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Landscapes Of The Heart by Gary Schmidt
- posted by Michael Diamond on 11/26/2016
Landscapes of the Heart by Gary Schmidt
With his move into the new age music genre, classically trained pianist Gary could not have made a better choice for recording his new album, “Landscapes of the Heart,” than at the iconic Imaginary Road Studios with the premier production team of GRAMMY winner and Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman, and co-producer/engineer Tom Eaton. Additional benefits included access to a number of Will’s world class studio musicians, and the use of the studio’s highly customized Steinway piano which has graced the albums of some of the finest artists in this genre. With regard to the focus and inspiration behind this recording Gary shared: “The title of the album Landscapes of the Heart is evocative of the idea that I wanted to try and capture a range of human emotions and also that true life always happens at the level of the heart.”

The title for the first track, “The Beauty We Love,” draws its inspiration from a poem by the famous 12th century mystic Rumi who wrote: “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” On this composition, Gary had the opportunity to work with a particularly gifted accompanist, Eugene Friesen, one of the most respected cellists in the U.S. - a professor at Berklee and winner of four GRAMMY awards for his work with the Paul Winter Consort. The feeling that was evoked for me in Gary’s beautiful piano work was that of striving or reaching for something lofty, while Eugene’s cello had an earthy soulful quality that complimented it perfectly in a balance of heaven and earth.

The title of the next song, “When the Silence Speaks” is reflective of its serene ambiance and the gentle flowing arpeggios that characterize the piece. Tom Eaton provides subtle accompaniment on bass. I was intrigued by the title “Waltz in Two Four,” since the standard time signature for a waltz is three-four time. But as Gary explains: “I frequently like to make use of multiple time signatures alternating, even in succession.” Accompanying Gary are the wordless ambient vocals of Noah Wilding, and superstar violinist Charlie Bisharat, who has played with everyone from Yanni to The Rolling Stones. On tracks 7 and 8 Gary delves into a couple “cover tunes” that reflect his classical roots. They are “Gnossiennes 1” and “Gnossiennes 5” by minimalist composer Erik Satie. While these solo piano pieces have a somewhat different feel stylistically, especially the first one, I thought they added a nice touch of diversity to the album and highlight Gary’s range as a pianist.

The album’s final track, a solo piece entitled “Solus” has an interesting story behind it. As Gary describes: “Solus was specifically written for the end of the album. I wanted to create a kind of musical Coda or summary. The term Solus is an old Latin word, which literally means ‘A man alone with his thoughts.’” It does make for quite a fitting end to this beautiful album. Gary’s abilities as a pianist and composer are impressive and his desire to infuse his music with a spirit of inspiration elevates it to another level altogether, which the maestro Ackerman called: “… a marvelously successful tour de force of heart and mind.”

To read a full-length feature article on this album, as well as others, please visit:
Rating: Excellent
Four Days in My Life by Louis Colaiannia
- posted by Michael Diamond on 11/22/2016
Four Days in My Life by Louis Colaiannia
Pianist/composer Louis Colaiannia’s latest release, Four Days In My Life was inspired by the time he recently spent enjoying the breathtaking natural beauty of the Oregon coast while on a concert tour. As with his previous album, Louis chose to record at the iconic Imaginary Road Studio of GRAMMY winning producer and Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman, and includes accompaniment by a number of Will’s finest studio musicians. As can be expected, elements of the classic Windham Hill sound are to be found, and the music is a bit more understated without as much of the jazz influence heard on some of Louis’ earlier recordings. It’s a lovely reflective album from someone I consider to be a class act in the genre.

