Our Favorite Recently Released Contemporary Piano Music Albums

February 26, 2015 by Admin

Below we present a list (not in any particular order) of our favorite Contemporary Piano Music albums released during the fourth quarter of 2014. We highly recommend each of these albums. To qualify for this list, an album had to be a new release (not a re-release) in either October, November, or December of 2014, feature solo piano music (or solo piano with light accompaniment) and be available for purchase on either iTunes, Amazon.com, or CDBaby.com. In selecting these five albums from over a hundred possibilities, we applied the same rigorous standards that we use in choosing music for play on GAIA Prime Radio. So if you enjoy the music we play on our station, we are confident that you will enjoy the music on these albums as well. Click on the album title or CD cover image and you will be taken to iTunes where you can listen to samples of music from that album and/or purchase it.

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Saving Tiny Hearts – Paul Cardall
Pianist and official “Steinway Artist” Paul Cardall is known for his original, sincere, sophisticated, intensely spiritual, and emotionally uplifting musical style. This particular album presents a collection of remastered piano works from several of his previous albums and would be highly recommended based on the exceptional quality of the music alone. However, there is another reason why we strongly encourage you to purchase this album

For every album sold, $1 will be donated to the Saving Tiny Hearts Society whose mission is to raise money for grossly under-funded, lifesaving grass roots research of congenital heart defects (CHD’s). Congenital heart defects are the #1 type of birth defect affecting more than 1,000,000 babies every year. This is a cause for which Paul is an especially appropriate advocate, given that he was born with essentially half of a functioning heart. That life-threatening congenital defect, a series of difficult surgeries and heart-related illnesses, and recent heart transplant surgery, have all shaped Paul’s musical style and inspired this collection of outstanding melodic compositions and arrangements.

Featuring largely piano music with extensive and elaborate and “real” orchestral and choral accompaniment, that at times has a “classical” feel, Saving Tiny Hearts is one of those albums where it is truly impossible to choose one favorite track. Each selection reveals a level of careful crafting, sophistication, expressiveness, and genuineness that we have come to expect from Paul.

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Eternal – Steve Banks
“Eternal” is a collection of original piano/orchestral compositions from the heart and the deepest emotions of gifted composer and talented pianist Steve Banks. Each work, as evidenced by the song titles, is a reflection of the wide spectrum of emotional experiences – joy, sorrow, and love – from the artist’s own life. Each song has special meaning to Steve, telling the story of family, heritage, faith and love.

Somewhat reminiscent of the orchestral works of Yanni, and perhaps in the spirit of the album title, “Eternal” features grand, powerful, dramatic, and sweeping melodies with a decidedly cinematic quality, and showcases well developed and exceptional orchestral accompaniment (with occasional, but not overdone, synthesizer). While not so much “music for relaxation,” the music is nonetheless soothing and uplifting with just a slight hint of a “classical” tone. On “Adoration” and “Reminiscence” in particular, the melody is simply “breathtakingly” creative and beautiful, and with just the right amount of support from strings and woodwinds. These two songs alone would be a worthwhile purchase, but there are nine other works that make this entire CD one that we highly recommend you add to your collection.

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Seasons of The Heart – Renee’ Michele
Co-Produced by Will Ackerman, Tom Eaton, and Oregon based composer and pianist Reneé Michele, and recorded at the legendary Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont, Seasons of the Heart is the most technically accomplished and emotionally intimate album of Reneé Michele’s career. The accompanying ensemble players are some of Imaginary Road’s best and include Charlie Bisharat (violin), Eugene Friesen (cello), Jill Haley (English horn), Noah Wilding (vocals), Jeff Haynes (percussion), Michael Manring (fretless bass), and Tom Eaton (bass).

Renee Michele started playing the piano at the age of six and continued through college as a music major. She later added a degree in Occupational Therapy, which led her to teach piano to children with special needs. One of her proudest achievements is having developed teaching strategies that allowed a musically gifted autistic child to learn to play the piano and later perform in a school talent show.

On Seasons of the Heart, Renee delves deep into her most personal memories — recollections both beloved and painful. The focus is on the emotional depth of the music rather than a “flashy” playing style, and the result is music that might be best described as sentimental, reflective, introspective, sometimes wistful, intimate, complex, sophisticated, uplifting, memorable, and always deeply felt.

