I’m sure that the idea of metamorphosis or transformation is one that most people can relate to on a personal level. Flutist Sherry Finzer and acoustic guitarist Darin Mahoney certainly can, and have chosen this as the theme for their first recording together. They describe this music as having been created to encourage listeners “to walk through the next door and change your life for the better.” Sherry is an award winning classical flutist who became drawn to new age music for the uplifting effect it can have on listeners. I’ve been a fan of her recordings and have had the pleasure of writing about three of them: Sanctuary, Sanctuary ll: Earth, and Christmas Picante. Darin Mahoney is a masterful guitarist who grew up playing folk, country, and rock music before moving into mellow Windham Hill-inspired instrumental sounds. The concept of transformation is something Darin can speak to with authority having survived and overcome a life-threatening illness over 20 years ago. In addition to being an excellent musician, he is also a trained luthier, who builds fine quality acoustic guitars, including the one he played on this album.
Although they have performed and recorded with numerous other musical artists, Sherry and Darin deeply appreciate the acoustic alchemy they create together. In Sherry’s words: “We have a special musical connection when we perform together. We really understand each other musically. There is great chemistry. Neither of us is trying to outshine the other. We want to compliment what the other is doing.” And after listening to the beautiful songs on this album, I can truly say they have done a wonderful job of doing just that. On the opening track, a whisper of dreamy synthesizer sets the stage for Darin’s guitar intro. As a guitarist myself, I was immediately impressed with the rich reverberant tone of his instrument, as well as the nostalgic ambience his finger-style playing evoked. Entitled “Alger St,” the piece is a tribute to the memories of his boyhood home in Michigan. At just the right moment, Sherry’s flute glides in gracefully, accentuating Darin’s delicate phrasing.
The title of the next track, “Confused,” harkens back to the aforementioned dark time in Darin’s life when he barely survived extensive stage-four cancer. While in a medically induced coma for weeks, Darin’s parents came to the hospital and played music in his room by Grammy-winning Windham Hill founder Will Ackerman. As Darin tells it: “Will’s tune ‘The Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit’ really affected me in a positive way when I was in the coma and recovering. I listened to it over and over and I am convinced it helped me get better.” In an interesting turn of events, it was ten years to the day after getting out of the hospital that Will flew in to produce a track for Darin’s solo album. I’m sure it will come as no surprise when I say that people who enjoy Will Ackerman’s music will sense a kindred spirit in Darin’s playing. Interestingly, the piece opens with Sherry’s flute followed by sparse strummed guitar chords in counterpoint. There is a far-away feel to the beginning of the song that is perhaps reminiscent of hearing the music in a coma. The next composition, “Reflection,” is one of Sherry’s pieces, of which she relates: “Every time I play it I think about memories and events of my life, especially moments with my children when they were young.” Like the first track, there is also an air of nostalgia about it, with perhaps a trace of wistfulness. It is a lovely haunting melody that speaks to Sherry’s talents as a composer and her ability to imbue a song with deep emotion.
The seasons are represented in a pair of tunes that are as different from each other as yin and yang – an appropriate comparison. “Early Spring” is another tune inspired by Darin’s childhood memories that include “forests, creeks, and wood smoke on the wind.” I liked the way reverb and delay effects were added to the acoustic guitar to give it a more dimensional feel. And once again – lovely interplay between the flute and guitar. By contrast, “White Sky In November,” composed by Tom Febonio and arranged by Sherry, paints an impressionistic portrait in hushed tones of winter. Long sustained flute notes wander a stark guitar landscape with a mist of melancholy in the air. On a track called “Jane’s Song, the duo is joined by Jane Merial Hilton on viola, adding warm woody string tones that flowed like honey. The final song on the album, entitled “The Door,” brings us back full circle to the aforementioned theme, and is also represented visually on the back cover of the CD. As Sherry explains: “The music symbolizes the different choices and opportunities we have in life. It is important to overcome fear, open the next door and step through.” The piece opens with a spacious and expansive intro with faint ethereal synthesizer in the background. Picking up momentum as it goes along, the music radiates a heartfelt quality made this one of my favorite tracks on the album.
Having greatly enjoyed Sherry’s previous solo CD’s, I was equally impressed with her role as a musical partner in this duo. Never overplaying, her notes and phrases are exquisitely chosen to synergize with Darin’s tasteful and expressive guitar work. The earthiness of the acoustic guitar combined with the airy quality of the flute blend in sweet harmony creating a musical atmosphere that lends itself to relaxation, meditation, yoga, intimate moments, etc. This is music that would work equally well for active listening or as a background soundtrack, and could appeal to listeners who enjoy ambient, new age, classical, jazz, and more. I’m sure that Transformation, by Sherry Finzer and Darin Mahoney, is an album I’ll listen to for years to come.