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The Fire Within by Jennifer Thomas
- posted by Robin James on 5/21/2020
The Fire Within by Jennifer Thomas
Energy! Flair! Drama! This spectacular piano lover's creation lifts you up and pushes you higher and then finishes strong. The music gives you power and features a compelling collection of songs using the keys of the grand piano, often with a violin, often with a whole section of masterful and strong strings, a full orchestra, a choir, how can one person wield so much power? The sensations build and grow, this is a classical masterpiece that would fit nicely in the perfect New Age music collection as well as the traditional sound of a tuxedo for your ears. The strings you hear on this album are all real, not from the synthesizer, and you can certainly feel it. This is the power of classical music.
Jennifer Thomas began playing the piano and violin at the age of five, she is an independent American composer, pianist, violinist, concert performer, and recording artist. Her genre of music includes Classical, Crossover, and New Age, she is known for writing and performing piano-centered orchestral music from classical music to classical music crossover and cinematic orchestral. The Fire Within is Thomas's sixth album. 2007 saw her debut in the classical crossover market with Key of Sea, which has a 10 Year Special Edition. Her other titles include The Lullaby Album, Vols 1 & 2 (2009), Illumination (2012) and Winter Symphony (2015).
The Fire Within starts with a duel, a duet. This is life and death, a relentless pulse, building and layering, building some more, pause, and then building again with sweeping strings bringing it down on us, then around and up, and then again and again. "The Fire Within" (5:21) has a video that alternates between the concert hall and the stark wilderness of a desert, featuring the two rivals, Jennifer Thomas and Kimberly Starkey AKA The Rogue Pianist, trading thunderbolts on their keyboards. With all the facial expressions and makeup from an operatic other world. This is a tale of rivalry, competition, passion and ambition. It starts by pretending to be just two keyboard divas and by the end the pianos appear to be on fire, all rosy-pretty with flames, followed by embers brightly snapping. I am assured that no pianos were harmed to make this epic spectacle, just clever cinematics and tricks of the screen.

The next song begins with a subtle piano played with a light touch, joined by a singing violin, and eventually the duet is supported by a team of master musicians, all sad and emotional, comforting us all as if after coming through a terrible night with new strength. "Awakening" (5:00) has the vision, power and control of an epic film for your ears. This song is all about growing hope. Thoughtful and delightful, "Girl in the Mirror" (3:49) sounds to me like an examined life lived building towards hope, precious moments, a flute joins the piano. Strong and cinematic, "Rise of the Phoenix" (4:04) pulls you up, you can feel the power, from the empty ashes after a complete loss, this song is a bright light, a new fire to forge a steel foundation. A piano blended with the glittering edge provided by a full orchestra, carefully arranged and defined, with joyful passages between the crashing thematic episodes. Quietly building, like a heartbeat at the start of a marathon, "Ascension" (4:26) brings tension, intrigue, precision, always steadily increasing in power, piano and violin with brilliant shadows skillfully supporting the passion, in turn building to gigantic heights on wings provided by the orchestra and the voice of a choir. This is a sad song that provides great hope. Quiet with a confident glow, "Soaring" (5:30) takes us up in heavenly wings, the piano sparkles with arpeggiated trills, joined by the choral wisdom of the angels. The arc begins with a colorul glow then carefully with amazing airspeed rises higher and higher, until it crests, with a nice dramatic big gong just for that perfect moment, while the angels proceed with endless precision. This song guides us with careful wings to a great elevation.

A thoughtful and affirming love song, "Because of You" (4:15) builds on a simple melody that casts spectacular shadows, a satisfying and simple piano blending with soaring strings, thankful affirming and confident. The orchestra brings in the piano to start things off, but quickly there is a pulsing funky groove that can get you off your seat, which is unusual for classical music. "Believer" (4:12) written by Imagine Dragons has a bright rhythm that catches you by surprise and thrills like a broadway original, a tale we can all understand, featuring that rhythm that brings me back again and again, this is my favorite song, after the title song with its operatic drama. The choir adds a whole new level of stimulation. A haunting and persistent solo piano starts and the wise orchestral sound builds and gathers, time never stops. Han Zimmer’s "Time" (4:38) keeps weaving the piano with the strings, the choir strengthens the emotional charge, and the handclap accents at the end provides a steady inertia, gliding as the tune fades to the solo piano. Flowing and bubbling, a strong dazzling light, if you want it, "Glorious" (3:46) and proud, this is the perfect conclusion for our listening adventure.

Empowering music is precious, this is powerful. Good music is a good friend to have.

