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Dreams For A Better Tomorrow by Alejandro Santoyo
- posted by Lillian on 10/3/2019

The new album (Dreams For A Better Tomorrow) by pianist and keyboardist ALEJANDRO SANTOYO shows the scope and extensive breadth of his talent. First is the fact that nearly half of the 18 instrumental tunes are solo piano, so very melodic and simply beautiful. The other half of the recording features piano with other instrumentation (full orchestra or a string section, horns, woodwinds, bass, drums, electric guitar, harp, percussion, synth and more!). This artist does it all -- soft-and-slow, uptempo-and-vibrant, gently romantic or grandiose-uplifting -- everything with a powerful feeling. And, as you can tell by the album title, Santoyo also feels strongly about making the world a better place. This album is highly recommended.
Rating: Excellent
Compassion by Sangeeta Kaur
- posted by Jonathan Widran on 10/2/2019
When it comes to a necessary shift of perspective, especially when it’s music that encourages the heavy shifting, sometimes timing is everything. Perhaps not so coincidentally, I started immersing in Compassion, the exquisite, soul enveloping and empowering fourth album by new age/classical crossover singer/songwriter Sangeeta Kaur, the day after its official release August 3.

Everyone knows the details of what America and particularly the cities of El Paso and Dayton endured that weekend, so I need not delve into them. But hearing the violent, heartbreaking news jolted me out of the lovely, transportive state of inner peace and relaxation that Sangeeta helped facilitate. I regret to say that my primitive brain took over for a few moments, with the worst emotions possible – fear, anger, and questions filled with gloom, doom and a sense of despair and hopelessness.

But then, the calm inner voice took over – the one that, ironically enough was soaring just moments before the text alert in one of the album’s most magical pieces, “Transcendence,” a lushly textured swirl of Eru Matsumoto’s divinely tuned cello, the angelic voices of the Hungarian Studio Choir and Sangeeta’s elevating, operatic lead wordless vocals. That voice reminded me that the darkness of some human souls is always outweighed by the universal potential for Compassion that Sangeeta is reflecting upon in her extraordinary work.

When I turned the music back on, these ten eclectic tracks – produced by Sangeeta and Nicolas Neidhardt and also featuring the classical influenced caressing grace of the Hungarian Studio Orchestra – provided the perfect soundtrack to images of caring people lining up to donate blood to the surviving victims.

Listening further, getting swept up in singing along with Sangeeta and the choir on the Tibetan Buddhist Mantra “Om Tara Tuttare Ture Soha” (designed to help overcome mental, physical, and emotional blockages) and the hypnotic, soothing English original “Rise Up,” my musings went deeper. Imagine if the human mind that is capable of both love and hatred, kindness and cruelty, compassion and heartlessness, attuned to the more positive vibrations the Universe has to offer and listened to the kind of calming yet spirit energizing music that Sangeeta has been releasing since Niguma (2016). It may seem crazy, but I think it’s better to take the new age version of the John Lennon route than give in to fear and paranoia.

Even if it’s on a normal, wonderful day in the life, anyone who tunes in deeply to Compassion will be richly rewarded in a multitude of spiritual and sonic ways – an intricate soundscape rich synthesis that includes piano, keyboards, bass, percussion, harp and carefully placed crystal singing bowls (most notably on “Voices and Crystals,” a hauntingly textured blend of soaring and grounded voices with Sangeeta chiming occasionally on the bowls.

A song whose message bears repeated listening in times like these (because then it can best imprint on our subconscious minds) is “We Are One,” where the singer conveys the idea without literal words, only the echoing, atmospheric voice of an angel and an intense burst of symphonic and percussive energy. There are two other resonant mantras of note, set to music by Sangeeta and Neidhardt – “Om Vajra Sattva Hum” (all about potent purification) and the childlike, impossible not to immediately chant along to “Sa Re Sa Sa,” designed to take negativity away from within oneself, awakening to the Infinite creative energy to burn away obstacles to achieving higher consciousness.

Although there’s an overriding universal consciousness emerging throughout, some pieces, like the hypnotic piano and vocal piece “May the Long Time Sun,” are gentler and more intimate in nature, allowing the crystalline purity of Sangeeta’s voice to touch places even further within.

