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Matters of Balance by Richard Carr
- posted by Michael Diamond on 7/23/2016
Matters of Balance by Richard Carr
While Richard Carr is well known by many as a solo pianist, his new release represents more of a collaborative effort. For this album, Richard chose to work with one of the premier producing teams in this genre of music, namely Windham Hill Records founder and Grammy winner, Will Ackerman, along with co-producer, engineer, and multi-instrumentalist Tom Eaton. The recording was done at Will’s iconic Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont, where Richard had access to their highly modified Steinway piano, which has graced the tracks of countless albums on the Windham Hill label and many more. In addition, a number of world-class accompanists add their talents to the project.


The opening track is “Ascendance,” and features Richard on piano, of course, accompanied by one of my favorite musicians, Jeff Oster on ambient flugelhorn. The piece has a mellow dreamy ambiance that evokes the feel of kicking back and watching the clouds drift by on a summer day. I love the atmosphere it created and makes for a perfect introduction to the album, drawing the listener into its gentle impressionistic soundscape. This feeling continues into the next song, “Awakening Spirit.” Richard’s melody is gorgeous, and for me quite heart opening. It begins as a piano solo until about half way through, he is joined by long time Will Ackerman collaborator Jill Haley on English horn, cellist Eugene Friesen, who is best known as a member of the Paul Winter Consort, and Tom Eaton, who stepped out from behind the recording console to play bass.

“Looking Inward” is the first of three solo piano pieces on the album. As the title implies, it is appropriately meditative with a nice balance of notes and space to allow the composition to breathe. Also making an appearance in one song on the album is fretless bassist extraordinaire, Michael Manring, who is well known for his work on countless Windham Hill albums and more, including most currently Jeff Oster’s band. On this track entitled “Searching For Balance,” he is joined by cellist Eugene Friesen and Jill Haley on English horn. There is a real storytelling quality to Richard’s expressive melody here that takes the listener along on his search. Although too numerous to mention here, a number of other fine musicians appear on the album, and can be read about in the full-length review at the link below.

To characterize the overall ambiance of this recording, I would flash back to the motto of the Woodstock generation with the words “peace and love.” Richard’s compositions evoke a deep emotional resonance that touches the heart in ways that are both moving and uplifting. His ever-evolving spiritual journey and search for inner peace is reflected in the tranquil mood his music creates. “Matters of Balance” is perfectly titled and clues the listener into the oasis of calm found within its 11 exquisite tracks.

To read a full-length feature article about this album, as well as others, please visit: MichaelDiamondMusic.com
Rating: Excellent
Crossroads by Marc Enfroy
- posted by Candice Michelle on 7/22/2016
Crossroads by Marc Enfroy
From the realm of cinematic neoclassical music comes “Crossroads”, a dramatic and moving album spanning seventy minutes from composer Marc Enfroy. Largely inspired by personal loss and tragedy, the sixteen compositions herein are mainly characterized by symphonic orchestration that often showcases lead piano and string instrument melodies, with guest vocalists appearing on a few of the tracks.

