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Description
While most of the material at this website reviews music featuring female vocals, this page contains concise comments on new instrumental music our audience has either recommended or might enjoy. Click on album covers or label names for links to further information.

Content
Phil Coulter
Steve La Cerra
Karda Estra
Paul Schwartz
I Ching
Llewellyn
Ed Schaum
John Luttrell

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Highland Cathedral CD Cover
Image © 2000 RCA Victor

 

(13 February 2000) The latest release from Phil Coulter, entitled Highland Cathedral (RCA Victor (USA) 09026-63615-2/3, 2000), is a progression for the artist with fourteen highly listenable Celtic-influenced new age tracks. Coulter is the best selling instrumental recording artist in Ireland's history. He reveals, "To be releveant and healthy, you have to keep growing and be open to new influences. The one thing, though, that will always be comon to all of my albums, including those with Roma [Downey] and James [Galway], is melody. The album is certainly very melodic and very atmospheric. I hope it's uplifing and its range of soundscapes is soothing on the one hand and quite powerful on the other." Coulter used the glorious voice of Aoife (pronounced Ee-fah) Ni Fhearraigh, from Donegal on Ireland's western shore, home also to Enya and Maire Brennan, and their famous performing family, Clannad. Máire is Aoife's choirmistress and also performed on her solo album entitled Aoife (Gael-Linn (Ireland) CEFCD 172, 1996). "They all have that same ethereal magic, that same quality in their voice. It's a strange, strange coincidence that they all come from this one little village in West Donegal," Coulter points out. "It's an ongoing tradition that is producing these wonderful singers." The album can be ordered at amazon.com from February 22.

Certain to appeal to Celtic music enthusiasts and lovers of Clannad, Shanon and Ronan Hardiman, Highland Cathedral's simple yet lush tracks are heavily laced with piano melodies and non-overpowering traditional instrumentation. Soundscapes are painted with additional orchestral textures. Coulter wrote, arranged and is the main performer on the album. The title track is comprised of a lovely piano melody and is enhanced with both orchestral and traditional (pipes) instrumentation. "Holy Island" incorporates a keyboard effect during its introduction to create the sound of sea birds as we've heard Iona do before. Aoife makes her first appearance on the album in "Tranquility," a song with multi-layered soprano vocals, lush electronic instrumentation and effects supporting its piano melody. The whistle parts featured within "The Flowers Of The Forest" are sensitively played while ballads "Over The Sea To Skye" and "Flow Gently Sweet Afton" are performed entirely on piano, and perfectly illustrate Coulter's virtuosity. Strings and additional orchestral instrumentation is added in the soundtrack-like ballad "In Loving Melody." The traditional Celtic track, "The Gathering - Bealtaine" is introduced with narration and filled with Celtric bodhran. The melody is carried by a range of supporting electronic and traditional instrumentation.

Aoife carries the melody in the lovely Irish ballad "If These Stones Could Speak" supported light keyboard, traditional and piano instrumentation. The backing vocal part is especially effective. Coulter's lovely instrumental rendition of the classic, "Going Home" (Dvorjak/W. A Fisher) is especially inspiring. "The Enchanted Glen" follows naturally with orchestrally rich instrumentation supporting a lovely piano/keyboard melody. Aoife returns again in "Pilgrim's Way," carrying the lovely melody over an almost Gregorian style chant and an extremely broad range of instrumentation including a Celtic drum passage in the song's closing moments. The upbeat Gypsy-like "Coutergiest" is performed on piano and accordian with other strings accompanying. The gaps between the verses produce a great effect and add intrigue. Aoife concludes the album singing the inspiring "Our Island Barque," a lovely Celtic ballad accompanied by piano, harp and further orchestral instrumentation. Backing vocals provide additional warmth in the choruses.

Phil Coulter's latest album is a masterwork; well written and performed, it is certain to appeal to fans of modern Celtic instrumentals. Highland Cathedral is certainly worth further exploration—a very nice listen!



