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Where Butterflies Dance
By Ann Sweeten
Label: Orange Band Records
Released 6/3/2016
Where Butterflies Dance tracks
1. A Trace Of You
2. Broken Wing At North Light
3. Elysian Fields
4. Love Among The Ruins
5. Veil Of Tears
6. Morning Mist At Chimayo
7. Sateo
8. The Hanging Road (Cheyenne For The Milky Way)
9. Where Butterflies Dance
10. Migration
Ann Sweeten - Where Butterflies Dance
Pianist Ann Sweeten continues to hone her unique and highly individualized piano music on Where Butterflies Dance, her twelfth release and her fifth one working with the Ackerman/Eaton production and engineering team at Imaginary Road Studios (Sweeten was the primary producer on the album, as she was on the previous four IR releases). Where Butterflies Dance takes the listener on a gentle, reflective journey through muted yet heartfelt emotional landscapes featuring music custom-made for daydreaming on rainy autumn afternoons.

Joining Sweeten is an assortment of guest artists, some of whom will be familiar to fans of Imaginary Road Studio recordings. Some of the guests appear on multiple tracks, while others make a singular appearance. The artists include Akane Setiwan on English horn, Charlie Bisharat on violin, Eugene Friesen on cello, Jeff Pearce on "ambient" guitar, Trisha Craig on flute, Andrew Eng on violin and Will Ackerman himself sitting in on guitar on "Morning Mist at Chimayo." With Eaton handling the studio board and mastering the disc as well, you can rightfully expect crystal clear sound and perfect instrument placement in the mix.

Besides her music, Sweeten also is one of the artists who take the writing of liner notes quite seriously and this album is no exception. Copious details about the source of inspiration for the album and several songs are written in a deeply personal manner allowing the listener to understand Sweeten’s intent and the whys and wherefores of the music, as well as insight into her beliefs on issues including environmental threats and the greed of big game hunters. Her writing is always quite literate and also intensely personal. Each album on her website also features extensive notes written by the artist and are worth reading if you have the time.

Sweeten’s delicate touch on the piano is immediately evidenced on the opening track, "A Trace Of You." Fluid romanticism is laced with threads of soft remembrances, evoking the titular concept of a person who perhaps stumbled upon a faded photograph of a former lover. Bisharat’s violin adds a tender aspect of sadness, as does Setiawan’s English horn. Sweeten’s music is frequently subtly sad, but never morose or moribund, instead often tilting in the direction of a soft glow of fond regret or bittersweet remembrance. "Broken Wing at North Light" is less sad and more reflective, perhaps not overtly affirming but yet unmistakably comforting. "Elysian Fields" is that rarity for an Imaginary Road album, i.e. featuring the presence of electronic keyboards (which Sweeten featured on all her albums prior to recording them at IR). She has retained her expert way at layering in ambient textures alongside the piano melody, which in this case is among the best on the album, featuring some wonderful refrains and deft balancing of the upper and middle registers. "Love Among the Ruins," the longest track on the album, is sparser than some of the other songs here, but still retains the artist’s fluid style (also, at one point, Sweeten steps aside and allows Friesen and Setiwan to take the spotlight – nicely done!).

Through the remaining six tracks, the key element is how evocative Sweeten’s music is, no matter an individual song’s tempo (most of these are slow or midtempo at most), mood, or accompaniment. Where Butterflies Dance can be enjoyed in a variety of settings, but I still maintain that sitting by a window with raindrops traveling down the pane, perhaps with a glass of wine or a cup of tea in hand, may be the best way to appreciate the gentleness and warmth of her playing. However you choose to partake of her (and her guest stars') talent, you will almost certainly be glad you did.
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 9/1/2016
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