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Mystic by Al Conti
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 12/31/2016
Cont Istrumental music doesn’t come any better
I cannot tell you what a thrill it is to be able to write this review for Al Conti, his last release, The Blue Rose turned my life around and forever I will be truly grateful, now to have his latest album at my door, called Mystic, is a delight, as I know what will follow, will be sublime moments of musical bliss.
We’re not disappointed dear reader, the opening piece; the proud title track Mystic is amazing, and starts with the chiming of a bell and some wonderful Gregorian styled vocalisations. This for me is always a winner, the mood and scene is immediately set. Ricky Kej’s influence on this album can be heard from the off and when you also include the stunningly beautiful vocals of Charlie Brooks, you have simply the perfect opening piece to start an album with; this also happens to be the longest composition at well over eight minutes as well.
We follow that up with Trance; there is a real East meets Mediterranean feel to this arrangement. I adored the multi instrumental nature of this piece and it reminds me slightly of some of the folk music we have here in the mountain villages in Cyprus at times. We can sample Ricky Kej on Harmonium, Vanil Veigas on santoor (a form of Dulcimer) and Manoj George, violin. There efforts really create for us a wonderfully ethnic composition full of colour and life
Prayer is an interesting composition that is filled with different meanings and pathways to understand and travel. For me prayer is a joining of my letting go, and becoming at one with all that there is, a symbiosis of spirt perhaps. Al Conti’s creation does just that, the smooth flow, the gentle percussion and wonderful Violin by Manoj George combined with the ever narrating piano, all gift us a piece filled with the one thing were all after, balance.
This incredibly spiritual album continues with its lush flow into the many realms of beauty and calmness, and tracks like Visions continue that stimulating river of inner peace. The Butto flute can be heard drifting like smoke through this track, and amidst the percussive brilliance; the song weaves a pattern of musical genius with tenderness at the helm, and a rhythmic pulse at its very core.
Along the dusty desert path we go on our Pilgrimage. We all must make our own journeys in my life, and we could do so with ease using this composition as the soundtrack of the tour itself. The arrangement has great movement and flow, the powerful tempo assists that motion, combined with some absolutely outstanding guitar by Jeff Pearce.
A moment of reflection is called for now on the piece Contemplation. The bass and guitars here are stunningly sublime, but once more Conti has it about right in its structure and composition. The lightness of this song is utterly charming and one could easily sit looking down upon a vast valley in total contemplation of things past, present and future. This was one of my favourite tracks off the album, and also features Pamela Copus from 2002 on Harp.
We now move into the last third of the release Mystic by Al Conti. A light but up-tempo percussive beat manifests the piece Ritual for us, and we may well use this track to begin our winter solstice here in a few days’ time, it has that perfect pattern of ritualistic drumming to raise the energies, a really lively and vibrant arrangement indeed.
Our penultimate offering is called Devotion, once more Conti manifests something very simple, but effective. There is again a sense of movement here, as if we are entering into a journey of a vast commitment. The combinations of Darbuka and Tabla here were undeniably addictive to listen to as well.
So, dear reader, we are at the final piece of album, Mystic by Al Conti and this gift is entitled Anima Aeterna. This is one very clever way to leave the release. We complete the circle as Charlie Brooks joins us on vocals once more, but the melody here is amazing and deeply emotive and the added symphonic arrangement, really made this composition the perfect piece to leave, what has been a truly wonderful musical journey.
Mystic by Al Conti is a class album that oozes quality out of every pore of its being. In my view the artist never fails to be the true creator of superior instrumental music and to surround yourself with truly masterful artistes and contributors on this release, must make this album destined for a future award, contemporary instrumental music simply doesn’t come any better than this.
Rating: Excellent
The Rhythm of Life by Matt Venuti
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 12/31/2016
Utterly magnificent
A new name to me, but one that I think I will be forever featuring on my future shows, as the ambience that Matt Venuti brings is awe inspiring. The opening track on this chilled new release is called A Place to Breathe and Venuti whose percussive instrumentation of choice is the unique, Hang, Gubal, and Hang Gu, which features prominently through this piece, as it does through the whole of the album.
