Review of “Flying, Not Falling” by Max Highstein

October 15, 2017 by Admin

Occasionally, an album comes to our attention that takes us quite by surprise. The surprise is that even though we knew little to nothing about the artist, the album is of such indisputable high quality, and such a perfect fit for the GAIA Prime Radio playlist, that it immediately becomes a favorite. Such is the case with the new album from Max Highstein titled Flying, Not Falling. Like a carefully crafted tapestry that weaves many different types and colors of threads to form a creative, beautiful, and perhaps even spiritually uplifting design, on Flying, Not Falling, Max Highstein intricately weaves together melodies, themes, and instrumental voices into a delightful, sophisticated, complex and exceptional work of art.

Raised in Baltimore, Max Highstein received a BA in Music from Goddard College in Vermont, studying jazz and classical piano. A few years later, he received an MA in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica in Los Angeles. In fact, Max was in the first graduating class of USM and even wrote the school song. Later, he received a second MA in Counseling Psychology from Antioch University in Los Angeles.

While completing his academic work in counseling, Max began writing and producing therapeutic guided imagery, meditation, and music recordings. Max wrote the scripts for each of these, but hired actors to voice the dialogue. Then he composed and scored background music to accompany the narration. The first of these programs not only took the listener on a guided tour of the 12 signs of the zodiac, but also linked the 12 musical key signatures to different parts of the body. In fact, this work was one of the earliest commercial recordings to use music as a healing therapy.

The Healing Waterfall (1985) was Max’s second guided imagery recording and became a best seller with distribution in more than 1500 stores nationwide. In fact, it is still one of the most popular guided imagery programs ever recorded. Since then Max has written and recorded over 100 other guided imagery programs on a wide range of topics covering personal growth, relaxation, and healing.

Soon after producing The Healing Waterfall, Max decided to begin focusing more on his music. While combining elements of jazz, classical, and popular music, his musical style began to feature a lot of instrumental variety, including woodwinds, strings, percussion, and keyboards. In fact, Max regularly brought in a number of top Los Angeles session musicians to play parts he had written specifically for them.

The result was two CDs — Touch The Sky (1987) and Stars (1988). Both “purely instrumental” albums featured Max on keyboards, supported by a wide variety of other instruments, including oboe, cello, violin and flute. Another instrumental release, Path of The Heart (1997) was also a quite successful. Then, in 2009, Max recorded a vocal album, Flight Plans, which won two 2010 New Mexico Music Awards.

Max’s latest release, Flying Not Falling, is certainly his best album to date. In fact, we would rate the album as one the best we have heard so far in 2017. Overall, the music can described as original, melodic, contemporary, positive, cheerful, uplifting, joyous, lively, bold, innovative, well developed, and a whole lot of pure fun. It also features elements of classical, jazz, popular, and world music artfully blended throughout every track.

Accompanying Max on piano, fretless bass, and occasional synthesizers, are John Yoakum (soprano sax, flute), Ed Willett (cello), Willa Roberts (vocalizations), Mark Clark (percussion), Jesse Tatum and Charly Drobeck (flute), Jay Rusty Crutcher (alto sax), and John Gustafson (oboe).

Additional mixing input was contributed by Chuck Wilson and Daniel Ward.

The album begins with the title track, which is unabashedly uplifting, cheerful, happy, spirited, energetic, bright, poppy, distinctive, melodic, and wonderfully whimsical. It also features a wide variety of instrumentation such as piano, piccolo, clarinet, flute, acoustic and electric guitar, strings, synthesizer, oboe, and various types of percussion. And with its joyous and spunky attitude, it is an excellent opening track that truly sets just the right mood for the fun that is to come. One is reminded of walking briskly down a street, happy-go-lucky, whistling, perhaps even skipping now and then, without a care in the world.

This is nicely followed up by “Dreamwalk,” which is certainly our most favorite track on the album. In contrast with the first track, “Dreamwalk” is slower and more contemplative, with pronounced classical music qualities, both in expression and development. It is magnificently melodic, complex, stylish, well crafted, and quite memorable, with a truly outstanding blending of instrumentation such as flute, oboe, cello, violin, synthesizer, piano, ethereal voices, and percussion. On this track, Max’s abilities as a composer really shine through. Simply outstanding!

