CD: Awakening
Artist: F.E.D.

When I first started listening to “Awakening” by Franz Eddy Daniel, aka F.E.D, I had to go back and look at the cover to make sure I hadn’t put on a Vangelis, Yanni, or John Tesh CD by mistake. This stunning debut album is by a young pianist and composer from Port-au-Prince, Haiti who came to the US to earn a degree in Architecture at the City College of New York, but never strayed far from his deep love for music.

Starting piano at the tender age of six, he later added cello to his instrumental repertoire and went on to play in various ensembles including the Holy Trinity Philharmonic Orchestra – the most prestigious orchestra and musical institution in Haiti. While in college he continued to compose and perform and since then has received numerous awards and accolades.


While it’s not uncommon for a musician’s cultural influences to be reflected in their music, there are none of the noticeable references to the archetypal Caribbean “island” sound. There are, however, occasional and subtle uses of traditional Haitian music and rhythmic structures, although they are assimilated into a much different context here. Neo-classical influences abound on both the piano and the rich orchestration that accompanies it. The music is incredibly lush and exquisitely layered, with wonderful integration of contemporary elements such as synthesizers and electronic beats.


According to F.E.D, his inspiration comes from his life experiences, his interest in music of different world civilizations, and most importantly, the expression of human emotions. And there can be no doubt that there is a lot of emotion in this music, both in its composition and performance. With its’ film score ambience, new horizons continually open on scenes that are majestic, romantic, and full of surprising twists that keep you listening for what is around the next musical corner. In addition to being a talented pianist, F.E.D has impressive skills as an orchestrator and arranger and has produced here a work of great elegance and musical maturity.


The title track kicks off the album with an intro that brought to mind Chariots Of Fire while evolving into a dramatically orchestrated piece that could easily be a soundtrack in its own right. Equally film score-ready is the second track, “Memories” which slows down to a more romantic and reflective mood with arpeggiated plucked strings providing motion under the symphonic score and dramatic percussion-accented crescendos. Track three, “Ascension” is propelled by a traditional Haitian Yanvalou rhythm fused with an overlay of classical influences featuring the spirited violin work of special guest Maureen Manoly. On the appropriately titled “The Other Side” sensuous synthesizers and echoing piano set the stage for a more pop flavored track with a galloping four on the floor beat and a contemporary dance music break-down in the middle before building it back up again.


I took notice throughout the album of the sense of dynamics, the way the music flowed, and of how artistically transitions from one section to another were often painted with a wash of cymbals or percussive figure in a cinematic fashion. One of the things I was constantly impressed with is F.E.D.’s ability to add unexpected modern touches in a neo-classical context. A great example of this is on the interestingly arranged composition, “Escape,” where the unlikely blend of classical elements and a hip-hop beat is beautifully enhanced by guest violinist James Racine. Also along those lines is “Fantaisie” which opens with an acoustic bass line and piano intro vaguely reminiscent the jazz classic “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck, although it soon departs from this motif. The song also features wordless vocals by Annelise Colette.


The intros to F.E.D.’s songs are often fascinating mini works in themselves that lead in surprising directions. I particularly liked the dreamy intro to “The Quest” with its’ sonorous string sounds, tubular bells, and sparkling electric piano tones. Also, track ten, “”Solace” with ethereal synthesizers supporting the piano, which is lightly tracing a spacious melody before breaking into a percolating Vangelis-style rhythm. The final track, “Moments In Time” brings the album to such a grand conclusion, that I almost felt like standing up and applauding at the end. “Awakening” is truly an auspicious debut release from a recording artist that I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more from in the future.