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Secret Beach, the album by Barbara Graff
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 5/1/2020
Reflect in the serenity of the music
Barbara Graff has returned with a brand new album, fresh from her success with her last offering Beginnings. This time we are drawn to somewhere I just adore to go, that’s of course my Secret Beach.
Graff has created a very personal album here; one that I am sure will resonate with the listeners. Her gentle and calming style on the opening piece is as delicate as the Sunrise it depicts, the subtle tones and soft tempo leads us into a world of glistening shards of sunlight on another glorious day.
Graff’s piano speaks volumes on this next piece entitled Carolina. There is a nice energy about this song that gives it a slight folk ethic to its energies and the musical narrative is indeed compelling. This is a track that grows in confidence and melodic charm as it develops, at times mysterious, but always incredibly warm.
Hope Springs is our next port of call and from its refrains comes a track so beautifully composed and arranged it would turn out to be my personal favourite from the album, the emotive qualities of this song are impressive, but even with those little reflective nuances, hope always seems to spring eternal from its construction, a completely mesmeric song this one.
Now we find ourselves walking through the sands of the title track Secret Beach, there are a few places here that we like to go to that could be named as such. This was in fact a single for Graff last year and it did pretty well; sitting here in the middle of the album it is the perfect fulcrum with which to move into the second half of the release with.
There are some compositions that just sit up and beg to be loved, and In the Moonlight is most certainly one of them. This is a wonderfully composed piece that seems to have many musical facets, at times reflective, but with a hint of romance as well. The performance is crafted and extremely listenable; one can also detect a slight element of the classical within the structures of this quite moving opus.
Now we are all up for some inspiration are we not? Graff gives us that moment right now in one of her most ingenious offerings called Inspiration, this is such an astute piece, one can never quite figure out which road it is going to take, but it doesn’t seem to matter as the composition grows and evolves all on its own.
We now finish Barbara Graff style, with a flourish as we add some further instrumentation to the keyboards used here, and finish with two versions of the same track, the latter being a bonus track with vocals and entitled Sweet Eclipse, the mood is upbeat as is the percussion, a truly clever and inventive way to finish and end the album.
Secret Beach is a wonderfully imaginative album and Barbara Graff must be pleased with her efforts, she has created several new songs, and manifested a wonderfully fluent musical narrative with which to deliver them with. Moments of reflection, emotion, calm, serenity and happiness can all be found here on an album that sparkles with vitality and positivity, an album well worth a recommendation.
Rating: Excellent
Sonoran Odyssey by Paul Speer
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 5/1/2020
Packed to the rafters with stylish performances
It certainly has been a while since I have heard from Paul Speer, in fact I checked and I have very fond memories of Ax Inferno back in 2013, so after a very interesting seven years Speer is with us once again, and this time with a smooth and textured offering entitled Sonoran Odyssey.
The layers here are fantastic, a tranquil, but fluent beginning can be found on the opening piece entitled Sunrise. This is a glorious offering to start with, a composition full of hope and the excitement of a new day.
The album has some very interesting options and edits for you to enjoy as well, one of my personal favourites would be the storm laden and powerful Monsoon (Thunder). This mixture of EM and guitar is sublime, then to add a layered but empowered percussion was and is nothing short of genius, thus creating a truly addictive composition.
We can now also go on a journey with 5 different styled arrangements; the first passage takes on a mystical voyage and entitled Moonrise (Full Mix). This arrangement is film score standard with ease, and a track that conjures up a mixture of alien landscapes within the mind’s eye with ease.
Moonrise (Demo Feat Neptune) soon follows; the electronic nature of this piece reminds me in part of the UK’s EM rock outfit Code Indigo. The hovering intent here is both dramatic and addictive; one will literally be on the end of their seat to see what happens next; the oceanic sounds add a further dimension to the proceedings.
Monsoon (No Thunder) is now upon us. There is another level of intensity within this mix that is truly enticing and is a far rockier arrangement as well. That can be emphasised further when we listen to the following offering Moonrise (Guitar Mix), a wonderfully smooth and stylish arrangement that offers a pulsating rhythmic essence to the proceedings.
Our final mix comes curtesy of this next composition entitled Moonrise (Ambient Mix). The more space styled ethic here is evident, Speer in manifesting this particular arrangement, has created a vast musical landscape for us to all wonder within and enjoy.
One of my personal favourites came as I clicked upon track 8, Behind the Waterfall (2020). There was a true lightness of spirit in the performance within this piece of both guitar and keyboards, the compositional structure is enhanced further with a perfect percussive beat, and we’re then left listening to an arrangement that could easily be the theme music to a TV show.
The penultimate offering off the release is the absolutely stunning creation entitled Venus Rising ft. Sherry Finzer. Finzer is at the top of her musical game and her inclusion on this powerful offering is a sublime moment of clarity. The flute partners an addictive tribal beat to bring us something incredibly special and wonderfully attractive, then listen to Speers almost ZZ Top guitar break at the two and a half minute marker, marking this for me as a true stand out track off the album.