Will Ackerman summed up Reneé Michele’s talent for soulful evocative music when he stated

“The first piece Renee’ Michele sent me was simply stunning. It revealed a composer capable of brilliant and accessible melody and hands that had clearly matured in classical discipline. This experience proved to be just the first of many as I became acquainted with more of her work. As a producer, one dreams of encountering such talent. The recordings for “Seasons of the Heart” all display the same remarkable combination of rich melody and stunning technical ability. At the center of all of her work is an intense and very personal emotional connection to both composition and performance that is breathtaking to experience. Renee’ has 4 solo piano albums prior to producing an [this] album with accompaniment. This is as powerful a CD with ensemble as anyone could hope for…”

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Treasures of Peace: The Stanton Lanier Collection – Stanton Lanier

After starting piano lessons at age six growing up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, award winning composer and pianist Stanton Lanier’s love for basketball made him want to quit at age twelve, but his parents wouldn’t let him. So he began writing songs and singing at age fourteen. Playing and composing continued as a hobby while majoring in chemistry at Georgia Tech and completing an MBA at the University of Georgia. After five years working in consulting and insurance, in 1994, at age thirty, he embarked on a ten-year career as a financial planner. However, the piano continued to serve as an life refuge. When he began composing instrumentals, he wanted them to convey a sense of God’s peace and hope. As people began to share powerful stories about how the songs were impacting their lives, he realized that “scripture inspired piano” was a unique way to share God’s story and his own story.

In this spirit, in 2004 Stanton and his wife founded the non-profit ministry Music to Light the World to offer God’s peace, rest, hope and healing in the church, the cultural arts, and the lives of cancer patients. Since that time, nearly sixty thousand CDs have been donated to cancer patients and families through Get Music Give Hope℠, where one CD is given away for every one purchased.

Stanton Lanier’s signature piano melodies are sure to refresh your spirit. This re-mastered collection offers sixteen listener favorites from his eight albums and ninety-nine singles. Listen for peace, rest, hope and healing with touching piano solos and exquisite accompaniment from nine acclaimed guest artists, including three Grammy winners. Many of the selections are from albums originally produced with the assistance of Will Ackerman at Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont, and feature such notable accompanying artists as Philip Aeberg, Eugene Friesen, Noah Wilding, Jeff Oster, Jeff Haynes, Tom Eaton, Richard Gus Sebring, and, of course, Will Ackerman. Highly recommended.

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One Journey – Ryan Stewart

Raised in Salt Lake City, Ryan Stewart says his mother is his inspiration. A classically trained pianist herself, she wanted to share her love of music with her children. Sadly, she passed away from breast cancer when he was just 13. Ryan says this was a poignant moment in his life and he realized the gift she had given to him. “As a teenager I missed her and I would sit at the piano on the stage at my school and play and think about her.” His father encouraged him to continue to pursuing his talent.

After graduating from high school, Ryan was awarded a full-ride scholarship in music to the University of Utah. He perfected his piano skills as he studied, and played and taught piano lessons. He especially enjoyed teaching students with an affinity for composition and song writing. Although Stewart eventually left the music department and pursued a career in computers, he never lost his desire to compose and play the instrument he loves. Today, his spare time is spent with music, and his passion has become something his wife, Cindy, and their two daughters cherish when spending time together. He has also composed and arranged music for film documentaries, Cellist Stephen S. Nelson (ThePianoGuys), Paul Cardall and other artists, and several dance studios.

On “One Journey,” Ryan presents us with uplifting rolling piano melodies, thoughtful chords, and carefully crafted orchestral and vocal accompaniment. The result is music that can most definitely provide a soothing effect on one’s soul and clear the mind of stress. The music is innovative, sophisticated, multi-layered, relaxing, peaceful, but also at times superbly powerful.

In the artist’s own words, “YOUR individual experiences sum up your ONE JOURNEY in THIS life. This album represents some of my more poignant life experiences found within my on-going journey. Make the best of YOUR JOURNEY.”

