Review of the Album “Signature – Solo” by Fiona Joy

May 28, 2015 by Admin

imageAustralian pianist, composer, vocalist, and producer, Fiona Joy (previously recording as Fiona Joy Hawkins), began to study the piano at a young age, composing several short works before she was even a teenager. She recalls that her father embraced Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music, playing Jesus in the Tamworth Musical Society (New South Wales) production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Ravel’s “Bolero” also emerged as an early influence, she says, adding, “I loved it; I played it over and over and deconstructed every part. George Winston, Prokofiev and Mendelssohn also intrigued me.”

She also trained briefly at the Tamworth Conservatorium of Music, under the tutelage of Ursula Bakker, Es Clarke, and Maureen Newell, where her exceptional talent was very quickly recognized. Later in her life, while she focused primarily on family and parenthood, she nevertheless continued to compose. And she never gave up on her childhood dream of becoming a concert pianist and composer. Finally, at the insistence of her mother, Fiona Joy stepped into a recording studio for the first time at age 38, with a small collection of compositions in hand.

She certainly has been making up for lost time ever since.

Her first album, “Portrait of a Waterfall,” reached #1 on the New Age Reporter World Charts in 2005. Her more classical style release, “Angel Above My Piano,” earned the New Age Reporter “Lifestyle Music Award for Best Piano Album” in 2006. She has also been a finalist multiple times in the Musicoz Awards in the jazz and classical categories, and the Los Angeles Music Awards in the New Age/Ambient Instrumental category. In 2007, her song “Frosted Ice” from the album “ICE – Piano Slightly Chilled” won the MusicOz “Best Instrumental Song” award. In 2008 she was again a MusicOz winner for “Best Jazz or Classical Artist.”

In 2009, Fiona Joy was again recognized for her outstanding album “Blue Dream,” which contains a collection of 22 innovative, powerful, beautiful, and often simply mesmerizing tracks of piano, with lush instrumental and vocal accompaniment. “Blue Dream” was recorded at Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont, and co-produced by Fiona Joy and multiple Grammy Award winner Will Ackerman. In fact, Ackerman has said of “Blue Dream”, “….[it] was the most ambitious project of my entire career and resulted in one of the most remarkable collaborations this genre has ever known. Blue Dream is unique and I’m as proud of it as anything I’ve ever worked on in my 35 year career of Grammy Awards and gold/platinum records.” The album was also a finalist for an ARIA (Australia) “Best World Music Album” award, and was also awarded “Album Of The Year,” “Best Contemporary Instrumental Album,” and “Best Instrumental Album – Piano” honors by the Zone Music Reporter voters (ZMR).

imageFiona Joy’s 2013 album, “600 Years in a Moment,” also won critical acclaim, as the “Best Instrumental Album – Piano” at the 2013 ZMR Music Awards. That same year, Fiona was also a finalist in the “Best Live Performance,” “Best New Age Album,” and “Best New Age Song” categories at the Independent Music Awards.

In 2014 Fiona Joy co-produced the Jennifer DeFrayne album “By A Wire,” also serving as a pianist for the work, as well as author for words spoken during some of the tracks. (In 2015, DeFrayne won the “Best New Artist” ZMR Award). Also in 2014, Fiona Joy’s song “Grace” appeared on Ricky Kej and Wouter Kellerman’s compilation album “Winds of Samsara,” which reached the number one spot on the Billboard New Age albums list. In 2015, “Winds of Samsara” also won the Grammy Award for “Best New Age Album,” as well as the ZMR Award for “Best World Music Album” and “Album of The Year.”

The Sydney Morning Herald said of Fiona Joy in 2007 that she “ranks among the world’s best in her genre…”. Her long list of accomplishments certainly support this assessment.

Oh, and she is also an accomplished painter, whose works have been exhibited at the Butterflies Gallery in Pokolbin, New South Wales, as well as internationally (see below).

Fiona Joy’s latest album, “Signature – Solo,” is her first predominantly solo piano album, and powerfully demonstrates that her piano music is fully capable of standing on its own, with no accompaniment necessary. Nine of the ten tracks are purely solo piano, with one featuring light instrumental accompaniment and (as on several tracks from previous albums) Fiona Joy’s ethereal voice. Each track is simply outstanding. Also exceptionally well produced and recorded by Cookie Marenco, founder of Blue Coast Records, “Signature- Solo” has been released in several formats, including audiophile SACD and high resolution downloads.

imageOn this album, Fiona Joy shows that she is a master at using subtle variations in tempo, volume, and intensity to convey the nuances of the thoughts, emotions, and moods she expresses. Her “touch” on the keys is at once gentle, tender, soft, elegant, graceful, passionate, and sincere. There should be no doubt that her hands are fully in touch with her heart – and her emotions – and all of the highs and lows – flow out onto the keys with every note. It is truly an album you will want to listen to over and over.