“Frank & Mandy” is more like the first track in that it is generally upbeat, energetic, bright, up tempo, cheerful, and stylish, but with perhaps more classical music qualities. Featuring threads of flute, synthesizer, percussion, french horn, oboe, violin, viola, cello, piccolo, piano, and bass guitar, it is artfully woven together into a rendering of pure joy. It is also one of our most favorite tracks.

“Earthtones”, another favorite, is again slower, a bit more introspective, and exceptionally well developed, powerfully complex, rhythmic, melodic, memorable, and with “light jazz” influences. The magnificently intertwined elements of violin, piano, synthesizer, alto sax, clarinet, flute, acoustic guitar, oboe, and percussion, along with an occasional pulsating bass guitar and light ethereal vocals, foster a mood of tranquility, relaxation, and contemplation. This track, in particular, at times has a distinct classic Jazz/New Age crossover feel.

“Lily Pads” moves the album in a very different direction. It is much, much, much slower and with more “ambient” music qualities. The pace, softness, light percussion, and ethereal qualities are emotional, peaceful, and reflective. The occasional and clever use of Native American Shamanic rattles is particularly noteworthy. This, along with light “wind chime” like sounds gives the track subtle “spiritual” qualities. Overall, the experience is of sunlight dancing on the shimmering surface of a lake at sunset or dawn.

The longest track on the album is “Lake Shrine.” It starts out more up tempo, with a steady pulsating rhythm, and also a classic New Age feel. In fact, at times this track reminded me of some of the works of Tangerine Dream. Like their music, which typically involved carefully interwoven elements of rhythmic synthesizer and real instruments, and with exceptional complexity and layering, this track at times has a trancelike vibe. Later, however, the music diverges into a period of what I call “instrumental chatter,” with various voices each popping in to have their say, before gradually returning to the pulsating, melodic theme from the opening, and then finally and slowly drifting away.

Aptly titled, and similar to the first track, “Helium” is a light, airy, cheerful, poppy, rhythmic, and energetic “spirit dance” with light classical qualities, and featuring soprano sax, flute, fretless bass, piano, light synthesizer, and ending with a quite unexpected and purely whimsical riff on a calliope. Simply “fun” and a definite favorite.

“Simon & Michael” is a melodic, moderate tempo piece, with classical elements, a creative and memorable theme, and a distinctive melody. It is also perhaps the best example of Max Highstein’s masterful interweaving of varied instrumentation (flute, bells, synthesizer, percussion, cello, strings, piano, alto sax, English horn) in and out, lending the overall work decidedly “tapestry” like qualities. We especially like the English horn and cello elements on this one. Nicely done!

Having spent many years as a social psychologist studying human conversation, I can attest to the energetic, rhythmic, creative, and playful qualities it often exhibits. The ninth track on this album, “Let’s Talk,” most definitely reflects those qualities. Featuring a “wildly diverse but nonetheless effective” mixture of instruments such as soprano sax, flute, guitar, piano, cello, strings, mandolin, acoustic guitar, banjo, and percussion, the result is an up-tempo, bright, cheerful, chatty, clever, melodic, and “jazzy” work reminiscent at times of “ragtime” music. A clear favorite!

The next to last track, “New Girlfriend” features a particularly compelling and beautifully rendered opening that eventually gives way to a more poppy, rhythmic, lively, melodic, and energetic middle. The instrumental contrast in this track is especially noticeable with synthesizer, piano, bass guitar, bells, percussion, popping sounds, flutes, xylophone, a concert triangle, viola, and bass guitar all interwoven with magnificent handoffs between the instruments. There is even a perfectly clever “human whistling” riff near the end. And the cello work on this track really stands out. Wow!

The final track is titled “Olive Branch” and is an excellent way to end the album. It has a more moderate tempo, and is somewhat piano driven, but with amazing flute accompaniment. Like the other tracks, the instrumentation is highly varied and superbly interwoven to create an overall work of absolute musical glee. It also is one of our most favorite tracks.

Overall, Flying, Not Falling is a brilliantly crafted masterpiece. The music is novel, spirited, and spectacularly rendered and most definitely varied and distinctive enough to hold your interest throughout the album. In fact, every time we listen to it, we notice something that we didn’t hear before—and we have no hesitation listening to this album again and again. But of course, as we have noted throughout this review, it is the outstanding work Max does weaving together into a single tapestry the various threads of creative expression, style, and sound that is the real standout quality of this album. For that reason, we are enthusiastic about giving Flying, Not Falling, our highest possible recommendation!