The Fire Within
Girl in the Mirror
Rise of the Phoenix
Because of You
Rating: Excellent
Moods, Impressions & Souvenirs by Pam Asberry
- posted by Dyan Garris on 5/11/2020
Moods, Impressions & Souvenirs
"Moods, Impressions & Souvenirs" is a refreshing escape from all that ails you. It’s something special, a souvenir, you can take home with you and keep in your heart. — Dyan Garris

Gentle and refined, yet passionate, the music of solo pianist Pam Asberry is inspired by her travels, memories, and feelings. “Moods, Impressions & Souvenirs” is her 5th album release.

Pam was awarded Best New Artist 2018, and Best New Holiday Album 2019, by Enlightened Piano Radio. Pam’s music can be heard on Whisperings Solo Piano Radio, Enlightened Piano Radio, Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, SiriusXM, and elsewhere.

Pam is a classically trained pianist whose training began at the age of 7-years old. She completed a master’s degree in piano performance and piano pedagogy. She maintains a private teaching studio near Atlanta, Georgia.

This album pays tribute to, and is mainly inspired by, the Czech composer Zdeněk Fibich who was popular when Czech nationalism was at its height. The album title, “Moods, Impressions & Souvenirs,” bears the same title as an extensive collection of nearly four-hundred piano pieces written by Fibich.

Pam’s “Moods, Impressions & Souvenirs,” is 11 original solo piano pieces, also inspired by her own travel, memories, and feelings. The compositions on the album are composed in a variety of styles. What shines brightly throughout the album is her sensitive, velvety, yet quite precise touch on the keys, and her perfect cadence, which is par excellence. Pam has a genuine talent for painting lush “travelscapes” with her music.

The album opens with the somber, yet unforgettably elegant, “Praha Fantasy.” A reflection on the many wonders of Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic, it’s a nice, relaxing “mood” to begin this lovely album.

Following is the gentle, playful, and gliding, “Swimming with Stingrays.” This is a “musical memory” of an experience she had interacting with these interesting creatures while visiting Grand Cayman Island.

Next, we are skillfully carried back to the city of Prague with “The Astronomical Clock.” The actual clock tells the time and date, shows astronomical and zodiacal information, and provides forty-five seconds of mechanical theater every hour. How fascinating. Here, in this composition, Pam has perfectly captured and portrayed exactly what it must be like to experience this clock. Magnificent, truly.

In music, the term, adagio means “played slowly.” The song, “Adagio,” on this album, is a personal favorite, not because it’s played slowly, but because it’s gorgeous and relaxing. This a flowing, atmospheric melody, tinged with a bit of bittersweet and moody melancholy. Not maudlin or morose, I found this quite soothing to the spirit.

“Reminiscence” has that romantic feel as in, perhaps, an enjoyable recollection of a long-forgotten, gentle, loving, experience; a sweet memory to be sure. It’s like a calming lullaby. At just over 4 minutes, it could have gone on forever as far as I’m concerned. This is wonderful, and it’s definitely one for the relaxation playlist.

Skillfully, then, we are transported to the wild jungles of Belize, through “Cry from Lamanai.” This is a musing about what life might have been like in the ancient Mayan city of Lamanai. Here’s another one to completely love, with masterful use of both upper and lower registers. What a great piece!

The “day-dreamy,” yet not “ungrounding” composition, “Floating,” perfectly showcases Pam’s classical training. This is melodic and ultra-relaxing. Let’s all float.

Returning fully to the Earth, we find ourselves on a musical journey across the historic Charles Bridge that crosses the Vltava River in Prague, Czech Republic. What makes this even more interesting is that construction began on the Charles Bridge at a specific time and that time formed a palindrome. It was done purposely by Roman Emperor Charles IV. For those that do not know, A palindrome is a word, phrase, number, or sequence of words or numbers that read the same backward as forward. Pam has, among other things, brilliantly captured the palindrome impression in this composition. Yes, both brilliant and fascinating.

“Reverie” takes us immediately into an enjoyable mood where we can let go and feel swept up in nothing but pleasurable thoughts. This is also a favorite on the album. Flowing, gentle, and downright pleasant all around.

If you thought we weren’t going anywhere else, you were mistaken. “October in Paris” is a perfectly executed waltz through that great city on a fresh fall day. Again, we have that velvety, gentle touch on the keys, which is also confidently precise. We are there.