The album begins with “Ceremony,” which is an up-tempo, lively, exuberant, and bouncy track that lives up to it’s title, conveying a “boundless” celebratory spirit. This is followed by a slower, more emotional, and beautiful solo piano rendition of “Grace,” the Fiona Joy song that also appeared (with accompaniment) on the “Winds of Samsara” album. But don’t think that this version, without accompaniment, won’t stand well on its own. It is a gentle, sometimes somber, often powerful, and always captivating track that is easily one of the best on the album. “Fair Not,” which at times unreservedly shows hints of Fiona Joy’ classical influence, has a decidedly darker, somber, and more melancholy feel, and masterfully conveys feelings of despair, devastation, perhaps even a bit of anger, and of course, a sense of “not fair,” as the title implies.

The track “Once Upon Impossible” actually appears in two different versions on the album; the first as a piano solo, and then again as a duet with light accompaniment by Lawrence Blatt on guitar, and featuring the whispery, mysterious, darkly sensual, ethereal, and passionate vocalizations of Fiona Joy. Both versions are simply wonderful with a heartfelt emotionality and expressivity that is at once touching and disconcerting. One is left wondering from what memories such depth of despair is being summoned.

“Calling Earth,” which is a shortened and re-crafted version of the song titled “Earthbound” from the “600 Years in a Moment” album, artfully conveys the feelings of isolation, hopelessness, foreboding, and perhaps resignation that one might expect from someone who is, as the title suggests, desperately “calling out to the earth” from some place very far away.

In contrast, “Invisible Train” is again an energetic, upbeat, and spirited track, with a superb “rolling” melody and cinematic qualities. One can easily envision a locomotive starting on its journey, a bit slow at first, then gradually picking up speed; then powerfully and rhythmically pushing steadily onward, until, as it begins to approach its destination, it slows to an eventual stop. These suggestions of faster and faster movement are rendered in the music by the adept and flying fingers of Fiona Joy, at times moving astonishingly fast. I was also reminded of parts of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

“Signature,” “From The Mist” and “Little Star” are more poignant, slow, reflective, and pensive works. It on these tracks in particular that Fiona Joy’s mastery of using subtle variations in tempo, volume, intensity, etc., to color the nuances of her emotional expression is most on display. “From the Mist” starts out a bit understated, down-tempo, and even ambient, but then more melodic qualities are revealed, with slight hints of Celtic music influences. The final track, “Little Star” is sweet and tender with elements of longing, romance, conflict, and passion.

In summary, “Signature – Solo” is a superb album that straightforwardly puts Fiona Joy’s immense talent on display. Very highly recommended.

Memorial Day Tribute Video

May 25, 2015 by Admin

Memorial Day Tribute Video 2015 – A thank you for the sacrifice of those brave souls who died in service to our nation. Video by USAA (United Services Automobile Association).

Music provided by David Arkenstone.

Your signature meant commitment, loyalty, courage and the ultimate sacrifice for your country. For your selflessness, your life, our freedom, we honor you.

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” – General George S. Patton

Review of the Album “Bloom Road” by Dan Kennedy

May 21, 2015 by Admin

imageDan Kennedy, from Massachusetts, was drawn to music as a young child, especially classical music. In his words: “When I was very little my mom put on Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird Suite’ and that made an enormous impact on me — the orchestral sound and the variety of musical colors that I could almost see.” He eventually went on to obtain a Bachelor of Music degree at Oberlin Conservatory, in Oberlin, Ohio, where he studied both classical music and jazz piano. He was also a regular performer of improvised piano music at the “Cat in the Cream Coffeehouse,” a student-run performance and meeting place at Oberlin. After graduation, Dan moved to Boston, where he then earned a Master of Music degree (pianos and keyboards) from The New England Conservatory of Music.

He was also inspired early on to compose his own music. In his own words: “I also was always inventing. Composing was very natural to me and I was fortunate to have teachers who were willing to listen to what I was coming up with and encourage me….I took composition lessons from Michael Gandolfi, a highly respected composer who taught me a valuable lesson when he told me to write using my own voice and to block out every other voice or influence.”

In the late 1980’s, Windham Hill piano artists George Winston and Scott Cossu caught Dan’s attention and his creative fires were stoked even more. “I was surprised when I heard George Winston because his music already seemed familiar to me and his success in the marketplace was encouraging.”