Review of “Trialogue” by Sherry Finzer, Darin Mahoney, and Will Clipman

June 29, 2016 by Admin

imageA “trialogue” – as opposed to a “monologue” (a voice of one) or a “dialogue” (two voices) — is a conversation between three “voices” – with the goal of reaching “common ground.” It is the essence of a “group” in which individuals thrive because of their collective efforts. However, the collaboration will only be successful if it is characterized by openness, honesty, and a genuine commitment to work toward their common objectives.

Along these lines, the recently released album “Trialogue” reflects an open, honest, and sincere commitment to a sharing of musical ideas, insights, and emotions between three extremely gifted and highly accomplished contemporary instrumental “voices”: Sherry Finzer, Darin Mahoney, and Will Clipman. What emerges from their collective efforts is an album of wonderfully creative, superbly crafted, amazingly complex, highly sophisticated, and even sometimes “exquisitely beautiful” music that wonderfully demonstrates that the “whole” can certainly be “greater than the sum of its parts.”

Sherry Finzer. Over the past thirty or so years, Sherry Finzer has evolved from a classical, and international award winning flutist, into a very successful composer, performer, and promoter of exceptional and highly acclaimed albums of contemporary instrumental and New Age music.

She has mostly performed as a soloist; but also more recently with guitarist Darin Mahoney, Native American flutist Mark Holland, Australian pianist Fiona Joy, Windham Hill pianist Scott Cossu, and other local, national and international musicians. image

As a classical performer, Sherry was a member of the Brockport (New York) Symphony Orchestra from 1986-1988, and of the Greece (New York) Symphony Orchestra from 2003-2004. Between 2000-2005, she also provided musical accompaniment for a number of choirs, orchestras and ensembles, including the Silver Tones Flute Choir, NRG! Flute Duo, the Caprice flute trio, the Trillium Ensemble, Canatabile Flute Quartet, CAFE, and the Arizona Flute Society Alle Breve choir. Sherry is also a performing member of the National Flute Association.

In 2006, Sherry teamed up with acoustic and electric guitarist Ric Flauding to release her debut album “Desert Journey,” a collection of New Age and World music instrumentals arranged for flute and guitar.

The first of her “Sanctuary” albums followed in 2009, and in the same year she and harpist VeeRonna Ragone formed Dulce VAS, releasing a jazz fusion, latin flair Christmas album of traditional holiday songs performed as mambos, sambas and rhumbas entitled “Christmas Picante.”

In 2010, Sherry released “Masquerade” and “Radiant Sky,” the latter being a second album with Flauding and a host of other musicians, including fellow flutist Tina Beaton, percussionist Freddie Colon, and guitarists Will Chapin, Pedro Perez and Evan Drummond.

In 2011, she released the second installment in her “Sanctuary” trilogy, “Sanctuary II: Earth.” It is a relaxation/meditation album of six extended tracks, each performed utilizing an alto flute, and designed around expressionist themes of wood, water and air.

Once she had found a unique voice and interest in the sub-genre of “healing music”, Sherry then collaborated with guitarist Darin Mahoney in 2013 for the release of “Transformation,” an album the two artists composed to foster an emotional experience for those faced with life threatening illnesses – most specifically cancer, of which Mahoney is a survivor. The album won One World Music UK’s Album of the Year award in 2013.

The following year, Sherry released “Sanctuary III: Beyond the Dream,” an album which received widespread acclaim and award nominations – most notably on the long running NPR show Echoes. The album’s closing track “Song For Rex” received particular attention, was composed for her grandson who has Down’s Syndrome. In fact, hundreds of children with DS submitted their photos for use in the song’s promotional video.

Then, in 2015, Sherry collaborated with Native American Flutist Mark Holland on “Flute Flight”, an album of ambient and atmospheric music performed on several concert flutes (C flute, alto flute and bass flute), as well as featuring the sounds of Native American flutes. Earlier this year, “Flute Flight” received the ZMR (Zone Music Reporter) Award for the best Relaxation/Meditation Album of 2015.