Coming Soon: Our favorite “Contemporary Instrumental: Multi-Instrumental” albums released in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Our Favorite Recently Released Contemporary Piano Music Albums

November 20, 2014 by Admin

Below we present a list (not in any particular order) of our favorite Contemporary piano Music albums released during the third quarter of 2014. We highly recommend each of these albums. To qualify for this list, an album had to be a new release (not a re-release) in either July, August, or September of 2014, feature solo piano music (or solo piano with light accompaniment) and be available for purchase on either iTunes, Amazon.com, or CDBaby.com. In selecting these three albums from over a hundred possibilities, we applied the same rigorous standards that we use in choosing music for play on GAIA Prime Radio. So if you enjoy the music we play on our station, we are confident that you will enjoy the music on these albums as well. Click on the album title or CD cover image and you will be taken to iTunes where you can listen to samples of music from that album and/or purchase it.

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Always Near: A Romantic Collection – Kevin Kern
Kevin Kern began his recording career in 1996 and has now recorded at least ten albums, not counting the many compilations that incorporate his music. He is popular worldwide – and especially in South Korea. Kern is widely regarded as one one of the best and most expressive pianists in the world. He cites as an early significant influence the great jazz piano legend George Shearing, but also cites Bach and Mozart. Legally blind, Kern channels his musical gift into a heartfelt, personal, and emotional acoustical vision that goes beyond words.

‘Always Near: A Romantic Collection’ is a collection of fourteen of Kevin’s most beautiful and romantic pieces. Poetic melodies unfold one after the other leaving the listener challenged to decide which track is the best. They are all, to put it simply, superb! Some tracks feature rather heavy accompaniment by a layer of strings and/or acoustical guitar, while others are largely solo piano performances. Whatever their approach, the result is an album of thoughtful, melodic, well-crafted, and breathtaking piano music.

Anyone unfamiliar with Kevin Kern’s distinctively warm and masterful piano touch will find ‘Always Near’ to be an excellent place to start. For wonderful romantic dinner music, music to relax to or to have in the car, or any other activity that can be enhanced by gentle piano, it doesn’t get better than this.

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Rain Stories – Marika Takeuchi
Composer and pianist Marika Takeuchi, a native of Japan, began studies in classical music at the age of three. In addition to the piano, she played violin and French horn for several years. She began studying composition at the age of 18 at Shobi Music College in Tokyo. Her compositions have been heard on Japanese national radio, a major TV series and on Universal Music Japan. As well as being strongly influenced and fascinated by classical impressionism and film music, her passions have been also extended into new age music, as she truly believes that music has the profound power to heal and change people’s lives.

In 2009, Marika came to United States to study film scoring at the Berklee College Of Music in Boston. She has scored several inspiring, independent short films, such as “The Arctic Light”, the acclaimed TSO Photography’s time-lapse film; a short film about a summer enrichment program “Horizons: 50 Years”, and other award-winning independent shorts including “Finding Ambrosias”. Her single “The Arctic Light” (2011) has been featured in the Australian TV commercial “Make Tomorrow Better” for Curtin University and the Norwegian Tourism Board’s official website.

The eleven tracks that comprise ‘Rain Stories’, feature a variety of solo offerings and chamber compositions with standout guest performances by oboist Miri Kudo, cellists Jacques Lee Wood and Sassan Haghighi as well as Steve Chieh-Wei Chiu who performs Erhu on “Koyo”.

In her own words, “‘Rain Stories’ is my music diary to rainy days throughout the seasons with each song on this album having its own unique part in the storyline. ‘Rain In The Park’ and ‘Alone In Dreams’ animate mysterious and melancholy sentiments and it was my intention to convey the moments of beauty in sadness and loneliness. ‘Koyo’ was inspired by the autumn leaves I saw on a rainy day in Kyoto. It features the Erhu, a traditional Chinese instrument, and is a blend of my own Asian culture and Western classical music which is where most of my musical influences originate.”

In a word, Marika’s music is exceptional. On many of the tracks, and with her enchanting piano as the primary voice, she weaves in a complex, sophisticated, melodic, stylish, and well crafted mixture of acoustic accompaniment that provides exquisite colorful detail. Some tracks feature just a hint of an Asian feel (none more so than on ‘Koyo’) while others lean a tad more classical – but all easily fit with the style of contemporary instrumental music we favor on GAIA Prime Radio. Adding many of the selections from Rain Stories to our playlist is an easy call. We highly recommend this album.