The soft nature of Venuti’s vocals and his percussive mastery and poignant lyrics, brings us our own place of peace, a place to breathe, and place to move away from the rampant cacophony of life’s incessant chatter.
As a singer songwriter myself, it was quite a pleasure to review this album and on Afraid we continue this blissful journey of sight and sound. The delicacy of tone that Ventui’s percussive instruments give is amazingly chilled, in parts Venuti’s vocals reminds me slightly of Mitten, here he includes a wonderful slide guitar and backing vocals to enhance this moment of calm. Each song is a journey to enjoy, and through the profound lyricism we can do just that, this is almost roots blues meets new age.
We have only been on this musical sojourn for two tracks and I adore it already and on the next piece entitled Door of the Heart, we have a really mindful piece that also contains some sensitive acoustic guitar, and once more some very meaningful words, time to drop the shields and sow seeds of love, so true, to the point and honest, a song that for me is similar in style and energy to James Taylor.
Now we arrive, dear reader at the title track, that moment of self-expression, that time when the entire concept of the album is worn on the sleeve of the artist. A little light funky beat and some delicious organ leads us through an almost gospel style track. However The Rhythm of Life expands on a statement that I made to a friend who had decided to go back to religion, I said, it matters not, we’re all in this together, and to hear this song, I may well send this one to him, to help him through his troubled times, it certainly says everything and of course the lyrics are totally true. A happy piece of realisation and honesty played in an upbeat tone, that will make you smile whoever, or whatever you are.
At the half way juncture we come across a sensitive piece called Rise. This ballad really hits the nail on the head; we have no limitations, open your heart and Rise! A soft and calming moment of awareness can be found in this song, that you too can stand and look at the sun on the horizon and accept your place in this world, as much as anyone else. An inspiring anthem, performed with tenderness and love.
I love the opening to The All, in fact I loved it so much I have now played the track 4 times in a row, it’s absolutely impressive, and Venuti’s percussive mastery comes into full vogue here, with a little Jazz styled ethic as well. Venuti’s song is enhanced by female backing vocals and an almost Latin beat that drives it forever onwards.
The many musical borders that the artist crosses on the album is impressive, and to do it with such style is equally so. On Loosen The Grip, we have another song of empowerment and letting go. Musically this is a track that has such smooth flow and essence about its construction, it’s simply blissful to revel in. Listen to the rhythm here as well, masterfully manifested by Venuti, and perhaps it’s the rhythm of life?
As we move deeper into the release, we have a luscious flute and spoken audio that is so very descriptive, and soon we find ourselves within nature’s sublime majesty, as we make our way across Turtle Island. This musical journey is depictured with supreme clarity and colour by the musician. Desert Dreams is a little special slice of creative genius, and Matt Venuti is without doubt our master narrator.
Our penultimate offering is a version of the Bill Withers eternal hit Lean on Me. This is one of those songs that has such a deeply powerful meaning, the harmonies here have done it complete justice, and the vocals used create a semi acapella version, the percussive deft of hand by Venuti only adds to the quality of the composition.
I hope dear reader; you have enjoyed this release by Matt Venuti, The Rhythm of Life. It has to be one if not THE most chilled and original albums I have come across this year, we can finish with a shortened version of the opener, called Breathe Reprise and reflect upon our musical journey.
When we look back, we can see the road we have travelled musically has been both inspiring and empowering; we have faced our fears and won the day. Albums like this should be in every home and in every language. The messages contained within this release should be a mantra of the future for all our families. Matt Venuti has manifested something calm, peaceful and meaningful, the production, musicianship, song writing and arrangements are utterly magnificent, and I can do no more than urge you to make this part of your musical collection as soon as you can.
Rating: Excellent
Christmas Presence by Merrill Collins
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 12/31/2016
Something special
As we draw closer to Christmas day it’s a beautiful feeling to be surrounded by music of the season, even more so if the music is composed from the original and created from the energy flow of a musician who is really in touch with her own musical soul.
I give you Merrill Collins, who has at this most peaceful and loving time of the year, manifested a whole new flow to some classic musical memories of Christmas’s past.