With a name given to her by a yoga master that translates to “Princess of Music and Harmony,” the world-renowned Peace Song Award winner – born Teresa Mai – is a revelation and an artist we need more than ever in a world where the news of the day is nothing less than chaotic. Her musical mission, fulfilled and brought to fruition so powerfully and eloquently once again on Compassion - bears repeating: “My soul has a commitment to infuse the dharma and ancient wisdom into everything I do,” she says. “I want to be available to those who are ready for it. The songs must serve a true purpose and for anyone being challenged in these times, I am committed to sharing music that uplifts and inspires the soul.”
Rating: Excellent
Cupid Blindfolded by Michael Whalen
- posted by Jonathan Widran on 10/2/2019
MICHAEL WHALEN, Cupid Blindfolded
One of the keys to writing thoughtful pieces on new age solo piano recordings is understanding the artist’s mindset, intention and inspiration. So with Michael Whalen’s stunning, thoughtfully rendered new collection Cupid Blindfolded: Solo Piano – his first solo piano outing in 20 years – I was excited to learn that the prolific recording artist and two time Emmy winning TV composer posted an insightful “making of video” on his home page.

Yet I have to disagree strongly with something Whalen says in a voiceover as we see him walking through a snowy forest area on the property around Will Ackerman’s legendary Imaginary Road Studios, where the project was recorded. Comparing himself to others who dedicate tens of thousands of hours to mastering the mechanical aspects of playing the instrument, he says, “The funny thing is, I don’t think I’m a pianist.”

Perhaps that’s true if we’re comparing an expressive melodic artist like him to classical geniuses focused on precision and thousands of notes. Earnest as it is, though, Whalen’s over the top humility seems limiting and self-deprecating in light of the visceral yet transcendent experience he is presenting in this this ten-track collection. Those cats he refers to may play 20 hours a day, but they can’t create the kind of romantic magic he renders on these ten tracks – an achievement rendered all the more remarkable by the fact that the album was recorded live in the studio with six video cameras surrounding him and presented to us with out piano edits. Helping Whalen (who produced the project) is another remarkable artist and engineer, Imaginary Road mainstay Tom Eaton.

Cupid Blindfolded is a special release in Whalen’s 25 year-plus catalog for another reason besides the uniqueness of his return to solo piano recordings. It marks his first venture on his own label Solace Records, his own label under Real Music, a newly acquired division of Cutting Edge Group. This follows an incredible history of being on a multitude of classic new age labels, starting with Phantom of the Forest and Great African Moments in the mid-90s on Narada Cinema’s Nature series.

Whalen’s return to heartfelt soul truth telling via acoustic piano is driven by the Shakespearean title concept. In Act 1, Scene 1 of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” we hear, “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is a winged Cupid painted blind.” The Bard found a deeply thoughtful and poetic way to say, through his character Helena, that love is a matter of the heart – more dependent on an emotional bond rather than a physical attraction. In all the ways that matter, Whalen’s Cupid Blindfolded is the musical equivalent of a passionate Shakespearean sonnet, with emotions rendered directly from the heart, without words getting in the way.

Whalen reflects this emotional bond from the graceful meditative opening chords of the opening title track, whose delicate balance of tender passion and whimsy sets the tone for the entire album. And we travel on from there, feeling the gentle seduction of “All of My Heart, All of My Soul,” a bright and lively “Reflection of My Affection” and the stark, deep emotions that come gently (sometimes after a split second of hesitation) in that moment of connection “At The Touch of a Lover.” Whalen’s beautiful journey includes a powerful, darkness meets light ode to “The Muse,” which comes on the wings of angels as easily as it rides on pure visceral energy; and an introspective acknowledgement that sometimes love happens out of pure magical moments of unfettered serendipity.

The pianist (yes, Michael, I’m calling you that!) also takes us on spiritual journeys to feel the subtle joys of “Sunrise in the Desert” (inspired by a trip to Arizona a few years ago) and the gorgeous natural charms of the “Isle of Skye,” which inspires some of Whalen’s most intense, percussive and expansively cinematic playing. It’s also fun getting caught with him “Standing in the Rain,” as he creatively uses the ivories to convey alternately convey drizzling and cloudbursts.
Rating: Excellent
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