Sherry also regularly performs as a duo with bassist Cass Anawaty as the group Majestica, recently releasing a new album titled “In The Midst of Stars” on June 17, 2016.

RJ Lannan of Zone Music Reporter, has described Sherry’s compositions as “deeply haunting…calms and yet piques the senses,” and compared some of her more thematic works to “a rush of water in a desert gorge.” He also likened the the music to “comets and asteroids zooming through space…with the music becoming a springboard for…playful fantasies.” Echoes Radio host and contemporary instrumental music critic John Diliberto has referred to Sherry’s sound as “winged chamber music that entrances the ear, elevates the spirit and enlivens the mind.”

In 2006, Sherry founded Heart Dance Records (her current recording label), and is also the owner of RS Promotions, a music promotion company. The Heart Dance Records label continues to expand its roster, having grown from representing only six artists in its inception in 2006, to now overseeing the output of over 20 new age, acoustic and meditative music performers, including former Windham Hill artist Scott Cossu.

Sherry is also a regular host of the One World Music Radio program, “Crossing Boundaries”.

Darin Mahoney. Darin Mahoney typically blends his country and bluegrass styles into gentle contemporary instrumental melodies. His musical journey began when he was diagnosed with cancer in the prime of life. He says: “It was then that my life started and ended, all at the same time. Music played an important role in my healing. It takes you to places of healing only reachable with emotion and imagination. Artists like Will Ackerman, Michael Hedges, and Alex deGrazzi, just to name a few, were an integral part of my therapies, as important as the chemotherapy prescribed.”

imageDarin’s first album, released in 2008, was titled “In the Grain”. It was written to document his experience with sickness and healing. His song “Confused,” from that album was included in the documentary Absent. Also in 2008, at the University of Phoenix stadium, Darin opened for the ‘Pirates & Poets’ tour featuring Kenny Chesney, Sammy Hagar, Keith Urban, & Gary Allan.

In 2013, Darin released the collaboration album with flutist Sherry Finzer, called “Transformation,” which, as noted earlier, won Album of the Year award from One World Music in the UK.

Grammy Award winning guitarist and Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman has written of Darin’s music: “Darin’s stock in trade is melody. The forms are traditional and familiar, but the melodies, heartfelt without exception, are all Darin’s. The overall impression is of being in place you know well and love deeply, but being suddenly amazed one afternoon that the view is so spectacular.”

Darin is also an accomplished luthier and on “Trialogue” performs on two different self-built guitars one made of koa wood and another made of cedar.

Will Clipman. Will Clipman received a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Syracuse University, and a Master of Fine Arts Degree from the University of Arizona. He began playing his father’s drums and his mother’s piano at the age of three. At the age of fourteen, he played his first professional gig, and has since then mastered a pan-global palette of over one hundred percussion instruments — in addition to the traditional drumset.

Will has received seven Grammy nominations, including one for Best New Age Album for his solo world music album “Pathfinder.” image

He is also a three-time Native American Music Award Winner, a Canadian Aboriginal Music Award Winner, a New Age Reporter Music Award Winner, a two-time TAMMIE Award Winner, and has been inducted into the Tucson Musicians Museum.

Will has recorded over sixty albums, including over thirty for Canyon Records, where he is regarded as the house percussionist. In addition to his solo work, Will has performed and recorded with R. Carlos Nakai and William Eaton, among many other internationally-acclaimed artists and ensembles, and has toured throughout the United States as well as in Canada, Germany, Morocco and Russia.

His solo Planet of Percussion® performance and workshop takes audiences of all ages on a world tour of rhythm and polyrhythm.

An accomplished poet since the age of six, Will has also published a book of his original poetry entitled Dog Light (Wesleyan University Press) and his work has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. His writing has been honored with the Whiffen Poetry Prize, the Academy of American Poets Margaret Sterling Award, the Tucson/Pima Arts Council Poetry Fellowship, and the Arizona Commission on the Arts Award of Merit for Poetry. His poem The Quiet Power is the official Dedicatory Poem of the Tucson Main Library.

Will is also a successful mask maker and storyteller. His Myths & Masks® performance and workshop combines his original mask art, mythopoetic storytelling, and multicultural world music, and is now available as a DVD.

