CD: Heart Song
Artist: Elise Lebec

albumart_eliselebec7_200x200Some artists begin their musical career early in life following a strict path in a particular genre of music and stay rooted in that form over the years. While other artists answer to a more diverse calling and experiment with a wider variety of musical forms as they develop their own creative identity. Composer/ pianist/ vocalist Elise Lebec is one of the latter. Her latest release, Heart Song, reflects the rainbow spectrum of her musical history and the long winding road that has led her to this particular point in time.


But just to backtrack for a moment, Elise, who was born in San Diego, California, describes herself as: “the daughter of “a hippie who sat on the lawn and played the guitar a lot.” The musical influence was strong in their household, and her father shared his love of new age music and artists such as George Winston, Enya, Loreena McKinnit and Andreas Vollenweider, which Elise would often fall asleep to while wearing headphones. So her musical DNA was being imprinted from an early age. Speaking of which, she began “messing around on the piano” at the tender age of four. It became a valued means of expression to her and over the years, her abilities grew and she eventually learned pieces by Beethoven and Vivaldi. However, as mentioned, other forms of music interested her, and she began experimenting with pop, rock, and improvisational playing as well.


While later living in New Zealand and Australia, Elise was a well-known entertainer and eventually went on to Elise Lebecbecome a Steinway Piano-sponsored artist. In the following years, after moving to England, she focused on her vocals and studied with Glenn Jones (who also has worked with Annie Lennox). Over the years, Elise has had the opportunity to share the stage with a number of well-known performers such as Sheryl Crow, Imogen Heap, Kiki Dee, and violinist Nigel Kennedy among others. In addition, she has worked with many world-class producers, composers, and arrangers. Some of Elise’s early recording work was done under her original birth name, Tabitha. She also has extensive experience in the world of film soundtracks and her music has been used in movies, videos, and documentaries.


All of which brings us to the present moment and her new release, Heart Song. In an exclusive interview, Elise shared with me a bit about the album and what it means to her: “Heart Song is a musical interpretation of the journey of my heart and the people who have touched me deeply. Not just romantic love but all kinds of love – friends, children, and humanity in general. I hope that each listener will hear their own heart song within it. The vision I have for sharing my music is deep ease and reflective creative thinking that makes you notice the beauty in life and the essence of ones own heart. It is feeling music.” While some of the songs on the album are solo piano, others feature the talents of a number of highly regarded accompanists. Elise co-produced the recording with producer/engineer Michael Rosen who has worked with Santana, Journey, Papa Roach, Tesla, and Huey Lewis, among others. The album was recorded in the San Francisco Bay area, where Elise currently lives.


Out of silence comes sound, so the opening track is the appropriately titled, “Silence.” It’s a quiet introspective piece that draws the listener into a peaceful place and sets a nice tone for the album. Pleasant dreams are evoked in the next piece, entitled “Lullaby,” which features the soulful cello playing of Elizabeth Vandervennet. A number of cellists appear on the album, which will be discussed, as we get deeper into the tracks. Although, for now, Elise flies solo again on the title track, which follows. The name, “Heart Song” was chosen because as Elise describes: “the heart is where we store everything precious to us, and even though no love is perfect, we still gather our deepest feelings, good and bad, and tuck them away in a special place so we can revisit them at appropriate times.”


The next three tracks feature some of Elise’s guest artists, including once again, cellist Elizabeth Vandervennet along with the exquisite flugelhorn of Jeff Oster on “Pirates and Poets.” Jeff, who is known for his ambient horn playing is one of my favorite artists in this genre, and has appeared on numerous albums produced by Windham Hill Records founder, Will Ackerman. Unexpected elements evolve as the piece unfolds, including unusual chord piano-CELLOchanges, atonality, trippy backwards tape loops, yin/yang melodic contrasts, and more. This piece is definitely more adventurous and exploratory than anything heard thus far on the album, providing a brief excursion into the avant-garde.


A track called, “It Was Always You,” introduces George Chavez, the second of three cellists who grace the album. Having had the opportunity to perform a number of times myself with George, I can say that Elise has made a wonderful choice in his creative approach to the instrument. George can be quite experimental himself, and here his playing includes beautiful melodic phrasing, long drone-like tones, and multi-tracked cello creating atmospheric synthesizer-like textures. The musical chemistry between George and Elise on this piece is quite special. But the alchemy continues on the next piece as well, “Afternoon Kisses.” I particularly liked Elise’s dreamy piano work on this one. Here she is accompanied again by horn maestro Jeff Oster along with drummer Michael Urbano, who provides subtle rhythmic accents with brushes on drums and washes of cymbals.


A nice change up takes place on “Ghost Ships” where Elise opens the piece playing electronic keyboards to create an appropriately haunting soundscape that serves as an ambient background for her piano that eventually appears out of the mist. Another change up happens on the next piece, “Moonlit Waters” where, in sacredearthlrg1addition to her solo piano, Elise’s mystical half whispered, half sung vocals evoke a dreamy far-away feel that takes the music to a whole other level. And speaking of another level, a track called “Sacred Land” features an elder from a Guatemalan native tribe, OmeAkaEhekatl Erick González, speaking about respecting and blessing the earth, being grateful and honoring all of nature and life. The piece includes ambient synthesizers, earthy native drumming, airy wooden flute, environmental sounds, piano, and more. It is quite an ambitious composition and reflects values that are near and dear to Elise.


As the album is winding down, the next to the last of the 14 tracks is an inspired reprise of the title track with the addition of the third of the 3 cellists on this recording, David Darling. Well known as a member of the Paul Winter Consort, David is an award winning recording artist in his own right as well as an accompanist on countless studio sessions and performances. As beautiful and moving as the song was in the original version, it takes on a new life in the blending of these two creative forces. There is a smoothness and movement in David’s cello work on this piece that brought to mind the image of an Olympic figure skater gracefully gliding through their performance. Definitely one of the standout tracks on this album.


3d_piano_stairs_hd_desktop_wallpaperHeart Song certainly had a number of pleasant creative surprises for me. Elise has brought a diversity of styles and elements into play here that can range from sharing a sensitive story on solo piano to more experimental territory. I enjoyed the mystery of listening to the album for the first time and not knowing what direction the next piece would take. I particularly appreciated the expressiveness of Elise’s playing, as well as her creativity and willingness to think outside the box musically. On Heart Song, her third album, Elise has presented a unique collection of solo piano and ensemble pieces that provide a most intriguing listening experience. The artistic touches that adorn her music have certainly piqued my interest for what she will do next. I’ll be looking forward to that.





Music video from an earlier release: