging experience, and a new and beautiful means of self-discovery on both a musical and personal level.”

While creating the album was a joy and an accomplishment it was also a huge challenge. As April shared with me in an interview: “The album overall has taken us over three years to complete. We worked together between Paul’s other projects and gigs, and when I was feeling well enough to spend time in the studio. There was a period of time when a medication I was taking affected my voice – I had difficulty speaking much of the time and couldn’t sing at all. So between the two of us, just finding time to work on the album could be challenging. But it was also the best time we ever spent together. It was our quality time together. In creating music together, I think we were also creating a new paradigm for our relationship. Our old roles in the relationship had changed dramatically after my metastatic cancer diagnosis. This was a healing experience for us, a growing experience, as a couple.” On Ancestors & Elders, Paul and April share their music, inspiration, and healing energy to all those going through challenges of any kind. It also provides an oasis of calm for anyone seeking a relaxing listening experience.

Painting by April Brown

            Painting by April Brown

This is actually an abbreviated telling of the couple’s story and what went into the making of this album. But it’s enough to give the reader an idea and a greater appreciation of the music we will now be discussing. The album begins with the title track, and true to its name, Elders & Ancestors, there is an ancient feel to it that is both earthy and ethereal at the same time. Dreamy synthesizers, nature sounds, percussive textures, Paul’s echoed keyboard notes, and April’s Native flute and wordless vocals create an archetypal new age music ambience that immediately draws the listener into their sonic landscape. That serene vibe flows into the next track, entitled “Adrift.” I love the way it starts with the sound of water and the warm bell-like tones of Paul’s vintage Fender Rhodes electric piano. Throughout the album, Paul also plays organ and other keyboards, as well as drums and percussion. April’s angelic vocals float over the aqueous soundscape with subtle percussion adding a bit of earth element.

On track 3, “Breathe,” Tom Shinness, who plays guitar, harp guitar, cello, and bass, joins the duo. And adding a bit of world music influence is Richard Cushing on the sitar. And speaking of world influences, after the piece begins with the sound of wind and tinkling chimes, the first instrument heard is a kalimba, or African thumb piano creating a nice little groove that the other instruments begin to layer over. In addition to April’s previously mentioned wordless vocals, on this song she sings lyrics as well. “Breathe” is an extended track that unfolds gradually over nearly twelve and a half minutes. When the sitar comes in over a lively beat after about 4 minutes, it provides a nice change up and an exotic flair.

AprilandPaulBrown2After this rhythmic romp, the music migrates back to a more meditative mood on the appropriately named “Spirit Dreaming,” as well as into the following piece entitled “Sonnet” with its lovely cello accents. On track 6, “Wayfaring Stranger,” a new accompanist, Mike Farris, handles the lead vocal part in a soulful style that tells an inspiring story. The album ends as it began with just Paul and April. Opening with the sound of the ocean and a spacious piano intro by Paul on “Agrelia’s Lullaby,” April’s layered wordless vocals create a heavenly choir that brings the album to a lofty conclusion.

This gorgeous gift that Paul and April have given us in the form of Elders & Ancestors is imbued with healing, hope, and above all, love. The energy they have put into this creation illuminates each beautiful composition. While I was both moved and elevated by the music itself, knowing the story behind it made the listening experience that much more inspiring. Having said that, I will leave the final thoughts to April to conclude this feature article. In her words: “The songs on this CD are very meaningful to me. They have grown from our journey through the cancer landscape. They come from a desire to create peace, joy, and hope in our lives. When I listen to our music, I feel soothed and uplifted. It is my hope that other people, people living with chronic illness or those in caregiver positions, will experience the same soothing, uplifting feelings when they listen to our music.”

Agrella_poemart

Chakra Love by Mantrananda

Chakra LoveChakra Love is the debut CD from a Los Angeles-based duo of Vicki Howie and Jeff Bonilla who record under the name Mantrananda. The word means “the bliss of spiritual sayings (mantras).” Incidentally, for those who may not be familiar, chakras are the energy centers of the body as described in Eastern spiritual teachings. The project began with Vicki, who is a master hypnotherapist, life coach and advanced yoga instructor. According to the album’s liner notes: “While teaching yoga in 2005, Vicki started singing accapella mantras during the final resting portion of her classes. She didn’t consider herself a “singer” at the time, but simply felt compelled to share the healing energy of the mantras she had learned from world-renown devotional singer, Deva Premal. As her students began asking her if she had a CD they could buy, Vicki gradually got used to the idea of creating one. She knew she needed to find the right musical partner who could bring instrumentals, inspiration and creative collaboration.” The project had a long germination period and seven years later she met singer/songwriter Jeff Bonilla who helped her bring it to fruition. Jeff is a former police officer, with over 20 years of experience in a wide variety of musical styles. But what made him the perfect person for this project was the fact that he had previously written and directed a film called “Chakra Love”, which he won a Best Director award for. They chose to use that name for their album in homage to the film. I found it particularly interesting that Vicki sees the chakras as gender-based pulsations – 3 female, 3 masculine, and one unity, so for that reason, she especially wanted a male collaborator for the project.