Flight CD Cover
Image © 1999 North America Music

 

The second release from New York artist Steve La Cerra following his debut solo album One Step At A Time (1995) is entitled Flight (North America Music (USA) NAM-1014). Released in August 1999, the album features thirteen instrumental tracks highlighting La Cerra's keyboard and other instrumental work. In 1994 Steve released an album entitled Fate of a Violent World with the metal band Dagger. He is also a well known engineer and producer (primarily for Blue Oyster Cult) and is a Senior Editor at EQ Magazine.

Best summarised as a keyboard album with an edge that pushes new age into progressive rock, Flight's tracks are dynamic and inspiring. The album's opening track "Sierra Nevada" certainly has new age sounding keyboard work, and as the title would inspire, a certain Spanish or world feel, like Yannni or John Tesh might produce. Guitar and electronic percussion contribute to the lushness of the music. Later the song "Long Ago and Far Away" with its combination of ambient, classical strings and celtic textures is reminiscent of Clannad's soundtrack work.

The edge of the album's music is likely best illustrated in the moving and dynamic arrangements of "Forbidden Planet" and the ambient and lofty composition to aid in the visualisation during the brief track "Atlantis."

The "Amazing Journey" segment of the album contains three enticing and moody tracks. A certain favourite is the first track within it entitled "Sail On" with its rhythmic acoustic guitar and emotive keyboard-based melodies. The music perfectly compliments the song's title as it produces a wonderful vision of an early evening sail gently tacking upwind. A hot day hike certainly comes to mind during the track "Havasu Trail." Here La Cerra returns to southwest themes with a lovely acoustic guitar melody to compliment the keyboards. A small vocal part is actually included in the song as well. The segment concludes with a certain favourite entitled "The Road Home." The song is uplifting and a more new age sounding synthesizer track yet the percussion notable for being dynamic and extremely well annunciated. The album closes with a lovely piano-based ballad-like moody instrumental entitled "Tides Of Cape May."

Additional biographical information on the artist and soundbites (catalog/online store section) are available on the Jericho Hill Records website. The album is available online there or from amazon.com. This is an album that will certainly appeal to maturing fans of progressive instrumental work the album is certainly worth further exploration—a nice listen!



Thirteen From The Twenty First CD Cover
Image © 1999 No Image Records

 

Thirteen From The Twenty First (No Image (UK) NICD13) is the latest release from Richard Wileman's instrumentally rich Karda Estra project. With vocal elements certainly remaining, the Swindon England-based Karda Estra moves on from from Lives & Times' folky progressive sounds (the earlier Rattlebones and The Pull Of A Tide and the later Hoarse), past their more gothic and ethereal phase (Waiting For The Parade and The Great Sad Happy Ending) into a style with even more emphasis on atomospheric soundtrack-like themes. There is, however, a distinct similarity between the mid-career sound of Lives & Times and the instrumental foundation on which Karda Estra is based. The latest Karda Estra album has thirteen relatively short tracks although the three that conclude the album run six to seven minutes.

The recording was done from June 1998 through September 1999 at The Twenty First, Wileman's own studio where the debut Karda Estra album A Winter In Summertime (No Image (UK) NICD12) was recorded between January and May 1998. Both CDs were actually pressed by EMI whose huge facility is conveniently situated in Swindon only blocks away the infamous Magic Roundabout! Thirteen From The Twenty First moves further away from the group's progressive origins more twoards soundtrack work and most certainly appeal to those that enjoy moody vision inspiring instrumentals with stunning female vocals.

Written and produced by Richard Wileman, who also performs significant portions of of the album's instrumentals (electric, classical and bass guitars, keyboards and samples, acoustic drums and percussion, effects and experiments), all vocals (largely vocalise) are performed by Ileesha Bailey. Ileesha also provided the vocals for the debut Karda Estra album and the last album by Lives & Times entitled Hoarse (No Image (UK) NICD9). Caron Hansford (oboe, cor anglais [alto oboe] and bassoon), Zoë King (flute, saxophone and clarinet) and Rachel Larkins (viola and violin) also contribute to this album. Ileesha, Rachel and Zoë also performed on the project's less experimental debut recording A Winter In Summertime.