Will has provided over two hundred workshops, lecture-demonstrations, master classes, full-length artist-in-residencies, and self-realization events to elementary, middle, and high schools, colleges and universities, art galleries, libraries, adult prisons, juvenile detention facilities, senior centers, hospitals, parks and recreation programs, retreat centers, spas and resorts. His service to the community as an arts educator has been honored with the Arizona Commission on the Arts Decade of Distinguished Service Award and two Governor’s Arts Award Nominations.

The Trialogue. On “Trialogue,” the musical conversation between these three outstanding artists creates a unique and profound “synergy” — a blending of classical elements with flashes of Americana, hints of Jazz, Native American elements, and touches of World music — yielding a unique sound that ranges from airy and exotic, to soothing, ambient, and atmospheric, to uplifting, energetic, pulsating, and at times even quite powerful.

The “Trialogue” begins, appropriately, with a track that was created by the three musicians based on an improvisation. On this track in particular, which is one of our favorites, the listener truly gets a sense that one is privy to a lively, creative, and engaging exchange of ideas in a three way musical chat.

“Cote d’Ivoire”, which refers to the country in West Africa (Ivory Coast), begins with light acoustic guitar as the primary voice, very quickly joined by pulsating tribal infused percussion, and then eventually by Sherry’s flutes – first a bass flute and later a C flute — providing an exceptional contrasting voice to the strummed guitar and percussion driven vibe. The result is an energetic, uptempo, bouncy, and a bit jazzy track with steady movement, powerful energy, and a particularly clever ending.

This is followed by “Mending Fences,” also one of our favorites. This especially outstanding track is a much more complex and more evolved “musical conversation” than the first track. It is also led off by Darin’s exquisite guitar contribution, but this time with more of a “finger-style,” and is more moderately paced, more melodic at times, and with creative, soaring, and at times simply beautiful flute contributions from Sherry. The droning bass guitar accents at key transitions also add to the overall sense that this track has been very carefully crafted.

imageThe most distinctive, exotic and collaborative track on the album is certainly “Midnight in Marrakech.” Apparently, it was inspired by a visit Will Clipman made to the grand souk, or central marketplace, in Marrakech, Morocco. Then, when Darin and Sherry got a sense of where Will’s voice was headed, they had no problem joining in the conversation. This fast moving track begins with and is led by Will’s steady percussion speaking in a decidedly ethnic tone, later joined by Darin’s strummed acoustic guitar, and then eventually by Sherry’s mystical and exquisite bass and C flute elements, and some especially innovative accents. Overall, the track has a definite “World music” and native dance rhythm feel — and it really cooks! One can easily envision a parade of camels, a few carrying parched riders, traversing some lonely desert beneath midnight skies.

“Confused,” which is the longest track on “Trialogue,” is slower, more down tempo, and with Sherry’s enchanting flute as the lead voice — later joined by Darin’s magnificent acoustic guitar, and light percussion from Will. Originally from Sherry and Darin’s album “Transformation,” the track has a much more contemplative, emotional, ambient, and melancholy feel. The ending of this track is particularly clever — kind of a “final say” from the three voices.

“Alger St.,” which also comes originally from “Transformation,” has a similar peaceful, ambient, and down tempo sound. With beautifully rendered acoustic guitar as the lead voice, it provides some powerful and quite creative guitar phrases, joined by occasional light slide guitar elements, and a nice flute counterpoint. Relax and enjoy!

By far our most favorite track on this album is “Dark Horse.” In fact, this uptempo, fast moving, and exceptionally well developed track may be one of the best songs on any album we have heard so far in 2016. The magnificent and gentle guitar opening gives way to an absolutely stunning flute contribution from Sherry. Wow! It also features a steady and perhaps lightly Native American inspired rhythm, outstanding complexity and sophistication, and innovative and powerful transitions. The result is a track where all three of these supremely talented voices have their say in superb fashion.

“Top Down” and “Woodland Lake” are similar in that they both are lighter, livelier and more carefree, and with a distinctive Americana feel. “Top Down,” in particular, which may refer to “driving on a sunny, summer day with the top down” is highly energetic, fast moving, and electric guitar driven, with occasional bass guitar elements, and steady percussion as a foundation. It also features a strong melody, a slight hint of “rockabilly” and an exceptional interweaving of the various components, especially Sherry’s soaring flute contributions. It is also one of our particular favorites.

