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Souvenir d'Italia by Elizabeth Naccarato
- posted by lillian on 3/22/2017

American pianist and composer Elizabeth Naccarato has musically captured one of her favorite places, Italy, on her sixth album, SOUVENIR D’ITALIA. The dozen instrumental tunes are like picture-book snapshots of an Italian adventure that capture the feelings of sitting at sidewalk cafes, meeting friends at the Spanish Steps, driving through the countryside, dancing, serenading, romancing, wandering through cathedrals and museums, sampling regional gourmet delights, and feeling the passion of the people.

Naccarato’s previous popular recordings are JARRELL’S COVE, NORTH SYCAMORE, STONE COTTAGE, ONE PIANO and HISTORY. Naccarato got her degree in piano performance at the University of Southern California. Over the years he has worked with other musicians including Michael Gettel and Nancy Rumbel. Naccarato mostly composes her own music, but on her new album she decided to cover the Italian classic “That’s Amore” as an instrumental.

SOUVENIR D’ITALIA is beautiful, Italian-flavored, gentle, piano-oriented music. Naccarato wrote these compositions after spending a lot of time in Italy. Then she gives the listener the emotional feelings of traditional Italian music by bringing in guest musicians on violin, mandolin and accordion. Plus she adds the occasional saxophone, bass and drums to round out the arrangements. The result is soft, melodic music that, if you close your eyes while you are listening, is the next best thing to an Italian vacation.
Rating: Excellent
Prayer to the Energy by Hollan Holmes
- posted by Candice Michelle on 3/22/2017
Hollan Holmes - Prayer to the Energy
Every once in a while, I’ll come across an album that is so profoundly moving and personally resonant that it leaves me utterly speechless. This time, it’s a double album clocking in at over two hours, titled Prayer to the Energy, by ambient-electronic music composer, as well as fine artist, Hollan Holmes. With a title and accompanying cover art that appears to be a nod to Nikola Tesla, one might get the impression upon first glance that the music herein is rather observational in nature, and while that’s true, each piece is also deeply emotive and incredibly haunting without ever becoming morose. Comprised of fourteen flawless compositions, Prayer to the Energy is Hollan’s sixth release, as well as his first recording that employs both vintage and digital analog hardware synthesizers, with the first part of the album largely centered around dynamic electronic sequencer passages, and the second part offering up a deep space excursion.

Fluidly shimmering sequencers open the title track, “Prayer to the Energy”, which are soon joined by emerging layers of lush chord progressions underscored by a pulsating bassline; all seemingly evolving in a circular rotation like electrical sparks flashing upon a dark, gravitational whirlpool. Immediately beguiling the listener, the rest of the album continues in this motif, with “Insulated” offering up dynamically swirling textures that seemingly conjure real-time images of atomic particles and molecules. While there isn’t a weak link among this perfectly stunning album, I certainly came away with a few favorites; among these include “Darkness and Light”, a supremely gorgeous composition that softly treads into chill-out territory, as drifty piano notes wash over a pristine electronic soundscape. Easily one of the most affective pieces of music I’ll have heard all year, this tantalizing passage is mysteriously evocative of beholding an evening ocean tide, as waves of bioluminescent plankton magically light-up the shoreline. “Lucid Dreams” is another standout with its subtly churning sequencers and languid keyboard notes, which seemingly emerge from the ether as they steadily move across a vast expanse. Equally enthralling is “The Ephemeral Spark”, a piece that reminds me a bit of Norwegian electronic music composer Erik Wøllo, likewise conveying images of a cold, isolated northern landscape. Bearing further reminiscence with its textural guitar sounds, subtly echoing percussion and floating bed of sequencers, this gently melodic composition lends itself to a melancholic and pensive mood that permeates the listening space. Concluding our first part of the journey is the engrossingly sublime, “A Midwinter Night’s Dream”, which clocks in at over nineteen minutes. Beckoning from afar like the call of distant cosmic voices, this indescribably beautiful piece conveys a sense of having become dissolved among the primordial essence of the universe itself.

