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Encounters of the Beautiful Kind by Rachel LaFond
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 6/6/2018
Packed with passion, flowing with emotion
I have listened to much solo piano; many albums have crossed my path this year alone, but I have to say that Encounters of the Beautiful Kind has a special resonance about its construction for me, so why not join me on another musical journey through music with Rachel LaFond. You will I hope, see the qualities of this artist with the same lyrical gaze that I do.
LaFond, since her last release Wandering Soul, has grown massively and one only has to listen to the single, the opener of the album, Luminous, to hear that statement ring true, this is one of the most confident and passionate songs I think I have ever heard her manifest into our world, her performance is truly Luminous.
Rachel LaFond has spent some time under the tutelage of David Lanz and it was indeed an honour to have met her a few months ago on the island of Cyprus, I have known of her skill and potential greatness on the keys, but this album proves that journey to genius is in full motion as we speak, just listen to the sensitive and delicate style employed on Your Beauty Calls Me, the fluency and artistic grace is so abundant for all to hear.
This lush creation of a colourful musical narrative is continued with the next offering entitled Heart Full of Memories. This is one of my personal favourites from the release; it’s emotive and extremely reflective nature builds an irresistible energy, its imploring nature and passion filled performance is simply outstanding and deeply moving.
Tears for Catalunya almost seems to be part of my musical universe these days, I just cannot seem to stop listening to it, its cultured and intelligent performance is something to marvel, and yes, I think I would adore watching the artist perform this live. Of course there is an emotional motif to the track, but one that seems to be able to express itself so beautifully, proving LaFond’s abilities of musical picture creation is growing with a richness and quality, one that expands with each touch of the keys.
A statement of confidence is made with ease next on the piece, You Will Conquer This Shadow. Here the artist shows us another side to her growing genius, one that sees a real sense of empowerment in performance and composition, the energy builds throughout the offering and offers hope and power to all who embrace the truth of possibility, and leave the well of negativity to run dry. This is a really clever arrangement by LaFond; one that I think will be appreciated by listeners and fans worldwide.
Love’s Labour’s Never Lost Is now upon us and yes, Shakespeare did write a comedy many years back with a similar title, but I can assure you this has nothing to do with that. Here LaFond seems to further continue her musical narrative of the preceding piece, by perhaps stating that once your fears have been conquered, give love a try one more time. Musically this is a beautifully played composition, we see the artist in full flow but also employing a truly sublime sense of intensity when needed.
As we slide so very gently into the latter half of the album we come across a charming opus called The Questions You Heart Asks, it is at this point that one can sense the Lanz influence grow even further, the care and attention to detail in this offering is quite breath taking and wonderful to listen to. Yes, this is another favourite of mine; the performance by LaFond here is multi-faceted and intelligently sensitive it in construction, this is a fine example of a track that one could leave playing on repeat for hours.
The arm goes around the friend, he sighs and cries and the artist softly and deftly says, Don’t Cry, Calvin. What warms the heart about this release is LaFond’s sublime skill set, her ability to create a different musical layer and emotion almost at a whim, from the emotive, to the empowering, from the inspiring, to now, on this piece, to perhaps offer a musical narrative of reassurance within tone.
It is always good to have a moment of Unrestrained Joy and once more the artist shows her talents on a track that manifests yet another emotion, happiness in absolute abundance. Her performance here is assured and positive and thus this creates a real rising of the energies within this composition.
We have seamlessly arrived at the penultimate offering on the album and it’s called Shout to the Sun. I feel like the melody here is so familiar, but that’s clever in itself, it’s one of those arrangements that will crawl into your mind and you will find yourself humming it for ages. The performance here has a wonderful sense of clarity about its persona, one that will leave you fulfilled and empowered as it draws to its conclusion.
Now, before we step through the portal and away from the realm created here by Rachel LaFond, the musician has one more musical gift to leave us with and it is entitled A Knight’s Journey. It will only take a glance back at the voyage we have been on to realise that this has been a musical expedition of growth, endings and new beginnings, perhaps even more encounters of the beautiful kind can be found now, as we have grown enough to be transformed into the Knight and our journeying can begin again, perhaps this time to help others along the path that we have just walked. This is a stunning way to leave the album, the deepness of this track has to be felt and I would urge every listener to play this last musical present multiple times to gain the full effect of the composition, and each and every musical nuance along the way.
Encounters of the Beautiful Kind is a leap up the ladder for the composer, Rachel LaFond has rubbed shoulders with the great and good and the resulting effort is an album that is artistic at every turn, packed with passion and flowing with some of the strongest emotions possible. This is a milestone for the artist and the legions of her fans and solo piano enthusiasts should be cueing up at the door to get hold of a copy of this album, it is utterly brilliant.
Rating: Excellent
On the Edge of A Dream by Robin Spielberg
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 6/6/2018
Fly on the wings of hope with the luscious tones
I first came into contact with Robin Spielberg back in 2015, with the release of the beauty that was Another Time, Another Place. Now some three years later, her latest album On the Edge of a Dream sits on my desk to be reviewed, I admire the true sensitivity of the artist, so this is truly going to be a voyage of pleasure for us as we explore this musical wonderland of solo piano.
We proudly start with the title header, On the Edge of a Dream. It has to be said that Spielberg’s delicate approach to this opening piece deserves applauding, she creates an almost mirrored pool of a piece, something so gentle and calming, and while doing so manifests a perfect lullaby beginning to our perambulations through the album.
