Music Reviews A - L

Divider Line Image

Adriano - Virtual Landscapes

At first glimpse of the CD cover, one might think this album would be a selection of quiet ambient tunes. But several seconds into the opening track, "Coyote Ridge," the truth of this album is revealed: this is orchestrated soundtrack music. Adriano DeFreitas takes up his instruments and leads us on a musical guided tour of various places, real or imagined. The titles of the pieces give a clue as to the nature of his inspiration, such as "Daybreak At Furnace Creek," "Scenic Walk," and "The Trail."

There is a "brassy" feel to the music, as if Adriano had enlisted an entire electronic orchestra, complete with horn section, rhythm accompaniments, and keyboards. Adriano also has borrowed from popular sources - the feeling comes often in the first several tracks that "I've heard this song before." Let's hope that popular composers don't feel like he's infringed upon their work, should they hear this album.

Despite the rather dynamic nature of the music, it's not intrusive. The album can be listened to with full attention, or as background "filler." In many ways, this is the best way soundtrack music is produced. It's not meant to overwhelm, but to complement. Adriano has come up with a debut album that neither jumps out at you, nor shys away from you. This is a fine work to put on the CD player when you want music playing, but don't want to be distracted by it.

Visit Adriano's website at

Divider Line Image

Jamie Bonk - Bonk

What an incredible amount of quality music is emanating from Canada these days! Perhaps it's something in the water, or maybe the climate just lends itself to the creation of inventive, enjoyable music. Whatever the reason, guitarist Jamie Bonk is turning heads and perking up ears with "Jamie Bonk," his eponymous debut album.

Bonk has become a darling of the New Age music industry, and it's one of those success stories I'd like to see more of. His guitar playing is bouncy and infectious, his songwriting talent demonstrates a knowledge of popular taste. Bonk is a rare example of the "right talent at the right time."

"If You Only Knew," the opening track on the album, is receiving airplay on the local radio station which styles itself as "smooth jazz," but is in truth more closely aligned with "casual pop." And this is fine, since Jamie Bonk's music would seem to fit that category quite nicely. My personal favorite cut is "Violet Skies," which leaves me unable to sit still whenever its opening notes cross the stream of my consciousness. It's a tune that has loads of rhythmic percussion - bongos and snare drums - a funky bass line and Bonk's own snappy guitar playing, which is crystal clear and spritely. "Tiger Dance" is similarly styled, but is portrayed in a more minor key. "Tanzen" (German for "dance") is a mysteriously-flavored tune in which Bonk spins images of an eastern nature. "So I Guess This Means Goodbye" is a wistful, but not broken-hearted look back at life and love, moving between sorrow and hope, covering a full spectrum of emotions.

Rumor has it that "Jamie Bonk" hit Number One on the New Age Voice Top 100. This is quite an accomplishment for a debut album. From a personal perspective, if this is an indication of where the "New Age Music" movement is heading, then I'm glad to be along for the ride!

Visit Jamie Bonk's website at

Divider Line Image

Jeff Bjorck - Pure Piano Portraits

Imagine walking through an art gallery, pausing before each painting, being enveloped by the artist's mood and expression, while gentle music plays in the background, shifting at each picture frame. Then take away the visual affects, and you have some idea of the experience of listening to "Pure Piano Portraits" by Jeff Bjorck.

Bjorck, a clinical psychologist and professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, has poured over twenty years of his heart and soul into the twelve pieces that appear on this album. Each work stands on its own, an aural "portrait" as suggested by the album's title, and by many of the pieces themselves: "Butterfly Sunrise," "Catskill Mountain Meadow," "River Sunset," and my personal favorite, "Living Waters."

An accomplished pianist, Bjorck's music and playing has been compared to that of Claude DeBussy. Being compared to an established composer, particularly one who many consider to be a "classic," is both a high honor and an extreme risk. An honor to be lumped into the same category, a risk because the artist must then be measured by a higher standard. In Bjorck's case, only time will tell if "Pure Piano Portraits" is another "Claire De Lune." But for now, there's some simple, elegant, peaceful listening in the art gallery of the ears.