Introducing the second part of the album is “The Suspension of Time”, as misty drones appear to extend across the furthest reaches of tangible limits. “Cloud World” follows with an encompassing haze that seemingly enshrouds a landscape that is both familiar and alien. Slipping further into a foreboding atmosphere is “Cover of Darkness”, which comfortably evokes a sensation of slowly descending into an immeasurable spatial abyss. Closing out the album at almost twenty minutes is “Cerro Torre”, in which the eventual re-emergence of subtle sequencers towards the end of this long-form piece signals a returning to our original destination.

Culminating in a truly unforgettable listening experience, every composition on Prayer to the Energy is spectacularly arranged, as Hollan continually layers new textures over rather simple yet deeply affecting chord progressions throughout. In fact, just the very notion that these inexplicably beautiful sounds could be created by modern machines seems miraculous in of itself. That they are emanating from the incredible mind of a sentient being is even more incomprehensible. Sitting on par with the greatest ambient-electronic works ever recorded, this album particularly recalls some of the finest outputs by Erik Wøllo and Steve Roach. As someone who first discovered ambient/electronic music as child, as well as having since amassed quite a collection over the years, I can assuredly conclude that Prayer to the Energy is destined to become one of my favorite albums of all time! ~Candice Michelle (
Rating: Excellent
Life by Michele McLaughlin
- posted by Candice Michelle on 3/16/2017
Michele McLaughlin - Life
Michele McLaughlin is a self-taught pianist and composer with a remarkably impressive recording catalog that includes both Billboard charting and multiple award-winning albums. Having recently had the pleasure of meeting Michele at a performance in my area, I found her demeanor to be warm and personal, as she shared inspiring personal stories behind various compositions, which were often laced with a good dose of humor and related via captivating storytelling. On her latest album, simply titled Life, Michele perfectly captures a compelling range of dynamic expression and quieter introspection throughout its thirteen beautiful compositions of contemporary solo piano arrangements, which often bear an intrinsically classical elegance throughout.

The album opens with “The Gift”, a briskly flowing and positively upbeat composition that boasts a brightly colorful melody along a lightly galloping stanza. This expressive and lively mood is somewhat contrasted by “The Storm”, a slightly darker piece with a brooding undercurrent, perhaps dually representing both a literal and metaphorical storm of inner struggle and turmoil. “At Home” is a comparatively tenderer, leisurely-paced number which seemingly speaks of the comfort that a safe and secure home brings, even recalling that of being gently tucked into bed at night as a child. I’m also especially fond of the title track, “Life”, in which a cascading, hurried stanza alternates with a boldly expressive melody in a constantly forward motion. “Drifting Through A Dream” is perhaps my favorite piece on the album that beautifully drifts upon a mesmeric, repeating signature throughout. Gently understated with a touch of nostalgia and wistfulness, it aptly conveys the notion of being in a dreamlike haze as recollected memories gently fade in and out. “Heartbroken” is a delicately melancholic piece that perfectly captures the fragility of the emotional heart itself. The mournful overtone of this piece is aptly followed by the more affirmative “Stronger”, which gradually unfolds like a butterfly slowly emerging from its cocoon that will go on to experience life from an entirely new perspective. Another personal favorite is “Crossroads”, a somewhat pensive number that seems to suggest that of arriving at a fork in the road while contemplating which path to follow. Wrapping up the album is “Give It Time”, a dramatically bolder piece of starker contrasts that conveys an affirming message of patience and resolve.

Described as an album “about life’s dichotomies… balance and disorder, light and dark, ups and downs, joys and sorrow, peace and turbulence, hope and despair, and so on”, Life is a remarkable aural painting of an artist’s personal journey and finding one’s place in this often chaotic world. Ranging from dynamic and highly expressive to softer, subtler nuances, Michele’s hands are in constant, flowing movement across the keys, as she seemingly shifts through the registers with remarkable ease and effortlessness. Unquestionably born a natural pianist-composer, there’s an inherent emotional depth to her compositions, as she imprints each one with a signature sound that is distinctive and individualistic to her spirit. It’s certainly no wonder this amazing artist has built up a loyal following of listeners, and the beautiful complexity that is Life is sure to further affirm her place as one of today’s premier and outstanding contemporary solo pianists! ~Candice Michelle (
Rating: Excellent
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