Review of the Album “Safe In Your Arms” by Scott Cossu

December 29, 2015 by Admin

imageScott Cossu, an internationally acclaimed composer, pianist, and recording artist, was born is West Virginia, in 1951. When he was very young, his family moved to the small town of Greenfield, Ohio, where he grew up with his younger brother and two younger sisters. When he was 11 years old, Scott’s father brought home a small grand piano. His parents believed it would be good for the girls. But Scott surprised everyone when he was the one who ended up taking lessons, showing not only talent, but dedication. His solid study of music really began as he studied classical music with his high school piano teacher. He took three piano lessons a week and played for many hours in the evenings on a grand piano at a local church.

He graduated from high school in 1969, eventually attending the Ohio University School of Music. While a student there, he was the keyboard player for a rock group, had his first television exposure, and learned to be disciplined about practicing piano, theory and composition. Music had become the center of his life and he knew that it would be the focus of his future.

While at Ohio University, he also met a teacher that would become the biggest influence on his music career. The teacher was Hamza El Din, who offered a class in the music of Africa. Hamza had immigrated to the US from Sudan, and became a traveling professor at several Universities in the US and Japan, teaching Ethnomusicology (the study of World Music). Hamza was just as impressed with Scott, as Scott was with him. Hamza recommended that Scott travel out west to study Ethnomusicology at the University of Washington. Off he went and then spent the next two years at Washington learning the music of Thailand, Sudan, Korea, China, Romania and Ecuador. And his new love of World Music would also send him on a three month long research trip to the Andes Mountains of Ecuador. He would hike up into the mountains to record the villagers that played ancient music on the Hoja. The Hoja is a leaf from a fruit tree that is blown into by curling it a certain way. It sounds like a reed or brass instrument.

The result of blending World Music with his jazz and classical background resulted in a new style that was unique and hard to categorize. He began to compose his own pieces and perform locally on the weekends in the Seattle area.

imageIn 1978, Scott made a recording to document his many musical influences. It was called “Still Moments.” He originally made this recording as a gift for friends and family, but unexpectedly and surprisingly, it received a lot of radio exposure in Seattle, Los Angeles and other prominent west coast cities. Later that same year, the founders of the Windham Hill record label, Will Ackerman and Alex De Grassi, gave a concert at the University of Washington. Scott was also asked to perform. Ackerman and De Grassi saw Scott’s uniqueness and talent and suggested that when they got their label up and running, he might consider recording an album with them. In fact, Scott signed onto the Windham Hill label the same day as Michael Hedges and they both joined George Winston who was just new to the label himself.

Scott’s first record for Windham Hill, “Wind Dance,” released in 1981, was produced by George Winston and featured Alex de Grassi, among others. It was a big hit. The Boston Globe called it “a sparkling record.”

Then, in 1983, Scott released “Spirals,” with blues, Latin and jazz influences. “Islands” came out in 1984 and made it to #1 on the JAZZ National airplay list. It was also used as the music for David and Albert Maysles documentary film “Islands.” The film was about Christo’s (and Jeanne-Claude’s) 1983 public art exhibition “Surrounded Islands” for which they completely covered eleven scrub pine islands in Biscayne Bay, Florida, with 6.5 million square feet of bright pink fabric.

In 1986, Eugene Friesen joined Scott on “Reunion.” Not only did this album also soar to the top of the charts, but the track “Shepherds’ Song,” was used in the movie Chocolate War; and another track “Gwenlaise” went on to be so popular that it has been included on dozens of music sampler collections released by Windham Hill, BMG and Sony.