Visit Jeff Bjorck's web site at

Divider Line Image

Eric Chapelle - Our Time

In many ways Eric Chapelle's debut album is a musical definition of the term "New Age Music:" lush, reflective, flowing, mellow and balanced. The fourteen tracks on this CD range from the more traditional piano-oriented themes, as found on the opening track, "Making The Shift," "Rainbow Bridge" (no relation to the same title by Jimi Hendrix!), "Piano Song" (of course!), "Reverence," and "Trust." If this were all to the album, it would be a fine sampling of today's new age piano stylings, and be done with it.

But where this album shines is when Chapelle takes his hand to the more electronic forms of instrumentation. The title track, "Our Time" is a low-key, but rich blend of overlaid themes. The two longest tracks on the CD are the standout "Enchanted Rock" (8:21) which is named after a location and not a musical style, and "Unconditional Love" (9:55). The former is a slumbering, weaving, dreamy mix of piano mixed with languid synths filling the spaces between notes. The latter reminds me of the epilogue portion of a dramatic movie's soundtrack -- when the villain has been vanquished, the hero has been reunited with his true love, and the sun is shining on a world born anew.

Those two tracks alone would be worth the price of admission, but Chapelle isn't done yet. The all-too-brief "Fly Fishing" is a casually-spirited paeon to early mornings, hip deep in the water, and "Walking On The Moon" is a hidden gem, gently reverberating, as Chapelle, tries to imagine what it would be like. In his own words, "somewhere between floating and falling." The capstone piece, "Child's Play" evokes memories of the little ditties we all sang as children. A nice touch.

It's not hard to imagine this CD being played in a dimly-lit room, while well-practiced hands rub and smooth away the day's stresses and strains. In fact, I'm told that "Our Time" has been reviewed in Massage magazine. Not a bad choice, I'd say. This album certainly rubs me the right way!

Visit Eric Chapelle's Hamsa Music web site at

Divider Line Image

Chemistry - Chemistry

If laid-back electric/MIDI guitar is your cup of tea, "Chemistry" just might be the brew for you. Self-produced by Ron Imhoff, my only complaint with this album is that the recording levels are way too low in comparison to other CDs in my collection. Not that Chemistry should be played loud (self-defeating for low-key music, in my opinion), but I find that whenever I put this CD on the player, I'm always reaching for the volume control.

The minor nit over, I have to say that as a fan of the guitar, I'm impressed with Imhoff's restraint. All too often a guitar player will yield to the temptation to display his skill with pyrotechnics. Not so on Chemistry. Imhoff brings the guitar to the forefront (he plays all the instruments on this album), but is careful to keep everything in the mix.

There's a lot of familiarity here for anyone with knowledge of guitar stylings. "Above The Clouds" overdubs several guitar tracks, and Imhoff varies the affects, from harmonics to pedal distortion, to an interesting and varied drum backbeat. "To Search Within" flows with synth backgrounds, while single-string leads and double-string unisons and scattered here and there. "Eastern Influence" is a languid journey in a caravan over dunes and oases. "Solitude" strikes me as a pure "smooth jazz" rendering of guitar meanderings. "Amazon" is where Imhoff displays the most intensity in his playing. Yet he never loses his restraint. The energy level here is at the album's highest. Listeners of new age music need not fear an adrenalin rush, though.

"Chemistry" is an ambitious project. It takes a lot of nerve, confidence, and yes, money, to self-produce an album and then put that album out for the world to hear and judge. "Chemistry" is an example of why this web site exists: to provide an avenue for new and aspiring musicians to have some exposure. Yes, it has some rough spots, but overall, it's a laudable first effort, and Imhoff should be encouraged!

Visit Chemistry's web site at

Divider Line Image

Earthboys - Effigy

I've never attended a "Rave." Nor have I had the opportunity to experience the "chill out" rooms such events have spawned. Similarly, I've never attended a Star's End Gathering Concert, so I may be a bit off-target, but now that I've heard "Effigy," by Thomas Ferrella and Kevin Schaefer (who, along with a few friends are known collectively as "Earthboys"), I think I have some idea of what the effect must be like.

