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Altiplano by Ciro Hurtado
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 6/12/2019
Technically brilliant, beautifully crafted
I have been an admirer of the work of Peruvian guitarist Ciro Hurtado for a few years now and with the release of his brand new album Altiplano, we have the delightful prospect of going on another wondrous musical journey with the artist.
The lively start is a real scene setter called Macchu Picchu; this is one of the top most spiritual places on the planet and has been on my bucket list for many years. Hurtado’s beautiful performance on guitar really takes us to that mountain and the 15th century Incan citadel, and with the added instrumentation, it all makes for a really fun and exciting start to the album and of course our musical sojourn.
The title track is up next, Altiplano, this means high plain in Spanish and a more lush and colourful performance on guitar you will not hear. This is that magical empty canvas called the title track, one that Hurtado has so masterfully and musically painted on, and thus drawn such a beautiful portrait of sound and tone whilst doing so. With the close knit work on the flute, Hurtado’s guitar has manifested something truly remarkable; this would be one of my personal favourites from the release.
We now move to the piece Rumba Andina, the familiar pipes are there and match Hurtado’s work perfectly, and his guitar seems to resonate right across the mountains. Within this piece there is a really charming narrative of movement, almost dance like and playful at the same time, this is a truly charming offering, one that will no doubt be a bit of a fans favourite, it is a wonderfully lively composition that draws a memorable energy that will stay in the musical heart for a long time, you we also revel in the amazing vocals from Ciro’s wife Cindy too.
Our journey of musical beauty finds us at the portal of a really masterful performance on guitar by the artist, it is called Ciudad Del Lago. This was originally a song, but now arranged as a solo guitar piece, one I may add as a guitarist myself, is played with such a superb style and standard of performance, almost classical at times and technically outstanding in all moments, now this is how to really play guitar.
What is so very pleasurable about this album is the length of the tracks; we have well over six minutes of utter enjoyment now as we reside within the musical halls of this next offering called El Ayaymama. Sung in Spanish by vocalist Alexa Ramirez, we are gifted my stand out piece off the album, the vocals were sensitive and beautifully sung, but Hurtado’s performance on guitar was beyond anything I have heard for the last few decades and made this track my all-time favourite off the album.
The artist is at his very best on this next offering too, gifting us a composition called Andean Heart. A lush cross classical, new age styled guitar track demands our attention now; one has to literally admire the beautiful fluency of his performances. There is almost a symbiotic sense of composition here as well, seemingly to blend in styles of both regional music with a western twist, and one done so cleverly, with such style and panache it has to be said.
This exciting and vibrant new collection of stunning songs by Ciro Hurtado continues now with a track called Recuerdos. The singer on this offering is Mariel Henry of the Mexican band Chejere and forms a beautiful musical relationship with the artist as they produce a song filled full of colour and rhythm, interestingly enough this piece reminds me of the regional music here in Cyprus, but perhaps more sensitive in composition.
We now move into the deeper waters of the album and come across another solo piece called Entre Las Estrellas. The translation means between the stars and here we have yet one more example why Hurtado is rated as one of the best world guitarists of his generation. Take time to sit in silence and listen to this one, it is idyllic and beautifully played, perhaps setting the scene perfectly for a night time meditation.
Our penultimate offering is called Triste, a composition that is true to its roots and gives us the perfect combination of flutes and guitar that go to make up an almost sad and mournful opus. This for me sounds like the music from a film soundtrack, one that has a real sense of emotion and an imploring energy about its construction.
So we find ourselves at the last portal to this musical dimension and the track in question is called House of The Rising Sun, if you have never heard of this piece, where have you been for the last 50 years? Most versions I have heard have been rock ones, but this is the first really chilled version that now resides in my musical vaults and is superb, Hurtado has ended the album in such a clever way, with an absolute classic.
There can be no doubt that Ciro Hurtado is at the front of all that is good in the realm of the world and global fusion genre, and personally for me I rate this album to be the best he has created thus far. Altiplano is fresh, vibrant and rustic, it’s an album that gives you all you would expect from the artist, but much more. Technically brilliant, beautifully crafted and wonderfully produced, if this release isn’t a big hit, there is no justice in the world.
Rating: Excellent
Storyteller by Secret Garden
- posted by John Iverson on 6/11/2019
Another Stunning Recording!
My initial reaction upon hearing this new album from Secret Garden was again a resounding WOW!!

Storyteller by Secret Garden is comprised of entirely new material, with ten of the thirteen tracks being instrumental. This album sees a return to the format of most of their past releases after an album of mostly previously released material scored for violin and piano, a live album, and a compilation album. Rolf Lovland wrote and arranged all of the pieces, and also penned the lyrics for the three vocal selections. Of particular note on this recording is the inclusion of four pieces that Rolf Lovland wrote as part of a new musical he scored called "The Pilot", which he arranged as instrumentals for this new album. This is music is as beautiful as you will ever experience!

Fionnuala Sherry and Rolf Lovland sound as incredible as ever, performing with unparalleled talent, expression and passion, which is what we have come to expect from them. The band members of Secret Garden are once again top-notch, very capably complementing the soloists with their stellar musicianship and ardent passion for the music. Plus the performance of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Rolf Lovland is breathtaking. And for the three vocal selections included you could not ask for more capable singers than the heartfelt tenor Brian Kennedy, the beautiful soprano Cathrine Iversen, and the emotive Espen Grjotheim.

This heartwarming ensemble has once again created an amazing treasure trove of musical delights comprised of beautiful melodies that evoke a kaleidoscope of images and emotions. It is difficult to pick a favourite among these thirteen gems, but of particular note for me personally are Beyond the Blue, Open Doors, One More Chance, Nostalgia and End of a Journey. This album contains both slow, melancholic works that will soothe your soul, and faster upbeat tunes, all of them coloured by the Norwegian and Irish backgrounds of the two main performers.

All in all a superb album from this ensemble that has been going strong for almost twenty five years! If this is the first Secret Garden album you experience, you will surely end up wanting to have all of the others too. But if you are a diehard Secret Garden fan like I am then this is another stunning addition to your collection.
Rating: Excellent
Before Today, Beyond Tomorrow by Ann Sweeten
- posted by Gena on 6/4/2019

Hearing a new recording by pianist ANN SWEETEN is always a treat because the music is absolutely gorgeous. Her melodies, arrangements, style and touch are consistently superb. She is one of the best pianists and composers in new age music. Her latest album, BEFORE TODAY, BEYOND TOMORROW, as usual was co-produced by Sweeten with the legendary Will Ackerman (founder of Windham Hill Records and considered one of the top producers for this type of music). The album features Sweeten joined with a half-dozen other upper-echelon musicians helping her create a gentle, relaxing, highly-enjoyable sound. Those top guest musicians are Nancy Rumbel (English horn), Eugene Friesen (cello), Charlie Bisharat (violin), Premik Russell Tubbs (soprano saxophone), and Trisha Craig (flute). During the album’s conception Ann was diagnosed with Leukemia. According to Sweeten in the CD liner notes, the album title, BEFORE TODAY, BEYOND TOMORROW, refers to the time before diagnosis, and then to the horizon, beyond the immediate, with hope for the future. This is positive, uplifting, instrumental music reflective of Sweeten’s indomitable spirit.
Rating: Excellent
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