In 1987, some of New York’s finest musicians joined Scott on “She Describes Infinity.” Then, in 1989, Scott released “Switchback” which soared to #4 on the New Horizons Pick of the Year and made #1 on the Billboard charts. He became a popular artist in the concert circuits and by the end of 1989, he had sold out shows in Germany, England, Japan and Chile.

imageRight at the time that Scott was at the top of his career, with extensive radio play, glowing reviews and just as he was about to embark on a forty city world tour, he was struck by a car while crossing Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles. Fortunately, he was near UCLA Medical Center and went right into surgery. He had a severe traumatic brain injury. It was life threatening, required months of hospitalization, and several more months of intensive rehabilitation. It would take another couple of years for him to work through the memory loss which had even effected his recollection of some of his own compositions. With much love and support from family, friends and fans, Scott amazed his neurologist with a miraculous recovery.

Returning to the studio was an important step in his healing process. In fact, just eighteen months after the accident, Scott began writing new music and collaborating on a nature video about Mt. Rainer with the acclaimed producer Peter Roberts. Not long after, Scott, with Van Manakas at his side, was again touring — this time Spain, Alaska and Hawaii. And then, in 1992, “Stained Glass Memories” was released. For Scott, it a was a joyous celebration of recovery and powerful evidence that he had regained mastery of his musical language.

In the year 2000, Scott was honored with Ohio University’s Achievement in Music Award. It is given once a year to someone who has made outstanding contributions to music.

When the Windham Hill label was sold, Scott signed with the well-known distributor, Allegro-Music in Portland, Oregon and joined their Alula Visions music label. Since then, he has released “Emerald Pathway (2002),” “When Spirits Fly Again (2004),” and “Tides Between Us (2008).”

Scott has also been doing a lot of recording of music for television advertisements, film documentaries and nature videos. For example, in 2010, Allegro Music released a Blue-Ray/DVD, titled “Edge of the Earth, Corner of the Sky.” It is the work of the award winning photographer, Art Wolfe. It showcases 300 of his most amazing photographs, taken throughout the world. It is a high definition digital art show and the imagery is accompanied by the beautiful music of Scott’s CD “Emerald Pathway.”

Also in 2010, the world’s largest printed music publisher, Hal Leonard, put out a “Piano Solos for All Occasions Songbook.” Scott’s composition, “Purple Mountain” was included in this book. And he is in good company, since this book also included artists such as John Lennon, Beethoven, and Duke Ellington.

Nowadays, Scott spends most of his time composing, recording, performing, and kayaking, as well as giving lessons, (yes, he loves to have a few piano students). Also, in 2012, Scott went in a very different direction and released “Jazz, Boogie, and Deja Blues,” a superb, pure piano jazz, “jam session” album that is uptempo, upbeat, and way up on the “fun” scale.

With his background in classical music, blues, and jazz, and by incorporating elements of ethnic music from various cultures, Scott Cossu has unquestionably developed a truly distinctive, innovative, articulate, intelligent, and energized musical style.

imageFor the great impressionist painters (Monet, Renoir), their subject matter was typically “simple landscapes” en plein air (outdoors), using a basic palette of colors, and with an emphasis on depiction of light and its changing qualities. This effect was achieved using short and darting brush strokes and freely merged contrasting colors – so that the overall “impression” would take precedence over lines, contours, and details. In a similar way, Scott Cossu’s music creates simple sonic landscapes built around straightforward but innovative melodies, using a palette of contrasting instruments (e.g., keyboards, piano, guitar, flute) — often adding short, darting and seemingly improvised musical phrases — and with an emphasis on the implied impression, atmosphere, movement, and mood, rather than the mundane details of the soundscape.

On Scott’s most recent album, “Safe In Your Arms,” he has re-recorded seven of the most-requested pieces from his Windham Hill years, and added five new songs. The new works have the same “keyboard led,” acoustic supported, jazzy, improvisational, unpredictable, and at times mildly “chaotic” qualities that have become Scott’s signature sound. In sum, the album demonstrates that Scott is indeed an outstanding artist with a superbly honed sense of composition.