I confess, my exposure to experimental, improvisational music is based on years-old recollections of high-energy "rock jams," such as those performed by Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Greatful Dead, Pink Floyd, and the like. My, how we've evolved!

"Effigy" is a collection of seven long (the shortest is almost 8 minutes in duration) pieces, recorded "live to two-track," that are inspired by the Native American effigy mounds which are found in abundance in Dane County, Wisconsin. Don't be misled, however, this is not post-modern Native music, although some of the instruments used might lead one to think it is: tabla, tambura, djembe, flutes, tibetan bowls, and so on. More modern instrumentation is also found interwoven throughout: keyboards, electric guitar, bass, clarinet, saxophone, and even an 1892 Steinway piano. No, this is "ambient electronica" as it must sound to those who sit mesmerized at Steve Roach or Vidna Obmana concerts.

The recorded "live to two-track" (I wonder what it would sound like recorded live to 16-track?) adds a level of "being there" to the listening experience. At times one can actually hear what must be audible cues being conveyed from one musician to another. Live atmospheric affects are also in evidence, as the sounds of honking horns and the like are musically created to add ambience to "Schenk's Corner." "Tension Zone" is aptly named, as its consonance stands to put one on edge. Fortunately, the sharpness of the edge is tempered, and the listening experience is more akin to clenching one's teeth. "Driftless," my favorite track, is anything but. This is perhaps the most "traditional" (if that word can even be used in this context) ambient cut on the album. Almost eleven minutes in length, this piece moves from high to low, interspersing various percussive affects with droning, deep, bottom-layered bass and throbbing, reverb-enhanced electronics.

Truth be told, it's hard to quantify this album. It's certainly not everyday listening music. I think that if I were to find myself in a Native American "sweat lodge," or "kiva," or "hogan" (and I use these terms at the risk of doing great disservice to them), this is the kind of music I would expect to find. Whenever I find myself wanting to lose myself in a cloudy, dimly lit room, this is the album I might reach for.

Visit the Earthboys web site at

Divider Line Image

Brannan Lane - Caribbean Dream

"I'm trying to set a certain tropical scene or mood. Like a soundtrack for a movie, without the movie," writes Brannan Lane in the liner notes of his debut album, "Caribbean Dream." The opening track, "Welcome" is a fairly typical, and mostly forgettable, steel drum/island intro piece that belies what is yet to come.

And what a treat follows! The next fifteen tracks are infused with tropical bird calls, ambient essays, and explorations that combine pan flutes, steel drums, saxophone, and a variety of classical instruments and natural samples. "Rain Forest," the second cut on the album, and the track I think of as the "lead-off piece," mixes a heady cross-speaker switching rhythmic tableaux while maintaining an ambient presence throughout. Other cuts, whose titles such as "Rainbow Sky," "Caribbean Sea," with its gently rolling surf hinting behind the lolling vibraphonic tones, "Rasta Pasta," which contains the unlikely combination of saxophone AND steel drums -- and makes it work -- and "St. Tom Tom" are evocative of an island experience.

It's hard to believe than Lane hails from, and recorded most of "Caribbean Dream" outside of Nashville Tennessee (my, how that island influence reaches, don't you think?). Lane produced and wrote all the songs, and with his father Stan Lane, played all the instruments (the rain stick, from "Chili" [sic] was a gift from Lane's mother). It's very easy to imagine oneself lying under the shade of a palm tree, sipping on a native "quencher," staring at the ocean horizon. There are moments too, when you might want to jump up and join the limbo line, or just tap your foot uncontrollably. It's that kind of album...

Lane plans to release a second album, "Blueprint," in early 1999. Judging from the blueprint he's created with "Caribbean Dream," I'd say this is one to watch for!

Visit Brannan Lane's web site at

Divider Line Image

(for now, just hit your "BACK" button to return to where you came)