The first section of the album is entitled "Surrealisms" and is comprised of five individual classically textured new age jazz crossover instrumentals. The concluding track of the set, "Sleeping Venus," a certain favourite, is a gently sung ballad, almost a lullaby, that picks up on the instrumental themes established in the first four. Here Ileesha's vocal similarity to Sandy Denny comes through yet with more of a crystalline quality than that of the legendary folk superstar. Readers interested in exploring Ileesha's vocals should certainly delve into Lives & Times' Hoarse. Sensitively sung solo and multi-tracked vocalise spans the other four tracks of the set initiating, interplaying with and echoing the melodies of the woodwind instruments and keys.


A Winter In Summertime CD Cover
Image © 1998 No Image Records

 

The two most symphonic tracks of the set are certainly "The Ribbon Of Extremes" and "Autumn Cannibalism." They are indeed surreal, almost gothic textured at times that would likely be equally at home in the final "Soundtrack" set of the album, especially with the moody multi-layered vocalise and woodwind parts. Although a lovely chime melody played on keys and vocalise contribute a brilliance to "John Deth," there is a dark undercurrent within the track that develops from the guitar and deep woodwind parts.

The second section of the album has only two short classical sounding tracks, and is appropriately titled "Miniatures." "Bathed In Light" is performed exclusively by the woodwinds with flutes carrying the melody playing off the oboe. Oboe and strings continue in harmony into the gentle sound of "The Toy Musician."

The final set of the album is comprised of six tracks and is entitled "Soundtracks" appropriately because they all were for short films except "Remember Me" which was for a radio play. Here, themes and moods established earlier in the recording are developed to their full orchestral splendour and symphonic sound. Moody multi-layered vocalise adds to the overall texture of the splendid "Evolution - Theme From 'The Jag Man' (Revised)." "Remember Me" is crisply performed on classical guitar with violin additing a dark texture to the tune. A lovely vocalise part contributes to the closing moments of the track.

The visually inspiring moodiness continues with the deep bass, symphonic crescendos, percussion and darkly gothic vocalise of "Soulsearcher." "Repercussions" and "Rex Mundi" are complex tracks, each with several obvious movements in their arrangements; highly experimental, they include parts on chimes (keys), choir and multi-tracked vocalise as well as several highly orchestral parts with all instruments going full tilt. The brighter woodwind-based and piano-led movements within "Repercussions" and concluding vocal part of "Rex Mundi" are especially notable. Equally complex in its arrangement, the orchestrally symphonic, dramatic and highly dynamic track "River" concludes the album and with its lovely vocal introduction will be a certain favourite.

Thirteen From The Twenty First is collection of well written, visually inspiring, highly atmospheric and moody instrumental tracks. Ileesha's vocal work is outstanding as are the instrumental performances by the artists involved. More experimental in several of its tracks, the album is a wonderful follow-up to the group's A Winter In Summertime which as a suite, might be contrasted as being a more cohesive collection. Both Karda Estra albums are available from specialty retailers and they can also be obtained from No Image; visit their website for details. They are also available from GFT; visit their website for details. A natural followon to Lives & Times mid-career projects the albums are clearly worth further exploratio. Both Karda Estra albums are highly engaging and intriguing—very enjoyable as a pair!



Revolution CD Cover
Image © 1998 Astor Place Recordings, LLC

  Paul Schwartz is most well known for his two contemporary opera crossover albums Aria (1997) and Aria 2: New Horizon (1999) (review) dominated by stunning female vocals and modern instrumental arrangements. Revolution (Astor Place TCD4011, 1998) goes the other way. Here, Schwartz has arranged eleven of the Beatles most timeless numbers to traditional classical dance themes. This is an album when played at a gathering will turn heads and draw lots of puzzled looks from guests since the unmistakable melodies come through despite the vastly different arrangements. A very unusual album in all respects, the lovely instrumental work perfectly compliments the carefully constructed arrangements of the project.