Along similar lines, “Woodland Lake” features unabashedly “country music” inspired finger style guitar in the lead, a clear, steady country style percussion, and only light flute elements that carry a distinctive and “sweet” melody. In fact, while listening to this track, one can easily envision a group of country “line dancers” sashaying “to” and “fro.” Also, the ending of this track can best be described as “silky smooth.”

“Thanks For Asking” also one of our favorites, features a strong acoustic guitar/light percussion driven opening, slowly joined by Sherry’s mysterious, haunting, and slightly melodic flute. A bit slower and more contemplative initially, the track picks up speed at times, only to then return to a lighter, emotional, sensual, and airy feel.

The final track on “Trialogue” is titled “Wolf Haven,” and along with “Dark Horse,” it is one of the strongest tracks on the album. It was originally composed and recorded by Scott Cossu. In fact, this is the only track on “Trialogue” that was not composed by one of the featured trio. It is a slower, more down tempo, enchanting, emotional, contemplative, simply beautiful, and masterfully arranged rendition of Cossu’s song. With Sherry’s flute as the lead voice, and with light acoustic guitar accompaniment, and minimal percussion, it is a complex, sophisticated, memorable, and powerful ending to this spectacular “musical conversation.”

In summary, “Trialogue” is a dynamic, creative, energetic, spirited, and masterful blending of exceptional instrumental voices and musical styles into a first rate and spectacularly entertaining collaborative performance. We very highly recommend this album.

Review of “Signature: Synchronicity” by Fiona Joy

May 3, 2016 by Admin

In May of 2015, we reviewed and “very highly recommended” the album “Signature: Solo” by internationally acclaimed Australian pianist, composer, vocalist, producer, artist, and jewelry designer Fiona Joy. Our general sentiments about the album were stated as follows:

“On 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.”

Over the past year, the “Signature: Solo” album has been unquestionably successful, and spent some time in the coveted #1 spot on the Zone Music Reporter (ZMR) AirPlay Charts. In fact, the album has also been chosen as the winner of the prestigious ZMR “Solo Piano Album of the Year” award for 2015.

imageRecently, Fiona Joy has released a new and revised version of the album titled “Signature: Synchronicity.” While the earlier version of the album featured mostly solo piano works, the new version, which contains essentially the same songs, includes varied instrumental accompaniment on all of the tracks, provided by a stunning lineup of professional musicians, including Borbala Bodonyi, Eugene Friesen, James Englund, Jeff Haynes, Jeff Oster, Mark Shulman, Nick Hawkins (Fiona Joy’s son), Noah Wilding, Paul Jarman, Premik Russell Tubbs, Rebecca Daniel, Tom Eaton, Tony Levin, and Grammy Award winning guitarist and producer Will Ackerman.

Also, in many cases, the music is magnificently accented by Fiona Joy’s own vocalizations which in our earlier review we described as “whispery, mysterious, darkly sensual, ethereal, and passionate.”

This new version of the album was also co-produced by Will Ackerman, Tom Eaton, and James Englund, and mixed by Eaton, at Ackerman’s Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont (some of the recording was also done at Crash Symphony Productions in Sydney, Australia). Consequently, the production quality is simply outstanding.

You can view a promotional video for the album here.

For Fiona Joy, the “Signature” series of albums was originally imagined as “a very personal expression ” — an examination of her inner life, and how the unfortunate deterioration of the “signature” bone in her left hand was affecting her ability to share her life’s work. However, it eventually evolved into more of an exploration of possibilities, dreams, and fantasies — both good and bad. Whatever the inspiration, there can be no doubt that Fiona Joy has again, as we have come to expect, poured her heart and soul into every song, every measure, and every note.

This new version of “Signature” is quite different from the previous version. First, the original album featured two different versions of the track titled “Once Upon Impossible” – a solo piano version and a version with light accompaniment. In contrast, the new album features two different versions of the track “Grace.” But it is the addition of the accompaniment on the new album that truly distinguishes it from the original version. Generally speaking, while the accompaniment adds complexity and depth to the original solo piano tracks, as might be expected, it also, at various points, adds clarity, passion, energy, tenderness, character, color, drama, excitement, emotion, creativity, and poignancy. Most importantly, it enhances the interest appeal of the music so much so that a truly outstanding album has been made even better.

imageFor example, on the first track “Ceremony,” the addition of strong percussion by Haynes, electric guitar, electric bass, and keyboard elements from Eaton, and ethereal vocal layers from Bodanyi and Fiona Joy, certainly accentuates the energetic, up-tempo, and celebratory spirit of this track. It is, put simply, an exercise in “joy.”

