Piano-Heaven Award Winner:

Illumination

Jennifer Thomas

Tickled Ivory Music

2012

www.jenniferthomasmusic.com

 

 

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Every so often, a CD comes along that blows the listener away with its creativity and quality of its music. This is one such CD.

 

Four years in the making, Jennifer Thomas's latest CD, 'Illumination', is a work of art. Clearly a master of her craft, Jennifer has created an album that is simply superb from beginning to end.

 

If ever there was a good reason for artists still releasing their music in CD format, this is it. Accompanying the disk is a beautifully produced sixteen page colour booklet containing the amazing landscape photography of her father, Ron Southworth. As she herself explains, "In some instances, the art drove me to write a particular song, and in others the music came first and inspired the photograph." The wide-ranging photographs were all taken from the Pacific Northwest down to the California coastline. The whole insert has a sumptuous feel to it, boding well for the listening experience ahead.

 

Whilst the piano features in every track and is the dominant instrument, this album also features the impressive violin skills of Kelley Marie Johnson as well as Jennifer herself. In addition, the beautiful cello-piano combination can be heard thanks to the playing of Stephanie Yose, and wordless vocals come from Felicia Farerre and Rachelle Hrncicik. Additional orchestration, which really enhances this album and separates it from the norm, comes from the very talented Glen Gabriel.

 

Much of the music on this CD is quite upbeat (and sometimes amazingly so!)- music to get you out of bed in the morning rather than to drift away to sleep. This is amply illustrated by the opening track 'Elude for the Dreamer'. The music is as invigorating as it is beautiful. The accompanying photograph shows Jennifer looking resplendent gazing into a mirror at Seattle's Paramount Theatre. The piece is bursting with energy- an amazing cacophony of sound!

 

'After the Storm' slows things right down, as our planet recovers from what Mother Nature has thrown at it. There is definitely a sense of hope and optimism in this gorgeous piece, and it is dedicated to a friend who has overcome all manner of storms in her life. The image shows Coquille Lighthouse, near Bandon in Oregon- a beacon of light in sometimes stormy waters.

 

I think my favourite piece is the title track, 'Illumination'- what an appealing melody! Positive and upbeat, this is toe-tapping stuff. Shafts of light penetrate the tall, thin trees close to Ruby Beach in Washington. I think this would make for a perfect film score!

 

The familiar notes of 'Gymnopédie No. 1' by Erik Satie greet the listener in the opening to the next track, but this is very much Jennifer's own take on this well-known composition- the cello combining particularly well with the piano.

 

I love the CD's fifth track, 'New Life' which, after a gentle opening, bristles with life. It's a beautiful track with a very catchy and appealing melody. This is another piece which is full of hope and optimism for life's journey ahead.

 

When I saw the photograph for 'Beyond the Summit', I had to look very carefully as I thought at first it must be a painting. Surely such a beautiful sight could not be so perfectly captured in a photographer's frame? But there it is, Diablo Lake in North Cascades, Washington. It is not difficult to see why the photography of Ron Southworth (www.ronsouthworth.com) has won awards. And my goodness, the flowing composition that ensues is gorgeous from start to finish. As I listen, I embark on a soaring journey over the snow-covered mountain peaks looking down on the crystal-clear water below.

 

I am intrigued by track seven, 'Into the Forest' in a number of ways. Wordless vocals give the piece an ethereal feel at the opening, then with the addition of drumming, I'm transported to a tribal forest! It almost sounds like there's a didgeridoo lurking as well, although there is no mention of this. The accompanying photograph shows a grand piano in a small clearing surrounded by the greenery of the forest. I would imagine Jennifer is inspired by nature.

 

'Secrets' is a beautiful interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach's 'Cello Suite in G Major'. Again, the angelic voices give the piece a heavenly and slightly mysterious feel near the start, then there is a change of tone at around the 1:20 mark, with the addition of various orchestration. The piece literally bursts into life before slowing down once again at its conclusion. I love this track!      

 

Bach is clearly a composer dear to this musician's heart, and by way of a tribute, a lovely version of 'Toccata and Fugue' makes up track nine. This particular piece is arranged and orchestrated by Jennifer, with beats and additional orchestration by Glen Gabriel, and additional beats and effects by Adam Amos. 

 

'Rainforest' has a haunting opening, with a deep-voiced Vangelis-style choir. The piano is accompanied by various beats and drumming. I can't quite make out the location of the photograph, but Jennifer sits in what appears to be a forest surrounded with ancient pillars. 

 

'Fire Dance' has a Latin feel to it. Surely this piece could make an appearance on 'Strictly Come Dancing' in the near future? One moment, all is gentle... the next moment the piece is full throttle!!

 

'Pachelbel's Canon' is, in my opinion, rather overused in CDs in this genre- it's almost a stipulation it has to be included somewhere. However, when there are versions out there that are as interesting and gorgeous as this album's twelfth track, I am happy to make an exception! This particular version is for one piano and four hands... and this makes for a fascinating and highly appealing listening experience. Around the 3:00 minute mark, it really takes off. An experience not to be missed!

 

From the title 'Across the Starlit Sky', the listener would be right to expect a slower, gentler and more reflective piece. As darkness descends, Jennifer's piano sprinkles the night sky with ivory dust. Her father's stunning picture of Mount Rainier (Washington) complements the composition perfectly.

 

The dream theme occurs again, with 'Requiem for a Dream', but there will be no sleeping whilst listening to this energetic piece!

 

Beethoven's 'Piano Sonata Op. 7. Movement 2' gets the Thomas treatment as we begin to head towards the close of this remarkable album. Her interpretation- a joy to listen to- is entitled 'Sonata Minoré'.

 

The penultimate track in this jaw-droppingly good CD is called 'Eventide' which slows things right down as night beckons, and Jennifer's delightful piano playing is enhanced with Kelley Marie Johnson's violin solo. This is a delightful, majestic piece of music which I simply adore!

 

Sergei Rachmaninoff's 'Piano Concerto No. 3, Movement 2' and Antonin Dvorak's 'Symphony No. 9 in E Minor- Largo' close out this remarkable album, with a real symphonic sound. What a way to finish!

 

This CD is brimming with quality from the very first track to the very last- all seventy-three minutes' worth. Fans of Jennifer will not have minded the four year wait given the consistently high standard of this albun. The sound quality is top-notch, and the orchestration is of such high quality, it really does sound like the whole album is being performed in a concert hall somewhere with perfect acoustics by world-class musicians.

 

'Illumination' could sit happily in the New Age / Contemporary Instrumental section of your local music store, but would be equally at home in the Classical section. If Jennifer can bring out albums as good as this, perhaps one day in the future people will be talking about Bach, Dvorak, Thomas...

 

An outstanding album, and one in which I have no hesitation in giving my highest recommendation.

S.C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illumination

Jennifer Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Thomas