On We Meet Again we have a track that seems to beautifully dance into our lives, one can perhaps visualise two long lost lovers meeting on either side of a sun kissed room and, for a moment, they just stand and enjoy the energy of reconnection. Spielberg has really captured a perfect flow within this piece that has to be admired.
Drifting was by far one of the most ambient offerings from the release; this gives us an opportunity to just float with the tones created. The delicacy of the artist here is amazing to just drift with, and the aforementioned ambience is a musical gift to absolutely treasure.
The mystical elements of Spellbound were really intriguing to be surrounded by, the artist creates a clever juxtaposition between the suspense of the offering, and the total entrancement one feels while listening to it. I have listened to this arrangement a few times now and each time I do I fall further in love with it.
The subject of Nightfall is a dominant theme within music, and as such a layer of mood must be achieved to succeed in this, that energy and calmness is attained by Spielberg with ease, she even adds to that with a sparkling performance that doesn’t just create a blanket of blue sky, but also a vast array of glistening stars as well.
As we drift serenely into the arms of the next piece entitled The Secret Path, we can become completely at one with the moment, and allow ourselves to find our way through the woods to our very own secret path. The tender and careful performance here is one that is respectful of nature’s gifts, whilst creating a lush musical narrative that manifests a true musical vista of the subject matter, a simply beautiful piece to behold can be found right here.
So we have arrived at the top of the musical hill, and as we gaze down into the green fields of tone below, we firstly listen to an anthem of serenity and tranquillity entitled Stargazing. This is something we do here with a grateful regularity and usually in our pool; this magical moment of music would be the perfect accompaniment for that blissful dream filled slice of star filled time.
We move slowly now towards the latter half of the album, you won’t want to miss a single thing, like this next masterful opus entitled Calling All Dreamers. This is Spielberg in full flow and perhaps this could even be an anthem for all who wish to dream positive thoughts of tomorrow.
A slightly deeper and reflective motif can be found on this next opus called Illusion. A clever piece where you will literally hear the artist create the narrative as it occurs naturally, the melody has a little eastern feel to its construction as well, which in turn manifests a sense of mystical proportions, this is technically gifted and wonderfully performed.
The longest piece off the release at just less than seven minutes is the enticing and reflective Into the Night. The artist has gone into the depths here and produced a deep into the heart of the night arrangement that is quite addictive to listen to. For me this is a very well-crafted composition, one that at times almost drifts into the classical, but keeps its constant onward movement contained within the structures of a new age styled piano journey. This could well go down as one of the best pieces ever composed by the artist and maybe even within the solo piano genre, simply outstanding; this is musical story telling at its very best.
The soothing tones of Safe and Sound almost seems like the natural follow-on piece to the last offering, one can feel an energy of daylight streaming in through misty and dusty curtains that hang limply in the bedroom, and as the eyes open, slowly a sense of relief can be found, as you are Safe and Sound.
I guess if pianist Lynn Tredeau can have Lunch with Vincent, then there is nothing stopping Robin Spielberg from Meeting Monet. I’m a fan of his work, especially Waterlilies and here the artist meets the artist, and brings into creation a piece of music that one could with ease, walk through an art gallery and gaze with admiration at the works of Monet with, this is simply perfection in simplicity.
The penultimate offering, We Meet Again (Recurring Dream) is almost the shadow creation of the early piece of the same name, while the retention of the previous theme is held; one can detect a slight essence of apprehension within the arrangement. This is an extremely clever and intelligent opus, that seems to recreate itself, and in doing so adds an extra layer of intrigue on top of the last one.
So we finally drift into the safe harbour of the last track of the album, it is called Blue Moon Rising. That sense of ambience is once more laid bare within this offering, one also has the opportunity to bathe in the soothing pools and roam within the tones of this last offering, as it as spacious as the universe itself, a simply perfect way to leave the album indeed.
On the Edge of a Dream by Robin Spielberg is indeed an album that you will be able to drift off too at night without any problem at all, but it is much more than that. Here we have a release that has been so well crafted, that one will feel fulfilled and a sensation of calmness where bliss will be obtained with ease whilst listening to it. Robin Spielberg has on this album manifested a musical platform so artistically, with such sensitivity and care, that our very dream time perambulations may fly on the wings of hope within its luscious tones.
Rating: Excellent
Piano Improvisations, Vol. 1 by Peter Calandra
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 5/29/2018
Performed with class and style
I adore improvised work, especially Jazz and Piano and in a way this new album by Peter Calandra, Piano Improvisations, Vol. 1, caters for both of my preferences. I was a big fan of Keith Emerson and his improvisational work with Emerson Lake and Palmer and there is a little of Keith in some of the tracks off the release, particularly the opener entitled Carry The Torch.
Quite simply Calandra has produced a wonderful album of extremely fluent compositions, all fourteen of them, and each has its very own energy signature and will create a sense of ambience for your day. My personal highlights were, apart from the aforementioned track, the reflective and quite moving Two Days.
The ambience is also manifested quite brilliantly on the piece Distant Memory, one could literally get lost in this piece, then the minimalistic free form of Enchanted Forest, which truly does draw a narrative that is incredibly fascinating and mysterious.
Even my Jazz addiction is catered for with the almost Rag styled A 21st Century Monk and the very smooth, but intricate tones of The Second Wave.
If you have been searching for something different to sharpen your musical palette you would do well to add Piano Improvisations, Vol. 1 by Peter Calandra to your files, your musical senses will love you forever, this album is highly recommended to just chill too, a release performed with class and style from a truly professional performer of great skill.
Rating: Excellent
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