“Grace,” which is, of course, the Fiona Joy song that appeared on Ricky Kej and Wouter Kellerman’s Grammy Award winning “Winds of Samsara” album, is rendered even more exquisitely beautiful with the addition of cello by Friesen, Levin’s NS bass, and Jeff Oster’s flugelhorn filling in some of Kellerman’s flute elements from the WOS version. But most importantly, it is the addition of the vocal elements – mostly by Fiona Joy – that takes this track to an even higher level of spectacular. Her wispy, profound, intensely emotive, stirring, and captivating vocal solo performance on this track really stands out and makes it our most favorite track on this new album.

According to Fiona Joy, “Grace came to me as a gift at a time when I was feeling down. Someone emailed me to say they had a still born baby girl 10 years earlier and listened to my music to help her recover. She named the baby Grace. Now, 10 years later she has a daughter called Sophie Grace and together they sit and listen my music to remember her baby sister. The message to me was that my music had stood the test of time and that the most important thing I can do with it is to touch and help others. ” Indeed it does!

The other version of “Grace” that appears on this album is dubbed a “Chill Version.” It is a somewhat shorter, more upbeat, less emotional, and jazzier version of the song, with steadier and more prominent percussion, including Fiona Joy’s son Nick on a beatbox, as well as a strong electric guitar solo by Shulman. It also features truly great bass and flugelhorn elements. And Fiona Joy’s vocals are also even more prominent in this version, as are the layered vocal contributions from Bodanyi.

The track “Fair Not” is rendered even darker, and more somber, intense, and dramatic with the additional accompaniment by Friesen on cello, Daniel on violin, and Eaton on bass, keyboards, and percussion. It even more magnificently conveys feelings of despair, devastation, anger, and of course, a sense of “not fair.” It is also easily one of our favorite tracks on “Signature: Synchronicity.”

imageAnother of our favorites is “Once Upon Impossible.” It seems to be a slightly recrafted version of the “accompanied” track that appeared on “Signature: Solo.” It nonetheless remains a sincere, emotional, and expressive lament that is both profoundly touching and disconcerting. The addition of the hauntingly poignant vocalizations of Fiona Joy adds to the unsettling sense of despair summoned in this song.

As did the version from “Signature: Solo,” “Calling Earth” magnificently 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. And while the cello, NS bass, and ethereal vocals by Wilding added to this track are less prominent than on other tracks, they nonetheless contribute to and accent the emotional intensity conveyed by Fiona Joy’s piano.

The addition of an EWI (electric wind instrument) from Tubbs, percussion, and NS bass to “Invisible Train” provides more depth, complexity, and intrigue, and truly compounds the energy, spirit, and overall impression of movement conveyed in this work. Even more so than before, 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. So just sit back and enjoy the ride.

imageWith modest accompaniment added, “Signature” remains one of the slower, more poignant, more reflective, and more pensive works on the album. An exquisite opening by Jarman on a Taragato (a woodwind instrument from Hungary and Romania) and subtle but nonetheless stylish acoustic guitar contributions by Will Ackerman, fit masterfully with Fiona Joy’s piano, adding beautifully to the magic and overall emotional power of this track.

“From The Mist” and “Little Star” are similar in that they both have a bit more classical music feel and both feature exceptional melodies. The addition of an Irish whistle to “From The Mist” provides more depth, more intensity, and more drama, and certainly emphasizes the decidedly Celtic music influences on this track, especially at the end. And on “Little Star,” even though the accompaniment is more subtle, the bass, and occasional slide guitar elements definitely accentuates the tender, gentle, contemplative, emotional, and dramatic elements of this song, and makes for a wonderful ending to the album.

In summary, both of the “Signature” albums from Fiona Joy are outstanding works, and definitely worth adding to your collection. But with the additional instrumental and vocal elements added, “Signature: Synchronicity” is truly a magnificent album and so we give it our highest possible recommendation.

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