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First Light: Solo Piano by Craig Urquhart
- posted by Michael Diamond on 2/21/2013
First Light
I love this story…
Moving to New York City after receiving his Master’s in Composition from the University of Michigan, pianist Craig Urquhart (pronounced "irk-hart”) left some of his music with Leonard Bernstein's Manhattan doorman; the Maestro called Urquhart back, and the two became acquainted. In 1985 Urquhart was hired as Bernstein’s musical assistant, and worked for Bernstein until the composer’s death in 1990. Call it luck, chance, or destiny it was a golden opportunity for Craig who credits Leonard Bernstein’s CBS series The Young People's Concerts with The New York Philharmonic as "literally educating a whole generation of kids about music, including myself."

Among Craig’s other influences are Chopin, Debussy, Satie and Copland, as well as pop and rock musicians. Over the years his focus has evolved from academic classical music to a more lyrical personal voice, which has appealed to listeners in a number of genres including new age. With nine albums, his music has an international audience on iTunes, Sirrus Radio, the Essence Radio Program and Whisperings Piano. He has also given concerts in New York, Berlin, Rome, Paris, Tokyo, and more. Craig has an active interest in a number of social and environmental causes and has used his music to support them. He has performed at the United Nations for National AIDS Awareness Day and Earth Day, as well as numerous other benefit concerts. He also served for many years as a member of the music faculty at the Harlem School of the Arts. Craig has a deep belief in “the continuing renewal of faith in beauty and the healing power of music.”

The first track on the album entitled “Contentment,” lives up to its name with a peaceful vibe and a simple melody. This quality in Craig’s music was recognized by someone with a far greater ear for music than I will ever have – Leonard Bernstein himself, who noted that “it has a deceptive simplicity and honesty that is rarely to be heard in contemporary song-writing. His tonal approach is not merely “sincere” but genuinely moving, with a private beauty all of its own.” This feeling continues with a slightly more reverent air on the following track called “Hymn.” Craig’s playing has been compared to that of George Winston, and I can see that to some degree. Unlike some solo pianists whose style is very ornate and filled with as many notes as possible, Craig is able to express a range of emotions in a way that at times more understated, yet always elegant. This emotional expressiveness is beautifully portrayed in a composition called “In Memorium J.G. which I found quite touching as it flowed through various melodic movements contrasted with spaciousness.

One of my favorite tracks was a song called “Autumn Wind” which captured a more wistful ambience, and for me, conjured the feeling of a late fall day with winter soon approaching. Another favorite, and perhaps the most moving was “A Father’s Love. This piece has a bit more thematic complexity than some and is enhanced by Craig feel for dynamics and velocity to create dramatic effect. However, at the other end of the spectrum, yet equally evocative, is the album’s title track that unfolds slowly and quietly like the dawning of a new day. One quality I appreciate in Craig’s composing and playing is what I would call a sense of melodic yin and yang, and knowing when to allow for space in the music. Overall there is an exquisite balance throughout the recording. I won’t say he “saved the best for last,” but the album draws to a close with a heartfelt and uplifting piece called “My Angel,” which I really enjoyed. I have to concur with noted music journalist Kathy Parsons, who once wrote: "The grace and depth of emotion conveyed in Urquhart's music is a reminder of how profound and colorful 
the piano can be as a solo instrument.”

Craig’s artistic endeavors extend into multi-media collaborations as well, such as his composition of art songs that include musical settings of poems by Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. Also, his The Wonder of Miracles was choreographed for a memorial concert at the magnificent Cathedral St. John the Divine in New York City. While many listeners are familiar with Craig Urquhart from his numerous recordings and international concert performances, for those just discovering him, his new release is a wonderful introduction to this multi-talented artist. First Light illuminates the gifts of Craig Urquhart as a world-class pianist and composer of distinction.

Rating: Very Good +
inhale slowly by Tim White and Joe Paulino
- posted by Michael Diamond on 2/18/2013
Inhale Slowly: A breath of fresh air...
With a title like “Inhale Slowly,” it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect an album of serenely spacious music that is perfect for relaxation, meditation, yoga, tai chi, or massage. And that is exactly what it is – an hour and eight minute oasis of calm that is available 24 hours a day. The creative source of these tranquil tracks is Tim White, on bamboo flute, guitar, sitar, and esraj, and Joe Paulino who plays piano and synthesizers. The music was originally created as accompaniment for guided imagery projects, after which, according to Joe, “we re-arranged our compositions as pure instrumentals, freeing them to speak their own truths.”