Scott is accompanied on the album by thirty year music partner, guitarist Van Manakas, alto flutist Ann Lindquist, and John Croarkin, who adds bass, concert flute, and harmonica

The album begins fittingly with the title track, a new work, which is well-crafted, moderate in tempo, and with a simple, but nonetheless memorable and catchy melody. Scott’s keyboard is magnificently supported by Manakas’ occasional electric guitar riffs, Scott’s own improvised acoustic piano phrases, Lindquist’s flute, and other electronic accents. With its overall “impression” of tenderness, it is easily one of our favorite tracks on the album.

One of the seven re-recorded tracks from Scott’s Windham Hill Days, “Angel Steps” is a keyboard and flute driven “lullaby” with noticeable improvisational jazz influences, light support by acoustic guitar, and masterful instrumental layering, creating a light, airy atmosphere. Again, the melody is fairly straightforward, but nevertheless clever and memorable.

“Fawn,” originally from Scott’s “Islands” album, is a slightly more up-tempo, flowing, and occasionally improvisational jazz influenced work, with a sweet melody, and exceptional layering of the instrumentation. Occasionally, some of the instrumental components (guitar, flute, acoustic piano) quite cleverly break off and go in a slightly different direction, only to rejoin with the main melody later on. With its quite beautiful “mood” of gentleness and playfulness, and its mildly unpredictable qualities, “Fawn” is another of our particular favorites.

image“Little Sunshine Girl,” another of Scott’s new works, features exquisite acoustic guitar contributions by Manakas in support of keyboards, piano and flute. Also with a simple, keyboard driven melody, this track does a exceptional job utilizing the simple palette of contrasting instrumental voices – as each moves to the front to have their short say, only to recede into the background as another voice steps forward to speak.

“Purple Mountain,” which originally appeared on Scott’s “Wind Dance” album nearly 35 years ago, is a bit more down tempo, and leaves a more reflective, emotional, and melancholy impression. In a manner similar to “Little Sunshine Girl,” it strikes just the right balance between “melodic” predictability, and the mild chaos of improvisation. Occasional spirited guitar accents from Manakas and short fluttering flute riffs are nicely integrated into an overall outstanding work. This is another of our favorites.

Another of Scott’s new songs, “Sweet Pea Lullaby,” has a strong piano opening, a beautiful keyboard driven melody, an outstanding blending of instrumentation (acoustic guitar and piano), and creates an overall impression of peacefulness and contentment. It is easily one of strongest overall tracks on the album and it is certainly our most favorite of the new works.

“Gwenlaise,” which was originally recorded in 1986, is re-crafted and re-recorded on this album as a magnificent trio for piano, guitar, and flute. It easily recaptures the magic of the original version — the magic that has made it Scott’s most well known work and definite New Age Classic – and one of our all time favorite pieces of music. With its powerful layered flute opening, distinctive and unforgettable melody, and superb integration of various instrumental voices, it easily stands out as the single best work on the album.

“A Child’s Eyes,” from the 1989 album “Switchback,” has a gentle, rolling quality, with various instruments occasionally serving as the lead voice, and with some particularly interesting and attention getting harmonica and guitar riffs by Croarkin and Manakas, respectively. Somewhat less melodic than other tracks on the album, and with more interweaving of instrumentation, it nonetheless achieves a decidedly “haunting” atmosphere that catches your attention and holds it.

Another of our particular favorites is “Christo’s Theme” originally from the “She Describes Infinity” album. It is probably the most melodic work on the album, with an especially strong opening, and much less improvisational qualities. It is also a particularly good example of Scott’s use of varied instrumental voices making short, seemingly improvised, clever, and perfectly placed expressive contributions that together suggest and build toward the overall impression left by music.

The album concludes with “Sanctuary,” also originally from the album “Switchback.” And what an ending! With a pronounced and more steady rhythm, much stronger jazz influences, an exquisite melody, and a strong equally well-spoken trio of instrumental voices (piano, flute, and guitar), “Sanctuary” is a magnificent way to cap off a stunningly magnificent album. We very highly recommend Scott Cossu’s “Safe In Your Arms.”

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