The album closes out with, “White Poppy.” The white poppy was first used as a symbol for peace in 1926, by those who supported ending all war. It also represents the remembrance of victims of war. The song is a soft lament but also, a very gentle, delicate invitation to the deglamorizing of war and a solid commitment to peace among all peoples. A wonderful close to this wonderful album. Not to be missed for solo piano lovers everywhere.

Get it here:

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Sherry Finzer
Higher Level Media
Rating: Excellent
Precious Memory by Alan Hanslik
- posted by BT Fasmer on 5/8/2020
Precious Memory Review
Oscar Wilde once said that the “Memory is the diary we all carry about with us.” Most of this “diary” is filled with insignificant information, trivial notes from everyday life. Some memories though, are special. They represent defining moments in our lives. Alan Hanslik’s album “Precious Memory” deals with such important recollections. It is a wise and thought-provoking release that resonates on many levels, from times of “Abundance” to voyages “Back and Beyond” – to quote two of the song titles. It is not an album that will leave you untouched.

Alan Hanslik is an American composer, musician and producer. He began playing music growing up in Brooklyn, Ohio. Playing in local bands and eventually touring with Jon Washington of the British group, the Fortunes. Drawn to the electronic world of synthesizes, Alan wrote and produced his first electronic, techno and EDM singles and albums. Alan has also composed soundtracks for features films and movies.

The first piece is called “Abundance.” It truly is an “everything and more" kind of song; The warm sound of the hang drum is both welcoming and reassuring at the same time. If we think of the song as a memory, it tells of a period in one’s life when there’s an abundance of all that is good. The world feels new, and there’s not a cloud in the sky. It is refreshingly youthful. Each time you hit the replay button, you know that this song will great you like a cherished childhood memory. In short; A fabulous album opener!

To me, the title track is a small masterpiece! The sound of the classical guitar is wrapped in a rich reverb, creating a larger-than-life soundscape. Precious memories are just like this, shimmering, almost tangible, yet so fragile. The melody flows like a river. It is beautiful, but there’s an undercurrent here too that could swallow you whole. That’s the sting of precious memories, because they are, well, memories. They are about places you used to know, people long gone, a distant time. The piece makes me think of Michael Hedges' music, it is that good.

Now the album shifts gear. “Chambers” takes us to a far-away place, sealed off with heavy doors. An angelic choir greets us. Deep down somewhere are also much darker voices, as if the Earth itself is talking. It is a place where your innermost feelings and thoughts are hidden, in an out-of-reach vault. Both gold and toxic goods are to be found here, and only you have the key to these chambers.

I very much enjoy how each song has a distinct atmosphere. Hanslik is right about how precious memories are just as much about emotions and perceptions, as they are detailed recollections of how things really happened. If you, for instance, think about when you graduated or had your first child, these memories are mostly about the feelings that washed over you as things unfolded – not the physical events themselves. At first, “Precious Memory” may seem a bit vague, but suddenly you realize that each piece is like a portal to some of your most cherished memories. That’s when you see the album’s true value.

Back and Beyond
Where there’s yin, there’s also yang. “Back and Beyond” takes us on a voyage to the underworld. It is a dark and foreboding place. The different layers of textures are nicely designed, and the strings sound wonderful. There’s also a heartbeat-like rhythm, highlighting the scary atmosphere. Not all precious memories are positive from start to end, which the song is a symbol of. A small spoiler; I'm happy to report that it ends on a high note.

“Rin Song" is a lovely meditative piece. The darkness of the previous song is forgotten. Now we have a warm and bright sphere of our own – far away from the troubles of everyday life. It is ideal for thinking and deep focus.

Soft Wind
When listening to “Soft Wind", you can almost feel a gentle breath on your hair. and face. It is a very physical song. If you are not relaxed at this point, the luxurious pads and ambient melody in “Soft Wind" will do the trick. It is my favorite song on “Precious Memory.”

The album closer is the guitar piece “Wading.” It has an intricate atmosphere with a subtle hint of melancholy. Sometimes in life, we feel as if we are wading in deep, dark water, it is so hard to move on. The song expresses this feeling brilliantly. Usually (and thankfully), it doesn’t last long – and we move on to something better, as illustrated by the somewhat abrupt ending. Even times of extreme hardship – for instance when you have small children keeping you up night after night – can in retrospect become fond memories.

In conclusion: “Precious Memory” by Alan Hanslik is a marvelous and in many ways remarkable album. It demands something from you - but when you give it a chance, it will reward you in abundance. Its magic is in the fact that it is about your most precious memories – not someone else’s. Don’t be surprised if “Precious Memory” suddenly is among the most cherished albums in your collection for this very reason. Highly recommended!
Rating: Excellent
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