The album consists of five lavishly lengthy soundscapes – three in the 17minute range and two approximately 9 minutes each. These expansive excursions provide lots of breathing room, so to speak, for cultivating deep inner states. For me, the sound of the sitar evokes a mystical air, and it was interesting to hear it in a setting that was more freeform than the highly structured context of traditional Indian music. These two musicians have a wonderfully supportive rapport and the interplay of the various instruments offers a nice blend of multi-cultural influences and atmospheric ambience. Evidently, others agree, as the album was honored as a nominee in the Best New Artist category of the 2012 ZMR Awards.
Rating: Excellent
Hidden Journey by Scott August
- posted by Michael Diamond on 1/27/2013
A fusion of earth and sky...
Although Scott August began his musical training early in life on piano and cello, his interest in world music was sparked at the age of 10 when he was given an African kalimba. However, his instrumental direction took a distinct turn nearly 20 years ago when he visited the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico and was deeply enchanted by the sound of the Native American flute. Since that time he has embraced the haunting sounds of this unique instrument and it has become a major part of his musical identity. Among players of Native American flute music, such as Carlos Nakai and Coyote Oldman, Scott August ranks as one of the foremost in the world. He has been nominated and has won numerous awards including the Native American Music Award.

In addition to being a leading authority on the instrument, he has been a headline performer at various music festivals, and has produced a number of CD’s, which have garnered airplay on the digital networks XM, Sirius and DirecTV, as well as nationally syndicated radio programs such as “Hearts Of Space” and “Echoes”. In fact, Echoes Radio host John Diliberto said of him: "August has always been a cut or two above most native flute players. He layers guitars, keyboards and all kinds of percussion into his compositions, moving from world fusion to airy ambiences. August sets the Native flute in a vibrant global landscape...and let’s it drift into ambient space.” After being impressed by the visual nature of Scott’s early music, well-known composer Brian Eno suggested that Scott consider creating scores for film, TV, etc. Following that advice he has since composed music and sound design for hundreds of films, commercials, and video projects for clients such as NASA, The Discovery Channel, Lexus, Chevrolet, HBO, Nabisco, and Minolta. The LA Times has called Scott’s music “shimmering and luminous.” In addition to being a recording artist and performer, he has authored two books and a popular blog on Native style flute playing.

Scott is inspired by the natural beauty of the landscapes where he lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and his latest CD, Hidden Journey, has been described as: “an exciting and invigorating adventure into the secluded backcountry of the American Southwest. Evocative ancient flutes, powerful tribal drums, fiery Latin guitars, soothing pianos, and an assortment of exotic world-instruments will accompany you on your red rock adventure.” The journey begins, appropriately, with a song entitled “Awakening.” A solo Anasazi style flute gives the impression of echoing off canyon walls later to be joined by subtle swells of synthesizer and earthy percussive textures painting a picture in sound of a new day dawning. The pace picks up on the next song, “Sonoran Sojourn” as a variety of hand drums provide a rhythmic foundation for acoustic guitar and Cedar flute to dance on. I particularly enjoyed the interplay of various world music influences such as the kalimba, Indonesian Gamelan, sitar, and Indian tabla drums, along with keyboards and guitar on “Summer Horizons,” one of the few songs on the album without flute.

More international flavors abound on “Turquoise Trail,” which features the oud, a pear shaped stringed instrument and the darbuka drum both of which are commonly associated with Arabic music, and create an exotic alchemy when blended with flute, guitar, piano, and synths. While Scott’s flute playing is generally in the Native American style, it is his utilization of all these various instruments and rhythms that sets him apart from many other Native flute players, who are often more minimalist and traditional in their music. Another interesting feature of the album is the inclusion of captions under each song in the liner notes that describe the visions to be seen on this backcountry journey.

It was impossible to keep my head from nodding and my foot from tapping on the lively upbeat “Red Rock Crossing.” One thing I appreciate about Scott’s music is that it can be both relaxing and energizing at the same time – a rare quality. At eight minutes in length, “Waiting For Rain” is the longest track on the album and is an epic portrayal of “watching with anticipation for the summer monsoons to drift up from the south, bringing their precious moisture,” as described in the song’s caption. Accompanied only by the sound of crickets, Scott’s Cedar flute brings the album and the journey to a peaceful conclusion on “(Going) Home. By this point, you really feel like you have travelled diverse sonic terrain and seen many visions in your mind’s eye, as inspired by the music. Having reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed a previous album by Scott August and I was looking forward to what this next release would be, and I am certainly not disappointed. In fact, Scott has expanded his musical palate on Hidden Journey and taken his sound to another level. The airy ambience of the flute and electronic textures, along with the various drums and ancient world instruments create a perfect fusion of earth and sky. Hidden Journey captures the spirit of the Southwest and extends it into a broader musical context, making for an expansive and uplifting musical experience. Highly recommended!
Rating: Excellent
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