Since those early days, Dan has performed throughout New England and across the country and has been awarded numerous grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Currently, his music can be heard on over 200 radio stations around the world, including SiriusXM Satellite Radio and, of course, GAIA Prime Radio. His first recording, “Lantern,” was produced by legendary acoustic guitarist and multiple Grammy Award winner Will Ackerman at Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont.

His music easily reflects jazz, classical, contemporary instrumental, and pop influences, and artfully expresses his own emotions and reactions to life experiences. In his words: “I feel my music is based on pure emotions. That’s what a composer does. They take all of their experiences and feelings, and pour them into their music with the hope that the listener feels the emotional intensity and is affected by it. I really want the listener to get something out of the music whether it is peace, happiness, inspiration, serenity or soul-stirring change.”

imageDan’s most recent album, “Bloom Road,” features a widely diverse mix of piano solos and ensemble pieces (with Dan on keyboards). It is definitely NOT an album that could be criticized as lacking variety! Nearly all of the tracks are original compositions, with one exception — the final track is a well-crafted, stylish, and powerful solo piano version of The 1975 hit, “Who Loves You” by The Four Seasons.

Dan is accompanied on “Bloom Road” by various guest artists, including Charles Neville (of the Neville Brothers) on tenor sax, David Rose (formerly of Painted Raven) on Native American flute, and session musician Greg Loughman on bass.

The opening track, “Moonrise,” is a down-tempo, ethereal, mysterious, reflective, and peaceful duet for Native American flute and keyboards (mostly electronic, with some light acoustic toward the end.) Dan says that he chose this track to begin the recording “to let people know right off there will be a variety of styles of music on the album.” He goes on to say: “…And there are so many songs about a sunset, I thought, why not one about a moonrise?”

The title track, which is one of our particular favorites, is similar to the opening track, but with elements contributed by a wide range of instrumentation, not the least of which is Charles Neville on saxophone. David Rose also accompanies on the Native American flute. The result is a complex, layered, haunting, and stylish piano and Native American flute duet, with elements of classical, jazz, and New Age interwoven throughout. Nicely done!

Two other tracks, which are also ensemble pieces, and probably the most creative and distinctive tracks on the album, go in a completely different direction and unabashedly showcase Dan’s jazz influences. “Pop Top,” as the title implies, is a lively, powerful, up-tempo, cheerful, spirited, and “saxophone” and “keyboard” infused groove piece with Neville and Loughman accompanying Kennedy. “Torrent,” which Dan describes as: “a sort of late Miles Davis fusion sound, noisy, like a downpour rain-storm or a raging stream,” is an airy, fast moving, and complex work, featuring heavier synthesizer, and powerful jazz piano, saxophone, and rhythmic percussion that is very reminiscent of some of early days of jazz infused New Age music. It certainly leaves the listener wanting more.

“Sweet Rain, ” which celebrates “the end of a drought,” again features Native American flute as the lead voice, along with piano, synthesizer, drums, bass, and various thunderstorm related sound effects. At times, it also has a similar “smooth jazz” influenced vibe and is also one of our favorites. It even begins with a scratchy record album sound.

“Dulcimer in C Minor” is part of an ongoing series of piano solos Dan has composed intending to mimic the sound and style of music played on a hammer dulcimer. Dan notes that the inspiration for the song was an elderly man he saw dancing by The Thames river in London, with complete abandon, while playing a dulcimer. It is a lively, energetic, bouncy, and cheerful, piano work with clear dulcimer-like background rhythms, and occasional classical and jazz inspired phrasing.

Four other tracks on the album present a compelling collection of creative, distinctive, melodic, expressive, and heartfelt piano solos that easily stand on their own without any need for accompaniment. Another of our particular favorites, “Prayer For Janet” (soulful, mournful) was written as support “for a friend in distress,” and is simply outstanding. Beautiful Day With You” has a light, positive, cheerful, romantic, and energized feel with elements somewhat reminiscent of a classical harpsichord, and at times an “improvisational” piano quality. “Heaven” (slow, haunting) is made memorable by some particularly clever phrasing, and is also one of our particular favorites. “Falling” (darker and more somber) is infused with a contemplative, roaming, searching, dreading, and fearful tone, perhaps expressing reaction to some of life’s more painful experiences.

“A Moment,” which is perhaps the best track on the album, has a style similar to “Dulcimer in C Minor,” but is more melodic, with exquisite piano layered over light synthesizer and strings. Simply beautiful!

In summary, “Bloom Road” is an outstanding album that takes the listener down many diverse musical roads – and with a lot of emotional highs and lows. It would definitely make a nice addition to any contemporary instrumental music collection. For these reasons, we recommend it highly.

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