CD: Illumination
Artist: Peter Kater

illuminationAs one of the most well known artists in the new age music genre, pianist and composer Peter Kater needs no lengthy introduction. With 8 Grammy nominations in the last 9 years, as well as scoring over 100 television programs and films including 11 Off and On-Broadway plays, he has certainly made a name for himself in the music industry. Peter’s iconic collaborations with Native American flute master R. Carlos Nakai, as well as numerous other recordings have sold millions of albums and brought him great success on the prestigious Billboard charts. But I must say, that I was curious about what his latest album, Illumination, would be like, following on the heels of his Grammy nominated CD, Light Body, which was perhaps my favorite of all his many albums over the years.


While researching this new recording, I had an interesting and enlightening discussion with executive producer Trisha Bowden of Mysterium Music, the record label on which the album appears. She talked about the difference between this release and Peter’s previous one, also on this same label. According to Trisha, both albums very much reflect the environment where they were recorded. Light Body was conceived and created in Maui, and as such, has a softer, more watery nurturing energy. While Illumination was recorded in Boulder, Colorado, where Peter currently lives. In Trisha’s words: “I can hear and feel the music of the mountains in the album. The granite and stone, whispering Aspens and pine, ancient echoes from more primal forces and voices. Illumination is an opening of awareness to personal strength and courage.” Having lived in Boulder myself, a number of years ago, I’m familiar with the magical energy of the Rocky Mountains, and felt that majestic presence as a subtle influence in the music.


Peter KaterLike Light Body, Illumination is conceived as a healing experience. According to the liner notes: “Illumination takes us on an inner journey in four movements laced with sweet spaciousness and an alluring landscape of heart centered instrumentation.” And with the tinkling of chimes and resonating bell tones, the first of the four movements, entitled “Blessing,” begins the journey. A delicate undercurrent of synthesizer carries us peacefully along, setting the stage for the introduction of Peter’s piano at the 2-minute mark. His playing is expansive, evoking a sense of timelessness, like the mountains themselves. As the airy sound of Native American flute entered the soundscape, I checked the album notes to see who was playing it, and was surprised to find that it was Peter himself. Although not too surprising, considering how much time he has spent recording and performing with R. Carlos Nakai. Trisha’s angelic wordless vocals add an ethereal quality to the recording, as they also did on Peter’s previous album.


Track 2, entitled “Patience,” is an ambient excursion with a low-pitched drone providing continuity and context. A distinctive feature is the rich sonorous tone of cello, played by world-class cellist Michael Fitzpatrick. Another instrumental voice that appears later in the piece is the soprano sax of Mark Miller. On this composition, as well as on the album in general, rather than tightly structured melodic motifs, Peter’s piano playing has a dreamy drifting feeling that perfectly fits the mesmerizing quality of the music. The third song, “Clarity,” features the acoustic guitar work of one of my favorite musicians, Todd Boston, whose own outstanding albums I’ve had the pleasure of writing about. Peter’s keyboard artistry and flute playing on this song is exquisite as is his soaring wordless vocal track that blends harmoniously with Trisha’s sweet voice. The Boulderfinal, and longest track, at over 15 and a-half minutes in length, is “Healing.” There is an interesting musical contrast here that balances the earthy and the ethereal. Listening to it evoked an image in my mind of massive mountains towering against a starry backdrop of night sky reaching towards the heavens. This is a powerful meditative piece with deep harmonic content that draws the listener into its mystical vibration. In the second half, the sustained soprano sax notes of Bob Rebholz brought to mind the sound of the Paul Winter Consort for a moment.


If I were to choose a phrase to describe the music on Illumination, it might be “free-flowing.” What I liked best was how each piece just took off and followed its course without looking back, unfettered by traditional verse/chorus structures. At times, listening with headphones and eyes closed, I felt like I was on a raft drifting with the current on a slow moving river, wending its way downstream. I also liked the idea of having four extended pieces, totaling almost an hour, rather than a larger number of shorter pieces, giving you a chance to really become immersed in the musical unfolding of the track. In comparing this album to Peter’s previous release, while there are synthesizers used here subtly, Illumination is decidedly more acoustic in nature compared to the atmospheric electronic ambience of Light Body. This album fits nicely into Peter Kater’s musical catalog, and highlights his willingness to constantly explore new territory, rather than just recycle a formula that has been successful for him in the past. This sense of compositional innovation is one of the things I respect most about him. Illumination is an album that bears repeated listening to fully take in all the subtle nuances it contains. With Peter’s previous album making it all the way to the final round of the Grammy’s, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised it this one followed in its footsteps, and possibly beyond. Illumination by Peter Kater is yet another shining example of musical originality from one of the preeminent artists in his genre.