A tragic life event played a role in inspiring Louis to write the album’s opening track, which reflects a yin/yang contrast between an air of melancholy mixed with a feeling of hope and grace. Helping Louis to portray this vision are cellist Eugene Friesen who is best known as a member of the Paul Winter Consort, long-time Will Ackerman collaborator Noah Wilding on wordless ambient vocals, and Tom Eaton on bass, who also co-produced, recorded, mixed, and mastered the album. The inspiration for the next song is drawn from quite a different source as envisioned in its title, “By The Sea.” I would imagine that for Louis who lives in the middle of the country in Denver, Colorado, that being on the rugged shores of the Oregon coast where he spent the 4 days referred to in the album title, and gazing out to sea would have generated the dreamy expansive ambiance captured in the song.

A name that appears as an accompanist on many albums in this genre, as it does here, is ambient horn player Jeff Oster. On a track called “Reflections,” his spacious drifting flugelhorn lines add to the mix along with Tony Levin on bass and Tom Eaton on keyboards. Louis exudes feeling of calm in his simple yet elegant piano arpeggios that brought to mind the music of Satie. Starting off in a similar vein is a track called “Starry Night,” that soon takes off in a more groove-oriented direction, propelled by the hand drumming of Jeff Haynes and Tony Levin on bass. Over this rhythmic foundation soar the saxophone of Premik Russell Tubbs and the soulful violin of superstar Charlie Bisharat. This song highlights how Louis is able to go from being out front and playing solo sections to pulling back and letting his accompanists be in the spotlight.

While there is diversity within the songs on Four Days In My Life, there is also a thread of continuity that ties them all together. On some of Louis’ much earlier recordings there was perhaps a sense of searching for an identity that involved music from different genres coexisting on the same album. But with this new release, as well as his previous Imaginary Road production, Closer, I feel that he has found that identity in a more Windham Hill-tinged new age acoustic sound. But whatever style of music Louis is playing, it comes from deep within his heart and soul, and a feeling that this is his calling in life. Those four days that Louis spent on the Oregon coast and which inspired this heartfelt music provide a listening experience that is both pensive and uplifting.

To read a full-length feature article on this album, as well as others, please visit:

Rating: Excellent
II by Andy Iorio
- posted by Candice Michelle on 11/22/2016
II by Andy Iorio
II is the second album by pianist and composer, Andy Iorio, who debuted with After the Rain in 2010. Comprised of twelve compositions having one word titles, each capturing a mood, moment or emotional expression, the album features a mix of both piano and strings courtesy of Matthew Johnson on violin and viola, as well as solo piano pieces throughout.

“Opening” is carried along by a brisk piano melody underscored by viola, which are eventually joined by violin in a sorrowful serenade. Seemingly inspired by another era, the piece bears notable neoclassical signatures along with a bit of a gothic semblance. Continuing in this mode is “Burn”, which likewise exudes a certain cinematic quality that brings to mind an old black and white film. “Descent” follows next and is easily my favorite composition herein. Characterized by hauntingly ubiquitous chord progressions in which suspended strings hover above a flowing piano melody that repeatedly rises and falls throughout, the mood of the piece almost feels a bit noir, bringing to mind images of passer-byers on cobblestone streets of an old city. The waltzing “Silhouettes” is among a handful of solo piano compositions of which are generally less forlorn than those accompanied by strings. Whereas the album’s piano ensemble pieces skew more towards the melancholic and neoclassical, their solo piano counterparts possess more contemporary melodies that are comparatively brighter and more sentimental. The final piece, “Closing”, opens with an encroaching fog of strings that soon introduce somewhat languid piano notes and a flute-like instrument. An extended pause of silence occupies the middle part of the track, before revealing a hidden solo piano piece towards it’s seemingly daybreak conclusion.

Capturing an elegant balance of shadow and light, Andy Iorio has demonstrated a keen ability to convey often dramatic emotional expressions within a generally subtle and perfectly understated musical framework. Overall solemn and purposeful with lighter moments of hope interspersed throughout, II is a superbly crafted album that will appeal, especially, to many fans of Phillip Glass, Ludovico Einaudi and piano-based soundtrack music! ~Candice Michelle (
Rating: Excellent
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