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Coming Home – Peter Jennison
‘Coming Home’ is the final album in a series titled “Letters From War” by lawyer, father, husband, and war veteran Peter Jennison. The music was composed and/or arranged by Peter while he was deployed with the US Army in Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan in 2012 as a flight instructor. In the words of the author:

“‘Coming Home’ celebrates the joyous reunions of soldiers with their families, but also pays tribute to those who return wounded, as well as those who make the ultimate sacrifice and return in flag draped coffins. I hope, as always, you will close your eyes and “see” through my music, into the epically heroic lives of these incredibly brave men and women.”

Peter’s musical career began as a young boy by learning to play “a lime green piano” retrieved by his parents from the dump in the small New Hampshire town where he grew up. Most of the upper register hammers and all of the ivory had been broken off and it was horribly out of tune, but by the seventh grade, he could hear just about any song on the radio and sit down and play it from memory. For Peter, that piano became a dear friend who was “always there” and provided hours of therapeutic expression and release.

The CD includes liner notes written by Peter that explain his thoughts about each piece. The album was produced by Will Ackerman, Tom Eaton, and Jennison and was recorded at Ackerman’s Imaginary Roads Studios in Vermont. A very impressive list of supporting musicians includes Charlie Bisharat on violin, Eugene Friesen on cello, Jill Haley on English horn, Ackerman on guitar, Jeff Oster on flugelhorn, Jeff Haynes on percussion, and vocals by Heather Rankin, Noah Wilding, and Rory Sullivan.

‘Coming Home’ packs an emotional wallop right from the start that should touch every human heart in a very profound way. The album begins with a song titled “Remember Me” which is based on the poem “Sgt. Mackenzie” by Joseph Kilna. Haunting vocals by Heather Rankin serve as a stirring reminder that the first rule of war is that people (both men and women) die. Strong piano, violin, cello, and percussion accompaniment make this piece poignant and unforgettable.

Thank you, Major Jennison, for your service to our country and for your outstanding music! Highly recommended!

Coming Soon: Our favorite “Contemporary Instrumental: Multi-Instrumental” albums released in the third quarter of 2014.

Our Favorite Recently Released Contemporary Piano Music Albums

August 29, 2014 by Admin

Below we present a list (not in any particular order) of our favorite Contemporary piano Music albums released during the second three months of 2014. We highly recommend each of these albums. To qualify for this list, an album had to be a new release (not a re-release) in either April, May, or June of 2014, feature solo piano music (or solo piano with light accompaniment) and be available for purchase on either iTunes, Amazon.com, or CDBaby.com. In selecting these seven+ albums from over a hundred possibilities, we applied the same rigorous standards that we use in choosing music for play on GAIA Prime Radio. So if you enjoy the music we play on our station, we are confident that you will enjoy the music on these albums as well. Click on the album title or CD cover image and you will be taken to iTunes where you can listen to samples of music from that album and/or purchase it.

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The Illusion of Time – Dave Edwards
Quiet and relaxing, yet emotionally evocative and complex piano music that celebrates the beauty and mystery of our world – with substantive orchestral and (occasional) choral accompaniment that draws from a variety of influences – including classical, folk, jazz, ambient, and world music. You could certainly put this album on to provide ambient underscoring for your daily life, but if you choose to sit and listen closely and lose yourself in the music, there are levels of sophistication and creativity that should keep you intrigued.
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The Inner Horse In My Dream – Chen-chen Ho
The most cogent way to describe this album is to simply say that it is “a lot of fun”. This is the third “picture album” in the “Innocence of a Child Trilogy” from artist Chen-chen Ho. The point of the album is to integrate melodic piano music, pictures and lyrics to echo the artist’s childlike innocence, and to help the listener get in touch with their own.

In the artists own words, “Even though I became a musician…, I haven’t forgotten the emotional impact animals had on my inner growth. Through the medium of music, I express my passion for them. Indeed, the spiritual lives of most people nowadays depend on an animal companion. In the world of animals, we see purity and an abundance of feelings. They are spiritual mentors and inspiration for us humans.” In this album, “it’s a horse that allows us to explore our truest selves…my hope is that, whether in real life or in your dreams, you too may find your own “animal mentor” to help you discover your inner child.”

The bottom line is that the music on this album, with solo piano as the primary voice, is both complex and sophisticated, while reflecting a whimsical spirit that will certainly bring a smile to your face. It might even allow you to, if “just for a moment”, reminisce about your own childhood animal companions.

