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Unlike the Stars by Vin Downes
- posted by Michael Diamond on 3/24/2014
Unlike the Stars by Vin Downes
Vin Downes has released three albums to date, including his brand new one, Unlike the Stars. His new release, however, takes it to the next level and provided him an opportunity to record with Grammy winning producer and Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman at his famed Imaginary Roads Studio in Vermont – a facility that has seen some of the finest musicians in the world pass through its doors. And speaking of which, a number of them were special guest accompanists on this recording. Right from the opening track, I could tell that Vin has a well-crafted sense of dynamics, which creates an artful balance between his sometimes-intricate fingerstyle technique and the use of space. I quite liked the chord progressions he used which I found emotionally evocative. A more wistful air is felt on “Dark Blue Wind,” a solo piece with a haunting melody. One thing I was aware of in listening to Vin’s fretwork is how between creating a bass line on the low E string, and complex finger picking patterns on the other strings, it often sounds like more than one guitar playing. On a track called “Departure,” however, there actually is more than one guitar playing – in this case, Will Ackerman himself. Tony Levin, who is well known for his work with Peter Gabriel, adds his bass as well. It’s a peaceful pastoral tune highlighted by exquisite interplay and echoes the classic Windham Hill sound that so many know and love. Cellist Eugene Friesen, who is best known as a member of The Paul Winter Consort, accompanies Vin on the album’s title track and his sensitive playing is always a welcome addition.

While Vin’s guitar playing is impressive and can range from understated to dazzling, I am equally impressed with his skills as a composer. He has a wonderful sense of composition that brims with emotional content. I love the many different spaces he explores, not only from one track to the next, but even within the boundaries of a single song. I must reiterate that his use of dynamics is impeccable, and I appreciated how he uses space to allow a composition to breathe. Watching a music video of Vin playing, I am most impressed by how effortless he makes it look.

To read a full-length review of this CD, please visit:
Rating: Very Good +
Comin' Home Baby by The Reese Project
- posted by Dave Butler - InnerVisions Radio on 3/18/2014
Album Review: Comin’ Home Baby – The Reese Project

Anytime I get a CD from The Reese Project I expect good solid Jazz and maybe something a little extra. Comin’ Home Baby, is no exception. From the first track to the last I was entertained to the max. The Title-Track, Comin’ Home Baby, is upbeat toe tapping Jazz with a little 60’s rock feel. Baby Elephant Walk is as it should be, a sweet trip down memory lane Reese Style. Harlem Nocturne really stands out as a Bluesy reminder of The group’s first release, Blue Etude (which when I heard it for the first time, “Blew Me Away!”). The Celtic number, Be Thou My Vision, was a change of pace I hadn’t expected, but as I listened, I was entranced. The 2 Herbie Mann selections, Toot Stick, that picks up the tempo, and, Push Push Pull, that literally pulls you right back into a no-nonsense track of real Jazz with a capitol J. The Battle Hymn, was another one of those Reese Project surprises that started out as a Civil War Memorial and slipped right into an improvisational masterpiece. Memphis Underground, another great follow up, setting the mood set for the final track, the Hoagy Carmichael favorite, Skylark, a beautiful end to a tremendous undertaking. Kudos to Tom, Laurie, Kirk & Glenn for a truly classic Reese Project!

Tom as always stood out with unparalleled improvisationsal imagination on every track. I was happy to see Laurie really make herself known running baselines with her acoustic and electric cello adding electro rock sounds and standing out overall. Kirk was without a doubt at his finest with nimble fingers on both piano (which reminded me of a young Dave Baker) which was especially noticeable on, Push Push Pull, and the array of sounds on the Synth that really enhanced Toot Stick. What can I say about Glenn, who is clearly a master of percussion. His timing was flawless and the Tympanic drum on, Be Thou My Vision, was a true master stroke, that brought chills to my arms and a lump in my throat, like I was there in the green.

I received The Reese Project’s first album, Blue Etude in 2000, and I loved the sound.. I called Tom and he asked me, what genre their music fit in. I told him they had a new genre, BlueJazz. I haven’t changed my mind.

The Reese Project is one of a kind in their choice of music and their interpretation. They have a great blend and their cohesion continues track after track album after album with each one better than the last. The individual talent among the members is evident in whatever musical endeavor or incarnation they may undertake, but their combined knowledge, experience, imagination and improvisational skills without question, sets them well above other jazz acts performing today. Once you hear this album you’ll want to listen to it again and again.

The Reese Project have a great formula for success and a good reason to keep on keeping on. Keep it up you will only move higher on the ladder of success. I bid you Bon Chance and Bon Voyage as you travel through this musical journey.
Rating: Excellent
New Horizon by Minstrel Streams
- posted by Michael Diamond on 3/16/2014
New Horizon by Minstrel Streams
Since they began playing together in 2008, the husband and wife musical duo known as Minstrel Streams has released four albums, including their latest, “New Horizon.” Matt Stuart (piano and guitar) and Rebecca Stuart (flutes) currently live in Santa Barbara, California where they play in a variety of venues and work on composing their music. While they have a small home studio there, for this release, they decided to take their music to the next level and recorded it at Imaginary Roads Studio, the well known facility of Grammy winning producer and Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman. As is often the case with albums recorded at Imaginary Roads, a number of Will’s A-list studio musicians contributed their unique talents, including cellist Eugene Friesen, Jill Haley on English horn, string bassist Paul Kochanski, Matt Heaton on Bodhran drum, and vocalist Noah Wilding, as well as additional instrumentation and engineering by Tom Eaton.

Although the following comment holds true for the album in general, on a track called “Golden Treasures,” I couldn’t help noticing the remarkable sonic synergy between Matt and Rebecca as their parts flowed and intertwined together so perfectly. I’m sure that their loving energy as a couple spills over into their music, and this is a wonderful example. I also enjoyed the introduction of new elements as Rebecca played a wooden Native American flute over Matt’s acoustic guitar in the delightful “Voices of the Wind.” Another equally impressive track, and one of the most musically diverse on the album is “Celestial’s Rainbow,” which is described as “a spirited Celtic dance theme that alternates with a Spanish middle section.

I really enjoyed “New Horizon” by Minstrel Streams with its earthy blend of folk music, new age, classical, and world music flavors. While Matt and Rebecca bring in influences of various ethnicities and musical styles, these are integrated subtly into their own sound, which maintains a degree of continuity throughout the recording, so that there are not any sudden jumps into wildly divergent genres. The accompanying musicians are also blended subtly into the mix where they perfectly compliment but never distract from the sweet chemistry between Matt and Rebecca.

To read a full length review of this CD, as well as others, please visit:
Rating: Very Good +
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