Vicki and Jeff knew they had made the right creative connection with each other when at their initial Jeff-Vicki-musicmeeting, they wrote the first song literally within minutes. They felt their muse was with them and that the music seemed to flow through them of its own accord. Over time, they got together regularly and composed a song for each chakra. Vicki’s vision was that each song would remain true to the energy of the chakra, which was an idea that appealed to Jeff. In his words: “There are a lot of chakra albums out there but what I found was that for the most part, most of the chakra music sounds very ethereal and indistinguishable. So that was the challenge. On our CD we use the seed sound of each chakra and captured the essence/element in the music and lyrics. So 3rd Chakra “Manipura” whose element is fire, sounds fiery and upbeat and not ethereal like the 6th Chakra “Ajna,” which is an upper chakra and should sound ethereal.” Rather than use the same style of music on each track, they varied it considerably, incorporating elements of acoustic, pop, and electronica along with vocals by both Vicki and Jeff in Sanskrit and English. This blend creates a melodious melding of ancient and modern.

As the album opens on the first chakra, we are greeted with the sounds of nature – crickets, rain, and thunder, establishing an appropriately earthy ambience. Soon after, a funky beat lays down a groove that is overlaid with Jeff’s shimmering electric guitar and synthesizer background. At this point, it occurred to me that this song could have been called “Chakra Rock,” for its foot-tapping, head-nodding sound that draws you in right from the start. It is definitely a departure from the more meditative chakra music commonly heard. But it is true to their purpose of having the music match the energy of each chakra. With the stage set, Vicki makes her entrance chanting the name of the chakra and Sanskrit mantras. Midway through, the music drops down in volume and Vicki does a beautiful spoken word segment honoring Mother Earth, before the groove and chanting resume. Later in the piece, Jeff joins in on synthesizer and vocals processed through electronic effects adding a bit of psychedelic atmosphere to the track – very cool. While some mantra-based music can, by nature, be fairly repetitive, the skillful arrangement of this composition kept it interesting and diverse, while maintaining the needed sense of continuity for meditative purposes.

On the second chakra, the earthy beat-driven vibe of the first track, gives way to a more watery guitar and syntheszier soundscape, with Vicki chanting in English about letting the river flow and letting your self go. In places, her vocals were multi-tracked, giving an Enya-like choir effect. The third chakra, which is related to the solar plexus and the fire element, definitely brings the heat on a highly danceable track with an 80’s rock vibe complete with lead guitar solo, and Vicki entreating us to “feel the fire in your soul…” There was a touch of Auto Tune used as an effect on her vocals to give that contemporary sound that is so in vogue these days. Again, like the first piece, there is a nice breakdown in the middle where the beat drops out for a bit leading into a more spacious section before rocking out again.

chakras-caduceusAs to be expected, a very different energy pervades the fourth track, related to the heart center. In an interesting choice of musical background, this mid-tempo piece had an opening chord progression and overall sound that reminded me of the hit song “Every Breath You Take,” by The Police. However, it soon moves into a dreamy drifting space with Vicki chanting the Sanskrit name of this chakra – “Anahata.” In one section, Jeff steps out a bit more vocally singing a repeated phrase: “The heart is the bridge between body and soul.” This was a beautiful piece with another fine arrangement. Not to overdo comparisons to other music, but echoes of Pink Floyd reverberated on the trippy track 5, “Visuddha,” which, in certain sections, featured some of Vicki’s most soulful singing heard thus far. As mentioned earlier, the music evolves from earthy to ethereal as it progresses through the chakras, and by the time we get to “Ajna,” the 3rd eye center, it is quite airy, and is enhanced by very creative use of reverb and electronic effects to help achieve that ambience. That said, the 7th or crown chakra was a bit more up-tempo than I would have expected, although the lyrics fit perfectly with the thematic meaning of this chakra. In addition to the seven chakras are three additional tracks: “Abundance Song,” “The Healing Song,” and an ancient mantra “Loka Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu,” which translates in short to: “May all being be happy,” and is a prayer for the people of the earth, in comparison to the first track which is a prayer for Mother Earth herself.” I thought this was a nice touch to bookend the album with these two pieces.

There are a number of chakra-related albums that have been released over the past few decades and Chakra Love is certainly a unique entry into this highly specialized niche. While the concept springs from Eastern spiritual teachings that have come down through the ages and have been interpreted musically in a variety of ways, I don’t think I’ve heard it done as a vocal album with such a strong instrumental background that incorporates as many contemporary musical styles. To be honest, I didn’t expect as much rock and pop influence, although I really enjoyed it. With the current popularization of kirtan and devotional music mixed with electronica, there is certainly a growing market for an album like Chakra Love. The recording is well produced by Jeff and the energetic balance between he and Vicki is perfect – like yin and yang. Also, as a guitarist myself, I was constantly aware of Jeff’s playing, and in particular the exquisite rich chorus-laden tones he gets – nice synthesizer textures and electronic effects too. The thing that stood out most to me about Vicki is the purity of her voice and her soul, which shines through the mix, and the absolutely clear intention to charge these songs with spiritual energy for healing and upliftment. I also give her a lot of credit for having the vision for this project and not giving up until she found the exact right person to collaborate with to make it a reality even though it took many years. Chakra Love is a thoroughly modern and highly accessible take on ancient spirituality that is sure to be warmly welcomed by a growing number new age music lovers.

Love heals