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By A Wire – Jennifer DeFrayne

The backstory for this brilliant and stunning debut album is quite compelling. First and foremost, By A Wire is largely “forged in the fires of personal loss and tempered by the inspiration of overcoming.” The deaths of several close family members (her father, uncle, and sister) and a debilitating stroke in 2009 that left her with many challenges in movement, memory, and speech, as well as the inability to find solace in her piano, made Jennifer fiercely determined to recover and reconnect with the “wires” of her beloved instrument. This album also represents the producing debut of Fiona Joy (other than her own recordings). Co-produced by Will Ackerman and recorded at his Imaginary Road Studio in Vermont, DeFrayne’s deeply expressive piano is backed by an impressive list of musicians that includes Charlie Bisharat (violin), Jeff Oster (flugelhorn), Jill Haley (English horn), Eugene Friesen (cello), Noah Wilding, Rebecca Daniel (Australian Chamber Orchestra), Tony Levin, Tom Eaton and, of course, Will Ackerman.

The result is a strong and intricately beautiful piano-based instrumental album with melodies that reflect a range of heartfelt emotions that express the journey of everyday life, from wistful remembrances, to hope-filled dreams, to the uncertainty and pain of inexplicable loss, and more, making this album a deeply moving and inspirational listening experience.

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The Heart Knows – Michael Mills

If creativity means working beyond the known boundaries of an artistic form to arrive at a new place, then the piano compositions and expressions of Michael Mills are most certainly there. Growing up in the Seattle area, his early years included training in classical piano and composition at the renown Cornish School of Allied Arts – with acclaimed classical composer Lockrem Johnson – and later at the University of Washington’s School of Music. After moving to the Southern Hemisphere in the 90’s, he went on to study jazz performance, composition, and music theory at Massey University’s Conservatorium of Music in New Zealand, and later at Griffith University’s Conservatorium of Music in Queensland, Australia. All of his rich piano music begins as an improvisation and finds its final form in studio post-production. The result is intensely personal and soulful piano centered music that “evokes windswept landscapes, rolling seas, and peaceful dreams.”

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Epic Enchantment – Tony Lauria
An extremely enchanting, soothing, and uplifting collection of soulful piano music, blended colorfully with gentle tones and occasional angelic vocal expressions by Kalyani. The exceptionally creative and sophisticated piano compositions, with strong accompaniment, and excellent production quality, makes this an album that we have no hesitation in recommending highly.
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Piano Painting – Bethany Neese

Bethany Neese is a native of Northern California where, for the past fifteen years, she has thrived as a music educator in Sonoma County. In addition to conducting and accompanying three choirs at a reputable arts high school, her teaching journey has culminated in the creation of SANTA ROSA SINGERS/THE MUSIC STUDIO located in Spring Lake Area of Santa Rosa, California. Her school offers private lessons and group classes in Voice, Guitar and Piano. Bethany has also taught Voice at the Santa Rosa Junior College, Ursuline High School, and Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse. She is currently also the soloist at St. John’s Catholic Church in Healdsburg on Saturday evenings, as well as the soloist at Hannah Boys’ Center in Sonoma on Sunday mornings, and guides the Hanna Boys’ Choir during mass, along with leading the congregation as its cantor.

In the artists own words, “This CD was inspired by my father. When I was a child learning to play the piano, he would ask me to play my favorite songs so that he could sit comfortably in his large-armed chair and rest for a few minutes. This gave me great joy as it was our special time together. I always held on to this delightful memory of performing for my dad…..”

The result is a thirty minute journey into images of soaring emotions “painted” by the artist on the piano music canvas that is perfect for relaxation, quiet meditation, spiritual nourishment, or a reflection on life experiences.

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Healing Piano Music Collection – Nancy Veldman

This is actually a set of eight albums, all released simultaneously, from pianist, successful fiction author, watercolor artist, and shop owner Nancy Veldman. The eight CDs are titled:

Journey of Grace

A Peaceful Heart

Standing Beneath the Wing

Restoration

Waterstone

Moments

Dream Believer

What I Know Is True

Nancy’s compositions are sincere, textured, poetic, nuanced, and melodic orchestrations that move the heart and soothe the soul. And while the music on each of the albums has a similar basic style (original piano music with strong orchestral accompaniment) the individual musical selections are nonetheless sophisticated and distinctive enough that each CD deserves our independent recommendation.

Coming Soon: Our favorite “Contemporary Instrumental: Multi-Instrumental” albums released in the second three months of 2014.

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