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Best of Reviews New Age: The Piano

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There was once a time not so long ago, that piano compilation albums from the genre were in plentiful supply. However, with the golden days of Narada and Windham Hill behind us, such products have been few and far between of late. It is not that there are fewer pianists or releases (far from it- the internet and digital age have opened up a window of opportunity for thousands of musicians)- rather, it is the lack of a central organisation or figure to co-ordinate the cream of the music and produce a compilation.


So, step forward Alejandro Clavijo, founder and reviewer of the much-respected 'Reviews New Age' website based in Spain. A lover of the genre, Alejandro has done what I have only dreamed of doing- selecting his top piano tracks from recent years and producing an album of very high quality.


Studying the playlist for this wonderful album, it is not surprising at all that it has found its way onto Piano-Heaven. Seventeen artists contribute a track each (including a new release from Danny Wright), making for over 73 minutes' worth of essential listening. The artists themselves are a mixture of seasoned campaigners who contributed to the success of the big-name New-Age record labels of the eighties and nineties (Wayne Gratz, David Lanz, Peter Kater etc), combining seamlessly with newer but very successful figures in the world of contemporary piano music, such as Michele McClaughlin and Chad Lawson. The end product is an album which showcases some of the finest music in the genre.


Doug Hammer's 'Maine Morning' opens the CD. The piece in question was written many years before, and captures the amazing start to the day in the New England countryside. It is a jolly, 'feel-good' affair, and clearly this part of the world is dear to the composer's heart.


Next up is Rocky Fretz, whose composition 'Kim's Song' is taken from his 2012 album, 'The Gathering'. The piece develops beautifully, with an appealing melody throughout. I've even been watching Rocky teaching pianists how to play the piece on You Tube!


Oh how I love 'The Train' by Ralph Zurmühle from his 2002 album 'Communion'. There is such energy in the piece, and the listener can almost feel the steam engine coming through the speakers as it gathers momentum. There are quieter moments too- perhaps the train is chugging along past summer fields at a leisurely pace. This is the sort of piece that fans of Philp Aaberg would very much enjoy.


The highly talented Chad Lawson has a distinct style, and his contribution 'Set On a Hill' from the album of the same name is very melodic and appealing to the listener's ear. It is one of my favourite tracks from the album that first brought him to my attention. I love it, and I am confident many listeners will agree.


'Beyond' is the next track, and this is composed by the gifted Matthew Mayer, and taken from his album of the same name. Matthew is a stalwart of the genre, and the biggest compliment I can pay him is that, even though the track was written in 2003, it would almost certainly have been picked up by one of the big New Age record labels had it been written a little earlier. It's a lovely piece.


The prolific David Nevue has a track entitled, 'A Vision in White' to serenade the listener as track six. It's as gentle and beautiful as they come, and is taken from his 2011 album, 'A Delicate Joy'. Perfect for spas or drifting into your own dream world...


'Rise and Shine' has a vibrant, buoyant opening- this is a lovely start to the day. It's a perfect morning, and this music is as happy and uplifting as the title would suggest. For the reader's interest, this album was mastered at Joe's renowned Piano Haven studios. This track is taken from his 2011 album, 'Into the Wind'. 


The beautiful music keeps coming, and next up is Philip Wesley's 'Lamentations of the Heart' from the album 'Heart to Hands- A Solo Piano Retrospective 2002-2012'. Philip has a high reputation in musical circles, and from the evidence of this track, it is not difficult to hear why. This is a great selection, and yet another favourite in an album jam-packed with highlights!  


'Luceros' has a different style from much of the CD. it's catchy and finger-tapping stuff! I wouldn't really say this was a relaxing piece, but it definitely has a certain charm to it. The track comes from the 2004 album, 'Periplos'.


David Lanz will be a familiar name to anyone who has had a passion for contemporary piano music over the years. His original release, 'Cristifori's Dream' on the Narada label certainly got the ball rolling, and since then he has sold over five million records across the world. Recently, David has been tinkering the ivories with his lovely interpretations of Beatles' classics. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to 'Sir George (Liverpool Farewell)' from the 2012 album 'Here Comes the Sun'. I'm also a massive fan of David's much earlier interpretation of 'Strawberry Fields Forever'.


And talking of well-established artists, step forward Wayne Gratz, another former Narada composer. In more recent years, Wayne has released several CDs through his own label. There can be no more poignant composition on the album than this track, entitled, 'Natalie's Song', which was written by Wayne at the request of Natalie's family who had lost their beloved three year old daughter as a victim of child abuse. It's a beautiful and touching composition and, as the linear notes state, "Through this song, Natalie's memory lives on."


I remember being blown away listening to Michele McLaughlin's deeply auto-biographical Piano-Heaven award-winning album 'Out of the Darkness', and the next track, 'Perseverance' is taken from this wonderful album. Her CD features a series of highs and lows following the break-up of her marriage, This track typifies the melodic appeal of the CD, but this compilation could honestly have featured any track from this memorable album.


'Masterpeace' by Joseph Akins is aptly named and is taken from his 2007 album of the same name. The track is very melodic from start to finish, and is perfect relaxation music. I love it, and would like to hear more of Joseph's music as he clearly has a special talent.


Lisa Downing's 'Night Games' has been new to me, and Lisa plays with a sense of fun. There's a touch of mischievousness in her piano-playing, and the track is uplifting and very appealing. Fans of Liz Story are sure to welcome Lisa's great contribution to this outstanding album.


There are two Peter Kater compositions which over the years have become absolute favourites of mine. Here is one such track- 'Ascent' from the 2003 album 'Piano'. Fans of Michael Gettel's solo piano work (particularly 'San Juan Suite') will adore this piece. Lots of energy here, and the listener is in for a real treat. My other favourite composition of Peter's is 'Wind' from a recently released CD entitled "Wind, Rock, Sea & Flame Aloha Au Ia 'Oe".


A special treat for listeners comes in the form of Danny Wright's contribution as it is written specially for this album. 'I Always Will' is romantic, uplifting and very beautiful. Danny has sold over six million albums, and his most popular composition is perhaps 'Time Windows'. His enormous fan-base will not be disappointed with his exclusive composition for this CD.


This wonderful album closes with 'Indicios' by Julio Mazziotti, from the album 'El Amo de kas Hadas' (2011). I have to be honest here and say that I had never heard of this Argentinean composer before, so thank you Alejandro for introducing me to this very talented pianist. Far from being a gentle slow-burner to end the album, this is up-tempo, and a lot of fun to listen to and no doubt play.


Seventeen fantastic tracks on one album featuring seventeen stellar artists- all of whom are leaders in their field. You cannot really go wrong with an album like this; it is of extremely high quality from start to finish. Even the presentation of the album is top-notch, with a serene cover and a fascinating linear booklet providing details of the tracks and the performers.


Congratulations to the artists on this stunning album. Through Alejandro, the Narada and Windham Hill legacy lives on. I give this CD my highest recommendation.







The Best of Reviews New Age: The Piano

The Best of Reviews New Age:

The Piano

Various Artists