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Safe in Your Arms
By Scott Cossu
Label: Heart Dance Records
Released 8/7/2015
Safe in Your Arms tracks
1. Safe in Your Arms
2. Angel Steps
3. Fawn
4. Little Sunshine Girl
5. Purple Mountain
6. Sweet Pea Lullaby
7. Gwenlaise
8. Starlit Walk
9. A Child's Eyes
10. Akaka Falls
11. Christo's Theme
12. Sanctuary
Scott Cossu - Safe in Your Arms
While pianist Scott Cossu released his first album in 1980 (Still Moments on the Lost Lake Arts label), he rose to national recognition in 1984 when he recorded his first Windham Hill release, Wind Dance. He went on to record five more for the pioneering label and moved on to the Miramar and Alula labels. Most recently (2012), he released Jazz, Boogie, and Déjà Blues on Summit Records (I admit to not having heard of that one). However, Cossu, being among the first artists to sign with Windham Hill, it's undeniable that a large part of his fan base comes from those earlier releases.

Well, good news, folks. Scott Cossu is back (well, he never left, so I speak in a metaphoric sense) and he has resurrected some of his past Windham Hill favorites (newly recorded, not just remastered), as well as composing some new songs in the same style on Safe in Your Arms, as softly cheerful and "feel good" an album as you are likely to hear in a long time. He is joined by his "…long time musical partner, guitarist Van Manakas" (from the liner notes). It will not take the listener long before they "get" what Scott means when he writes that "We have worked together 30 years, and the pieces have evolved over these years to a well-polished maturity." Also featured on the album are Ann Lindquist (alto flute) and John Croarkin (bass and concert flutes and harmonica).

One of the things that stands out immediately, and I do mean within about 30 seconds into the first track, is how locked in Cossu and Manakas are. While there are passages where one plays accompaniment to the other, they are just as likely to play the exact same notes simultaneously, which makes for an especially pleasing sound, as well as a distinct one. That opening track is the title song and it's almost heartbreakingly lovely, with just the right balance of romance and wistfulness. Right off the bat, it's also discernible how carefully crafted the production, engineering and mixing/mastering is (Cossu produced and he and Croarkin mixed, with the latter mastering the disc).

Here is where it's going to be difficult for me to describe the biggest aspect that I find particularly alluring with Safe in Your Arms because I am not sure how to put it into words. There is a nostalgic feel to this recording. It takes me back to the 1980s and a lot of the jazz I listened to back then, such as Return to Forever and other similar jazz ensembles where the jazz element was more subdued, yet still present. The melodies themselves also have the same "time travel effect" on me, as do the actual instruments (the trip of piano, guitar, and flute in particular). I could be dead wrong in how I am categorizing the sound that Cossu and company produce on this wonderful album and others may read what I have written and think "What?" For whatever reason, this recording strikes an extremely pleasing chord in my mind and heart.

The element I keep coming back to time and time again is when Cossu and Manakas play "side by side." This style is so unique these days that I can't help but smile as I listen to it. In addition, the jazzy side of this music flows so softly with enough soloing and individual embellishing of the main melody to be called jazz but it doesn't grab your attention in a distracting way. It just kind of carries you along like a leaf floating on the surface of a gently rolling stream.

I would be in quite a bind if I had to single out specific tracks as being highlights, as each one of the twelve on the album is a jewel. Some of the songs start out introspective and slowly inject some "pepper" into the mix, but even then, nothing rises above the level of "energetic relaxation." Each guest artist shines on every one of their appearances and Cossu is quite gentlemanly in allowing them to step into the spotlight at times, going so far as to sometimes take his piano deep into the background.

Listening to Safe in Your Arms is like sitting on the worn wooden porch of a lifelong friend and both of you reminiscing about days gone by while also extolling the beauty and wonder that the present brings you as well. In the same way the company of your close friend brings you a unique brand of comfort, so too do Cossu and company elicit the same comfort level through their masterful musicianship, their superb simpatico, and their wonderful way with these charming yet simple melodies. Safe in Your Arms is just one great album to get to know and enjoy through many playing.
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 2/22/2016
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