"Blackbird" is played to an Allemande while "Norweigian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" is set to a Siciliano, a litlting dance with a lyrical meolody. The soft song "Across The Universe" is arranged to the Aria style. The lovely "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" is played as a Fantasia, a piece in which fantasy and imagination are given free reign, perfectly illustrated by the light strings. "I Will" is set to a Contredanse with its rustic and energetic feel achieved by the plucky nature of the strings.

The lullaby texture of the Berceuse is used in the track "For No One" while "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" is set to the Passacaglia, a slow dance based on a repeated bass line. The dotted rhythm of the Loure is used for "Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite!" perfectly complimented by its percussion parts. "The Fool On The Hill" is perfectly set to the mournful Elegy style while the title track "Revolution" is more exuberent and joyful arranged as a Gigue. The album closes with "Let It Be" celebrating the release from life as an Apotheosis.

This timeless album of Beatles classics arranged as traditional dance numbers actually works quite well and grows on the listener with repeated plays. The album can be ordered from amazon.com. While the vocal work of Schwartz' earlier albums would have nicely complimented the work, we can certainly understand the drive to remain instrumental. These new arrangements of classic melodies are notable and very enjoyable—a nice listen.



Of The Marsh And The Moon CD Cover
Image © 1996 Chesky Records

 

Originally released in 1996 and as refreshing now as it was then, this state of the art album is an inspiring instrumental masterpiece. I Ching's Of The Marsh and The Moon (Chesky Records WO144, 1996) is recorded with Chesky's high resolution technology incorporating 128x oversampling and natural surround sound (recorded in St. Peter's Episcopal Church, NYC) to achieve a production quality that stands head and shoulders above typical recordings available to the mass market. This is true fusion of World music with New Age—this modern approach makes otherwise traditional Chinese music more accessible to New Age audiences willing to broaden their musical horizons. The album can be obtained from amazon.com.

Three Chinese musicians—Susi Chen (Chinese hammered dulcimer), Tao Chen (bamboo flute), Bao Li Zhang (er-hu, a two-stringed Chinese fiddle)—schooled in the ancient art of traditional music making, join Joel Goodman (synthesizer, sampler) to create an exotic mixture of music of the ancient and mystical Far East with the pulse of the 90s. The result conjures images of romance and mystery offering melodies that are at times achingly beautiful, rhythmically driving and lushly melodic.

Eleven instrumental tracks of varying style and mood and average length build the album's sound to comprise the 52-minute collection. Expert musicianship, accurate and delicate imaging, stunning recording quality and lush production makes the music highly inspiring—a relaxing and very enjoyable listen!



Tantric Sexuality CD Cover
Image © 1999 New World Music Ltd.

 

We were certainly drawn to this album by its title and sensitive cover photograph. No longer young lovers, we believed that experimenting with ancient and longstanding traditional practices might create a new spark where high voltage electricity and strong current flowed regularly in the not too distant past. This wonderfully packaged new album contains a lovely and nicely illustrated booklet entitled "Introducing Your CD" with an overview of the album by Tantra Teacher Leora Lightwoman and a brief yet effective instruction manual to assist the couple in its use. The music is sensitive, rhythmic and light and is best classified as New Age in style.

Composed by Llewellyn, working with Leora Lightwoman and drawing most of his inspiration from Nature, specifically to incorporate key principles of Tantra, and to facilitate and enhance Tantric practice, New World Records' latest release in the Mind-Body-Soul series, Tantric Sexuality (New World MBSCD908, 1999) is designed to be both energising and relaxing. The steady, rhythmic drumbeat througout helps to connect the listener with the energy of the earth, and to remind us of our basic life energy, our passion for existence in this body, on this planet, right now. The steady beat also allows the listener to relax more deeply into a meditative state, and provides a common rhythm for lovers. The flowing and dancing melodies touch and inspire the heart. The breathing sounds remind us of the meditative and ecstatic potential of the breath, and the more ethereal soundscape resonates with the divine essence of all beings.

