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Under The Stars
By Joanne Lazzaro
Label: Self-Released
Released 3/1/2015
Under The Stars tracks
1. Evening Star Song  
2. Sky Chief  
3. Medicine wheel  
4. Moon Dances With New Star  
5. Giant Cactus-Gathering Hook  
6. Path of the Departed Souls  
7. Bear Who Wanted a Mango  
8. Rabbit Tracks  
9. Spirits of the Long-Eyes  
10. Amazing Grace - Trail of Tears  
11. Zuni Sunrise (extended version)  
12. Lark Who Sang His Song to the Sun Every Morning  
JOanne Lazzaro - Under the Stars
Following the path of other flutists, such as Paul Horn (Inside the Great Pyramid, Inside the Taj Mahal), R. Carlos Nakai (Inside Canyon de Chelly and, with Horn, Inside Monument Valley) and Wendy Luck (The Ancient Key), Joanne Lazzaro has recorded a flute album in a cavernous space to take advantage of the natural reverb and other sonic qualities inherent in voluminous confines. On the impressive Under the Stars, Lazzaro plays an assortment of Native (wooden) flutes inside Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena, California. Home to a 100-inch telescope (trust me, that is big), Mount Wilson Observatory's tall dome and relatively "empty" interior makes a worthy location for a solo flute recording. One of the more remarkable achievements on Under the Stars is the high quality of the sound itself. Understand that the inside of an observatory is not (to say the least) lined with acoustic paneling! That the recording team from Art Institute (producer Philip Mantione, lead and mix engineer Ian Vargo, and assistant audio engineers Alex Cho and Brad Delorenzo) did an outstanding job—each one of Lazzaro's assorted flutes sounds terrific! Props are also due to mastering engineer Wayne Peet at Newzone Studio.

Lazzaro is a hugely talented flutist, and not just on Native flute. Per her online bio, she can play "…anything that looks like a flute including piccolo, alto, bass and contrabass flutes, Native American flutes, shakulute, shakuhachi, bansuri, ocarina, xun, recorder, suling, quena, and didgeridoo (well, I’m not very good on didgeridoo, because it’s more like a trombone than a flute)." Before you question how good she is on all those instruments, you should know she also teaches "… concert flute, piccolo, alto and bass flute; Native American style flute (including rim-blown Mojave or Anasazi-style); shakulute (western concert flute with a shakuhachi headjoint) and beginning recorder (soprano & alto)." Yeah, I'd say her credentials are up there with the best.

Under the Stars' "theme" is described as "solo Native American flute improvisations…created for everyone who has ever gazed into the night sky, and dreamed." With that description, one might think this would be a relatively sedate and monochromatic (musical motif-wise) excursion into Native flute music. Certainly, some of the twelve tracks are soothing and flow like wispy clouds drifting across the sky, barely obscuring a full moon. However, some pieces have a subtle sense of playfulness, while others have a somber, sad, quality. Now, nothing here will set your feet a tapping, so make no mistake—this is a good "nighttime" recording. That said, I found the blend of styles and tempos entertaining and Lazzaro handles each change-up with complete aplomb. Equally (and maybe more so) impressive is her mastery of an assortment of Native flutes, including both the drone flute and full double flute. The varied pitch and tone of her flutes is a huge contributing factor in how refreshing the assortment of music is on the album through multiple playings (I think I listened to Under the Stars five or six times prior to writing this review).

As far as the acoustics of Mount Wilson Observatory go, what can I say but "Wow!" If you don't have a first class stereo system, you need really good headphones (no ear buds, please and certainly no Dr Dre Beats™). Lazzaro's beautiful flights on her flutes deserve superb playback equipment to reap all the sonic goodness from each and every note, especially in order to appreciate the resonance of the reverb as her melodies reach out to the boundary of her spacious "recording studio." Singling out specific tracks for comment is tough, because I wouldn't know which to include and which to omit. That said, the drone flute on "Moon Dances With New Star" lends a special magic to Lazzaro's spirited dips and soars on the subtly uptempo piece while the somber sorrow evoked on "Path of the Departed Souls" is palpable and heart-tugging. "Rabbit Tracks" prances delicately with playfulness and the closing "Lark Who Sang His Song to the Sun Every Morning" perfectly apes the cheeriness of the titular bird greeting the day with joyous abandon. By the way, all but one track here are wholly improvisational by the artist with the exception being a beautiful treatment of the classic "Amazing Grace" (part of the track "Amazing Grace – Trail of Tears").

Simply put, Under the Stars is a must-have if you enjoy Native flute music. That this is her first solo album only underscores Joanne Lazzaro's immense talent, not to mention her self-assuredness to even tackle such an ambitious project right out of the gate. I, for one, cannot wait to see what looms in her recording future (especially given the vast array of wind instruments she can bring into play).
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 3/5/2016
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