The title piece opens with melancholic piano followed by a swell of shimmering strings amidst washes of vocal choirs. The majestic display of luxurious orchestration continues into “Toxic”, a somewhat dark and dramatic composition that weaves certain electronic elements into the symphonic arrangement. This sweeping and cinematic piece is characterized by minor-key piano amidst robust and riveting orchestration that would seem fitting in a dramatic period film, perhaps as one solitarily makes their way through a harsh snowstorm on a cold winter’s eve. Following next is “Your Silence is a Razor”, which features vocals by Aili Laine. This composition is one of three symphonic pop-rock power ballads on the album, with Lila Ives lending her voice to the other two – “Fading White” and “Shed my Skin”. The gentler instrumental, “Sepia”, is a particularly lovely composition of a more contemplative nature that opens with delicate piano and cello, followed by wordless ethereal vocals amidst an elegant orchestral arrangement. It is followed by “Betrayed”, a brief but enchanting interlude-like piece that’s characterized by a pensive piano motif throughout. Combined with a beautiful build-up of strings and thunderous symphony, this piece elicits the notion of running frantically towards somewhere or something, as it escalates into a beautiful bewilderment before concluding abruptly. The poignantly edgy “Dying in Degrees” could be described as ‘neoclassical electronica’, and is easily my favorite piece on the album. Beginning with stirring strings and piano, the composition unfolds into a mesmerizing display of minor chords and lead string instruments which sleekly offset a driving electronic beat. As if having travelled back in time, the piece conveys the mystery and allure of a masked ball. The forlorn yet strangely comforting “Shattered” is a notable neoclassical composition which seems to express an outpouring of grief and distress. Its galloping piano melody is joined by an arrangement of strings that gradually build up to a crescendo before evaporating into thin air. I’m also especially fond of “Moonlight Obsession”, a caressingly nocturnal solo-piano piece that brings to mind a moonlit night while a gentle breeze blows in through an open window. “In that Moment” is another one of my favorites which begins with sparse piano. It is accompanied throughout by another piano riff in an echoing high register, along with gossamer strings and a thundering muffled drumbeat that moves along at a marching pace. Rounding things out is “Your Silence is a Razor (instrumental version)”, with the other two vocal pieces also finding their instrumental counterparts on the album.

Often imbued with a dark enchantment, “Crossroads” is a highly epic and visually stimulating experience of dramatically contrasting highs and lows. Stylistically, comparisons may be drawn to Kevin Keller, Evanescence and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but with a thematically tragic guise akin to Phantom of the Opera. This album’s sweeping and cinematic orchestration combined with its dynamic rock flair makes for an overall magnificent and emotionally-stirring adventure! ~Candice Michelle (Journeyscapesradio.com)
Rating: Excellent
Wishful Thinking by Samer Fanek
- posted by Michael Diamond on 7/22/2016
Wishful Thinking by Samer Fanek
The act of “wishful thinking” is something we’ve all done at one time or another. For some, it remains purely in the realm of thought, while others may act on those desires to bring them into manifestation. Keyboardist/ composer Samer Fanek is one of the later. “Wishful Thinking” is Samer’s debut album and features 13 original compositions on which he played all the sounds including piano and sampled instruments such as violins, guitars, horns, flutes, ethnic sounds, and percussion, from over 50 different virtual instrument libraries and synthesizers. I must say that my initial response after pressing “play” on the opening track was, wow! I was taken by surprise at the musical maturity of the piece coming from someone so young and completely self-taught as Samer is. I was greatly impressed by his melodic sophistication, exquisitely layered orchestration, and sense of dynamics in knowing when to dramatically build the composition and when to bring it back down to let it breathe. The title track, with its obvious Yanni influence certainly makes for an auspicious introduction to the album.


The next song, “Universe,” taps into Samer’s love of progressive rock music and can best be described with the word “epic,” featuring a full rock drum track, lush orchestration, and a soaring guitar solo played on keyboard. Another facet of Samer’s musical spectrum is heard on “Lost Waltz,” which evokes images of finely dressed people in flowing gowns and formal wear moving elegantly on the ballroom floor in 3/4 time. While most of Samer’s compositions are big and bold, a couple such as “Remember Me,” and the appropriately titled final track, “Finding Closure,” express a softer, more nostalgic ambiance.


I must say that Samer’s playing and compositional skills totally exceeded my expectations. He also has a great ear for arranging the highly detailed orchestration that he uses to embellish his piano work and animate the stories within his songs. Samer certainly has a flair for the dramatic and there is a cinematic quality to his music that could easily lend itself to film soundtracks. I was greatly impressed with how Samer, with his relative lack of experience and humble home studio production was able to assimilate the complex and emotionally evocative musical influences of an artist like Yanni and create his own highly original and imaginative compositions that compare surprisingly favorably. I can only imagine what he will be able to create given time and more advanced studio facilities. When Samer left his lucrative professional career in software development to focus on his music, most people around him accused him of “wishful thinking.” But after a stellar debut album like this, it shows that wishes certainly can come true.


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

Rating: Excellent
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