Let’s start with the idyllic Angels We Have Heard On High. I shall forever remember this version of this loving carol, as both Chrissie and I adorned our tree with memories of love in the shape of a special heart felt decoration, this song was playing on the radio, Merrill I thank you for this moment of pure bliss and oneness.
Collins has a way of performing on piano that is so warming to be a part of and on O Holy Night we can be a part of that manifestation. Collins has created something here that is a mixture of ambience and traditional. She truly has the most amazing ability as a performer to make something new, from the pages of the past, and give them a whole new fresh and happy vibe.
As a music lover, writer, performer and listener, I feel my life has become more fulfilled thanks to the work of Merrill Collins. Her unique abilities to create something magical and spacious are sublime, as on the track The First Noel, we again have something new and fresh, but above all of that, we have a traditional song raised to a level of ambience that is so delicate and pristine.
On He Shall Feed his Flock, we have a melody that is almost childlike, and very comforting, but warming and soothing. One can see the candles dripping with wax, and the moonlit glow of a winter day, disappearing into the ever hazy ever present night time cloak, that lies on the musical borderlands of reality.
At times, i am reminded of the work of Mike Rowland, whose angelic renditions reverberated around the halls of the new age industry for eons. But Collins has that extra special tenderness that is so very special, listen to Of the Father's Love Begotten, and you will see what I mean. This has to be the most thoughtful and ambient pieces I have ever heard on a Christmas release, her tones are supreme, empowering, and are filled with a relaxing, yet inspiring motif. To be honest, this was one my favourite tracks off the release.
Want something different? Here it is, it’s the standard, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Now I heard a track some 40 plus years ago called, Lightning Ride BY Neil Sedaka, and this is as close to it as you can get to that beautiful composition as I have ever heard. The light formation of chords is sublime, the calmness of production is graphic, but the depth of performance makes this my favourite piece off the album with ease.
As we drift into the second half of the release, we come across a well-known title called, We Three Kings, there is something so very laid back here, but thoughtful about this arrangement. Collins creates a whole realm of ambience on this composition, one that you could listen to for hours uninterrupted.
Sometimes you come across a song that takes your breath way and this is that very moment. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, Is a step into the unknown for us dear reader and listener. At well over six minutes we have an opportunity to explore the majestic calmness of the artist. This composition has such an ambience about it, its undeniable and probably has to be one of my favourite’s pieces off the release.
Merrill Collins is a co-creator of pure blissful ambient music and on O Come, O Come Emanuele, we can really bear witness to the crossover of styles, her performance on this track is outstanding and one could listen to this piece time and time again. The skills given here cross from classical, to ambient, to new age and back again, we’re witnessing in this piece, a musician who is clearly, not just in the moment, but one who is willing to experiment and be a part of a whole new sound.
This must surely be the most original Christmas albums of all time. Let’s prove that point further, this is Come Thou Dear Redeemer, again that soft jazzy style New Age ethic eases us home. I for one could with blissful ease, just float on the clouds of tone, and drift forever more. Collins has that magical wand of ambient majesty, and I feel that this is one album that will be played relentlessly during my holiday season break, from it I feel peace and tranquillity and a new jeux de position of musical performance.
Silent Night has to be one of the most familiar pieces of this time of year and still to this this day, it moves me. The tempo that Collins' employs, soothes us to the point that we may well fall asleep under our Christmas tree, and forget that we should now be in bed asleep, waiting for the sunlight to break through the window of a brand new day.
The album ends with Ringtone, which is the bells and chimes from the previous track, a gentle way to leave the album.
Collins has taken an array of classic Christmas tunes and created something ultra-special, she has not conformed to the standard, but created something in between, something ambient, something new and refreshing. Christmas Presence is a release that will placate both the traditional and non-traditional listener, will bring solace to the ears of the stressed seasonal purchaser of holiday gifts, but above all Merrill Collins and Christmas Presence, is one of the most pleasing, blissful, and ambient slices of Christmas based music collections, I have heard for simply ages.
Rating: Excellent
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