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.

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