Often times as a musician settles into their career, they find their “niche” within a particular genre of music. Few that I’ve encountered, however, are comfortable (and accomplished) in as many styles as Los Angeles-based musician Steven Chesne. While his latest release could be classified as new age with classical and world music influences, the branches of his musicality spread out like those of a tree and has roots just as deep. And it is not only the diversity of genres in which he creates but many settings he works in as a musician and composer.
According to his bio: “Steven Chesne’s composing career has spanned symphonic music, historical and world music, as well as film and television scoring. In television, Steven has composed the scores for over 300 episodes of prime time, network shows. Steven’s orchestral concert works include 4 symphonies, 2 concertos, 2 orchestral suites, and 2 tone-poems, as well as works for string quartet, woodwind ensemble, and music for theater and ballet. His works have been performed by The Ventura Symphony, The L.A. Modern String Orchestra, The Los Angeles Ars Symphonia Orchestra, The La Mirada Symphony, Mehli Mehta’s American Youth Symphony, as well as by members of The Los Angeles Philharmonic, The L.A. Chamber Orchestra, The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and The Pacific Symphony.” And in addition to his aforementioned new age music, while doing research for this article, I came across a video on Youtube of Steven tearing up the fretboard of a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar on a smoldering slow blues tune in the style of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. To call Steven Chesne a man of many talents would be an understatement.
His latest album with The Luminous World Orchestra is their fourth release and has been described as: “a multicolored musical journey of spiritually inspired movements, taking the listener through the joyous, the contemplative, the reflective, the playful, and the transcendent. Moments from the Life Stories of Strangers – Pt. 1 defies categorization, with elements of symphonic, international, sacred, and indescribably etheric music. This is a recording that should be heard with the eyes closed and the heart open.” I have no doubt that like their albums that preceded it which made New Age Reporter’s “Top Ten,” and also reached the Top 20, and in many cases, made it to #1, in over 20 different US New Age and Ambient Radio programs, this one will find similar, or greater success.
Interestingly, while other musicians may contribute on the recording, Steven Chesne pretty much is The Luminous World Orchestra, being the creative spirit and animating force behind it. He deserves the lion’s share of credit for the incredible variety of instruments and musical samples heard on the album, that include velvety strings of violins, cellos, and Chinese Erhu fiddle, the sweet breathy tones of Native American flute and Celtic pennywhistle, delicately plucked guitar, harp, and Balinese Gamelan gongs. Not to mention that he also composed and arranged these incredibly imaginative soundscapes that are perfect for relaxation, yoga, massage, and meditation, as well as for focused listening.
Just as the sun rises in the east, so does this album, as it opens with Eastern musical influences on the appropriately titled “Invocation.” The drone of an Indian tamboura, Japanese shakuhachi flute, ethereal female vocals, and tinkling bells set the stage and draw the listener into its mystical vibration. As the piece builds, other instruments join in, adding rich orchestration yet maintaining the meditative spaciousness of its original ambience. It’s a delicate balance, but masterfully done. By only the second track, there can be no doubt that Steven has had extensive experience as a composer for film, given the cinematic air that his music evokes. One thing I appreciated was that you never know what is going to happen next as a piece evolves. Unlikely combinations of instruments intersect with unexpected dramatic elements creating a mélange of exotic sonic flavors.
A perfect example of this is on track 3, “Yorkietown,” in which staccato strings are accented by Indonesian Gamelan gongs, giving way to a gently arpeggiated acoustic guitar and flute melody as sonorous sustained cello passages weave through the mix. Each track on the album is like a mini film score in itself, some featuring enigmatic song titles, such as track 4, “Flicker Of The Glistening.” The sound of strings play an important role in this piece, as they do in many of Steven’s compositions. Differing from a lot of new age music, these strings are more symphonic and acoustic in nature than synthesized or electronic, reflecting the classical music influence in Steven’s writing.
A song with another intriguing title is “Coaxed To Grow,” which features the sound of the erhu, a Chinese violin. Although it only has two strings, it is incredibly expressive with a remarkable ability to emulate the human voice. It can also be quite emotionally evocative, as it is in this piece where it is used in a vastly different, more Western context than it is usually heard in. This seems to be one of the trademarks of Steven Chesne and The Luminous World Orchestra – to re-contextualize instruments and provide a totally original listening experience. Among my favorites on the album was the one that brings it to its conclusion, “Lumiere Du Soleil.” Taking its direction from a rolling acoustic guitar melody, the piece is more of a suite as it flows through various movements like the sun arching across the sky. In fact as the orchestration swelled in slowly at about the one-minute mark, the image of a heavenly sunrise breaking across the horizon was the vision evoked in my imagination. The piece exudes an elegant simplicity that I found captivating and makes a lovely finale to this exceptional recording.
I have heard many albums that blend East and West, as well as combine elements of new age, classical, and world music, but in my three decades as a music journalist, the compositions of Steven Chesne and The Luminous World Orchestra offer some of the most unique creative chemistry I’ve experienced. The musicianship is stellar, as is the composing and arranging. As mentioned, I particularly enjoyed the mercurial nature of the songs, which often evolve along unpredicted trajectories featuring surprising instrumental interactions. Also, knowing when not to play, allowing the music to breath is just as important, which is another aspect I appreciated about this album. Steven Chesne is a composer’s composer whose cinematic arrangements evoke rich visual imagery in the mind’s eye. With so much music on the market, it is a challenge to project a truly distinctive artistic persona but Steven Chesne and The Luminous World Orchestra certainly have. This album is a masterpiece, reflecting the harmonious fusion of diverse genres with classical and world instruments, and is sure to appeal to a wide variety of listeners.