The album consists of four parts. Part 1 (5:25) encourages relaxation whilst gently introducing the beat and a gradual raising of energy. Part 2 (16:37) heralds a greater focus on the breath, soulful melodies and sensual, erotic sighs. It promotes the continued deepening and raising of the energy field. In Part 3 (25:18) the rhythm changes slightly, and the intensity of the combined musical components increases, to indicate the crest of a new wave of energy. Part 4 is lighter and more lyrical. It touches a sweetness within us and helps to bring us to rest in a place of centred stillness.

Sensual, erotic and certainly relaxing, the music and instructions work as described!



Millennium Guitar
Image © 1999 Teddy Bear Music

 

(23 July 2000) Regular Musical Discoveries readers will be familiar with the two instrumentally-oriented albums by Timothy Martin on the Elithic Music Label (review). Elithic Music is currently working with Ed Schaum whose debut album Millennium Guitar (Teddy Bear Records (USA) 100101, 1999) contains twelve guitar tracks of classical and progressive origins. Each piece is masterfully played. Technical production and recording quality of the compact disc is superb; artwork accompanying it is simple but effective. Soundbites are available for interested readers to sample here.

We found the traditional pieces by Mozart, Vivaldi and Terrega enjoyable and well-played. The highlights of the album were the Steve Howe-based arrangements and compositions which were played flawlessly and with a flowing technique. The stark setting of pure acoustic guitar works quite well and these tracks compliment the traditional ones nicely. The "Blood On The Rooftops" intro by Hackett and Collins is a nice bridge between the Howe arrangement of "Arada" and another Howe contribution to an excerpt from the Yes song "Turn Of The Century." Most notable tracks include "Clap," "Excerpt from The Ancient" and "Mood For A Day."

The album is available from the Elithic label directly for a very reasonable price and with its excellent guitar work should be studied further—a nice listen!



Underwater Flying Lessons
Image © 1999 OtterSong Records

 

(23 July 2000) Elithic Music is also currently working with John Luttrell whose debut album Underwater Flying Lessons (Ottersong Records(USA) OSR 2001, 2000) contains seven instrumental songs composed for piano and synthesizer. Melodies and harmonies are wonderfully constructed while arrangements vary from simple to moderately complex. The technical recording quality is superb. Soundbites are available for interested readers to sample here. We find the cover artwork particularly attractive, however the artwork is limited to the jewel box front and back cover.

The album's tracks are well constructed and moody in spots. More new age in style than progressive, the songs have light melodies often carried by the piano and are supported by synthesizer in spots. The track "Bank Shot" has guitar work provided by guest Steve Deeble. Clearly the most accessible track on the album, it has a lovely and catching melody and is more closely aligned with a progressive rock track than new age like many of the album's other compositions. The rich piano introduction on "Windy Day" provides an overview to a moody new age style track; the theme returns building intensity as the song develops further. "Rooftop Ballet" is the most symphonic of the album's tracks and, with several distinct movements, was the most epic in its construction. We were reminded of Rick Wakeman's playing in several of the rapidly played keyboard sequences.

Luttrell is currently writing a progressive album, entitled The Balance, with guest Steve Deeble. The album sounds like it will be more guitar-oriented than the debut reviewed above; samples are available currently at the OtterSong website. As with Millennium Guitar reviewed above, Underwater Flying Lessons is available from Elithic directly; this one is also available from the OtterSong label directly for a very reasonable price. With this album's new age-progressive crossover keyboard work, it should certainly be explored further by our internet visitors further—a very nice listen!


 
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