Jupiter via NASA is our last port of call and as you would imagine from the title there is a vast space styled feel to the arrangement, one where the keyboards and synths hover with a sense of anticipation. There is such a range of influences here, but a little Vangelis energy seems to be powering this latest rocket ship, but regardless, what a dramatic and utterly cinematic way to end a captivating album.
Sonoran Odyssey is an album that is packed to the rafters with stylish performances, quality productions, smooth yet powerful guitar, and sonic backdrops of textured sounds, keyboards and synths, which manifest for us something quite special to enjoy. Speer has indeed taken the whole genre to a new level entirely with this latest offering, and is one that gets a huge thumbs up from me for doing so.
Rating: Excellent
A Classical Meditation by Gary Schmidt
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 4/24/2020
A sumptuous meal for the soul
My passion for classical music has been a slow burning desire ever since I was introduced to Holts Planet Suite by my father in my mid-teens, quite an accomplishment you may say, garnishing interest from a teenage boy with regard to classical music, but over the years that passion has grown and now my appreciation of the genre has expanded experientially. Now that love of good music has drawn me closer to an artist who ‘s work I have been more than impressed with for a few years now in one Gary Schmidt, and it is a journey through the classical piano realms, with a meditative view point we must now travel.
A Classical Meditation by Gary Schmidt is the artists follow up album after the huge successes of his previous release in 2018, Even For a Moment, here Schmidt takes his more contemplative side and mixes it with his classical roots to bring us a truly masterful release to enjoy, perhaps on those moments when we wish to just relax in the candle light, or to simply watch the clouds pass on a summers day.
Schmidt has produced something truly charming here with this album that will certainly fit a mood-setting scene with ease, like his version of Adagio From Concerto in Dm, a soothing narrative and performance can be found here. With the mood set and the lights low, enjoy Schmidt’s performance on Etude No2, the touch and tranquil energy that reverberates from the piano on this piece is blissfully special.
Schmidt is a truly accomplished classical pianist, but this album allows him latitude to express his new age skills in the mix of a classical setting, listen to pieces like Claire De Lune, originally penned by the maestro Debussy, Schmidt not only does the composition proud, he literally excels and draws a wonderfully artistic narrative, one that further enhances the inspirational poem of Paul Verlaine to different musical galaxy entirely.
The very nature of this album is the tenderness and subtly of tone it is performed in, Gary Schmidt expresses this further with the piece Pieces Froides - Danses de Travers No1, we will visit the work of Satie again later on within this charming album.
Tracks flow with such an abundance within this release and I am sure that the evening will pass by with such joy by listening to arrangements like Nocturne in Ab, it was so nice to once more bathe within the waters of Chopin once again. They seem to cascade around us with offerings like the quite beautiful Fur Alina, a new composition, but one that would grace an ambient show with ease, and then on and into the regal energies of Piano Concerto No2, a work of genius can be found here, and that was something that I believe that was levied at Rachmaninoff once he had created the original work back in the early part of the 20th century as well.
Gary Schmidt is such an accomplished performer and pianist, he has a style that is technically gifted, but also plays with such warmth as well, a listen to pieces like the unforgettable Moonlight Sonata (First Movement), will certainly emphasize that point entirely, and a piece I have loved ever since I can remember, or this next composition Canon in D, another absolute favourite of mine, I now have a few versions to choose from, but this piece originally by Johann Pachelbel is a fine example of Schmidt’s warmth of performance, much like the next offering Nocturne in C#m, I am so happy to see this included on the album, and especially so as it gifts us the ever eager listener an example of Schmidt’s technical skill set, a vast and precise one at that.
I did say a return to the world of Eric Satie would occur and we are now at that juncture, Pieces Froides - Danses de Travers No2 is a crafted performance that is so incredibly listenable, and followed up with something that may be familiar to many classical followers, a glowing version of Ravels Concerto in G (2nd Movement), a concerto of utter fluency indeed, and Schmidt’s performance is simply transfixing.
This album is packed with such meditative moments of musical magic, with that in mind and in the deeper waters of the release we can find Orfeu et Eurydice - Melodie. Christoph Willibald Glucks work may not be known to many, indeed it was my first introduction to his artistic endeavours, but Schmidt’s performance here is not only picturesque, but classically brilliant with every note played.
The penultimate offering of the album is a splendid moment within the realm of grandmaster Beethoven’s court, Schmidt tackles Symphony No7 with almost laser precision, and delivers us a perfect rendition, one finely balanced and with a sublime build and progression within the musical narrative of the arrangement.
I mentioned Holst to begin with and the second piece of music my father would give to me would be this quite emotional work, New World Symphony (Largo). This has to be one of the most romantic and expressive pieces created by Dvorak, and a master stroke of utter genius by Schmidt to end the album with it, a superb performance it has to be said can be found here too.
A Classical Meditation by Gary Schmidt is a truly wonderful hour plus of quality crafted performances by the artist, ones that all have a meditative quality to them, but all also have that magical sparkle, gifted to them by an utterly professional performance by Schmidt himself. Gary Schmidt has with this brand new offering created an album of classical greats, and made the music completely accessible to all, regardless of whether you were already a fan of this style of music or not, Schmidt has taken it to a new level with this release, and the blissful performances you will find on this recording, will be a sumptuous meal for the musical soul.
Rating: Excellent
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