CD: Sensual Journeys
Artist: Fiona Joy Hawkins
One of my regrets in the past few months is that I wasn’t able to attend the rare California appearance of Australian pianist Fiona Joy Hawkins, when she performed nearby in Berkeley. But I was delighted recently to receive in the mail a copy of her stunning new CD entitled Sensual Journeys. As I looked beyond the music to the story behind this release, what I found touched my heart. There are many things that lead an artist to share something of great beauty. While it can often be an uplifting experience or opening of the heart, it can also be a wounding of the heart. As the great Indian spiritual teacher Krishnamurti said: “The very word ‘sorrow’ etymologically means passion. Only with the ending of sorrow there is passion. Passion is the flame of sorrow.”
There is no doubt that Sensual Journeys is aflame with passion that has been touched by sorrow. According to Fiona: “This album is dedicated to my sister Felicity and her son Alex, who drowned in a tragic accident. Alex couldn’t see or walk, but he could smile and laugh and he knew his Mother & Father’s voice, played with his sisters and felt joy every day. His short time on earth served as a lesson to be happy in the face of adversity. A deeply moving music video about Alex and his family can be seen at this link. Life is defined by certain experiences and you learn what is and what isn’t important. Being a mother of two boys myself, there are simply no words; I can only speak of my sister’s loss with music. Sensual Journeys celebrates the female essence of new age music. Sensual Journeys is dedicated to our Mothers past, present, and our shared Mother… Earth”
The 11 tracks on the CD are culled from six of her earlier releases. According to music publicist Beth Ann Hilton: “The focus of the album is not so much “best of” but that it is inspired by and compiled for a female experience. She carefully chose the tracks that reflected her life or were inspired by the unique experience of being female.“ One of Fiona’s biggest supporters is Grammy-winning producer and founder of Windham Hill Records, Will Ackerman, who was involved in the production of a number of the tracks. In his words: “Fiona’s sensitive, beautiful yet uplifting piano and vocals gives thanks for this nurture and guidance. Sensual Journeys is an eclectic combination of tracks that span six award winning and chart topping albums by one of New Age’s best female composers, pianist and vocalist Fiona Joy Hawkins.”
The roster of top-flight studio musicians who are heard along with Fiona on these tracks is impressive and extensive. Also adding his talents on three tracks is another Grammy-winning producer, Corin Nelsen. Among the instrumentalists accompanying Fiona on the first track are Irish folk-rock singer Luka Bloom on vocals and lyrics, and the late T-Bone Wolk from Hall and Oates on bass. Entitled “Contemplating,” the song exudes a mildly melancholy air and features some exquisite ensemble playing. In contrast, the mood elevates considerably on the next song – an upbeat tune simply called “Joy.” A subtle touch of didgeridoo is no surprise, given Fiona’s Australian roots. In addition to piano, Fiona adds vocals along with Heather Rankin. Other luminaries on this track include bassist Tony Levin who plays with Peter Gabriel, and percussionist Jeff Haynes from the Pat Metheney Group.
A lush orchestral arrangement with a string section that features Eugene Friesen of the Paul Winter Consort on cello, graces Fiona’s beautiful composition entitled “Flight Of The Snowbird.” World class violinist, Charlie Bisharat, who is best known for his work with Yanni and John Tesh, makes an appearance on a track called “Gliding On Air,” which also features soprano sax by Premik Russell Tubbs who has recorded and performed with Carlos Santana, Whitney Houston, Jackson Browne, and many others. While it is easy to become star struck by the incredible musicians on this album, the spotlight is clearly on the talents of Fiona Joy Hawkins as a pianist, vocalist, and composer. The accompaniment is always tastefully arranged to highlight the strength of her evocative compositions and grand piano virtuosity.
“Song Phonique,” a piece that unfolds in diverse movements, begins as a contemplative piano solo and evolves in and out of an earthy tribal groove with soaring vocals. “The Midnight Interlude” waxes wistful, with its Gaelic lyrics sung in ethereal ambience. Also on this track, is frequent first-call Ackerman multi-instrumentalist Jill Haley on English horn. Another song with dreamy Gaelic vocals is “Moving On” which features a creative cast including one of my favorite musicians, Jeff Oster on flugelhorn. As the title implies, this piece has a lot of forward motion. It was interesting to note at this point in the album, how comfortable Fiona seems to be expressing herself in a range of musical motifs from misty melodies to rhythmic romps. An interesting change up is on the delicate “White View,” with a blend of subtle electronic elements, traditional Asian instruments, and Fiona’s keyboard integrating harmoniously. The album concludes with audience applause for a solo piano piece entitled “View From My Studio” that was recorded live in concert.
An ARIA Finalist in Australia, Fiona Joy Hawkins was also winner of the ZMR Lifestyle Music Awards for Album of the Year. Fiona has over 43 awards across 9 countries and has worked with internationally renowned artists. She is quick to add however: “I was very humbled by the talent shared on this album.” The mutual admiration is returned once again by Will Ackerman who called Fiona: “’One of the brightest lights in the contemporary instrumental genre… and poised to move into stardom.” Those who are already fans as well as those just discovering her will find an artful musical collage in this new release – one that Fiona feels most personally and deeply reflects her own life. In her words: “Sensual Journeys is an album that gives thanks to Mother Earth, and for female nurturing and guidance. To celebrate the essence of all things female in New Age music means there are pages yet to be written. ”