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Serenity by Michael Kollwitz
- posted by Dyan Garris on 9/19/2017
Peaceful Music on the Chapman Stick
Michael Kollwitz is a Chapman Stick virtuoso extraordinaire. Kollwitz’s newest release, Serenity: Peaceful Music on the Chapman Stick, is aptly titled. It is, in fact, blissfully peaceful.
For those that aren’t familiar with this unique instrument, or for those who have had the pleasure of hearing it but perhaps didn’t even realize it, the Chapman Stick is a unique 8, 10, or 12 stringed instrument that is somewhat of a combination of a guitar, bass, and possibly a piano in terms of the manner in which it is played.
Michael Kollwitz was one of the first students of Emmett Chapman, the designer and innovator of this fascinating instrument, and Michael studied with Chapman for ten years, honing and mastering his craft.
Kollwitz’s mastery of and seeming “oneness” with the Chapman Stick is evident. Serenity feels effortless and is utterly captivating across its 14 tracks. It’s one hour of sublime, soul-soothing relaxation.
Right from the opening notes on track 1, “Mountain Sanctuary,” the peace and tranquility seep deeply into your heart. This sanctuary is a place you want to visit and perhaps stay for a long while. And why not? Coming in at a little over 5 minutes, “Mountain Sanctuary,” is somewhere that is thoroughly enjoyable to be and there is no need to leave.
With roots both in Hawaii and now in Sedona, Kollwitz paints us a lush landscape in track 2, “Mystic Vista,” that is both timeless and visionary.
Track 3, “Greatest Possible Gift,” is smooth and effortless, like gentle, flowing water, yet with subtle, rich undercurrents.
Reminiscent of a lovely lullaby where cares and worries simply float away, “The Four Pillars,” track 4, invites us like cherished friends into an inner sanctum, and calms the spirit right out of the gate with its tender, melodic structure.
My favorite track on the album is “Joyful Reunion,” which is track 7. It’s wistful and nostalgic, as well as haunting, ethereal, and just plain mesmerizing.
With much more peaceful lusciousness in between, the album winds up with “The Seven Canyons,” track 13, and track 14, “No Hurry, No Worry.” Both are nicely expansive and spacious, perfectly portraying the eternal limitlessness of the soul’s journey.
Magically masterful, Serenity: Peaceful Music on the Chapman Stick is an album to fall in love with. Over and over again.

Music review by Dyan Garris for New Age
Rating: Excellent
Under a Second Moon by Holland Phillips
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 9/14/2017
Deeply emotive
There are few who create music that have that quite outstanding ability to literally transform the images in your mind, and transport you back to days of a halcyon proportion, few that can create musical images that allow you to relive those heart felt moments, when everything seemed perfect, one such person, one such artist, who can do that, is Holland Phillips.
Holland has now revealed a new album; it’s called Under a Second Moon, it is another opportunity for us all to take a trip down memory lane, and enjoy some deeply emotive moments long since gone. We start this sojourn with the opening offering entitled Out of the Frying Pan. This mournful repose has that, oh so delightful, Holland Phillips minor chord usage. The emotive quality of this piece says it all, and to my ears it is almost a composition of surrender, as within our life’s path, we jump from the fire and into the frying pan!
The following arrangement is one that I have just featured in a show, you will always find plenty of tracks on a Phillips album that will not just call to you, they will scream out at you, and this is one of them. Taking the Road Not Taken is a suggestive composition of brilliance; it has a real energy of expectancy built into the keyboard performance. Again the memorable tones could take us back to the 90’s, but this is one fine example of a memory built piece that has so much to offer, and is so very enjoyable.
A Moment in Time, this is one of those pieces that will make you sigh, reflect, smile, and move on. Wonderfully composed and beautifully written, this is a track that has a lighter heart and is an anthem for living in the moment, which Holland Phillips has captured that perfectly.
Upon our musical table now lay’s a composition called Possibly Maybe. Phillips has once more manifested something truly beautiful here, but also added in through his performance on keyboards, an element of hope and happiness from the borderlands of expectation.
As we drift on the wings of musical clouds, we come across a piece that is so deeply emotional at its core, and then as a sax is added to create even more depth and passion, we find ourselves staring at the canvas that is the title track, Under a Second Moon. This is a treat of sensual pleasures, that has a night filled quality of a moment in the arms of someone you really love feel about it, pure class oozes from this offering and it a prime example of the genius of composition building that is, Holland Phillips.
A slow and mood filled piano takes us by the hand and leads us well over and into the second half of the release. Love Comes Gently is our partner for the next few minutes; this musical companion is soft, calming and tender to our needs. Listen carefully to the tempo and progression of this track, its smooth and magically created, to leave you feeling so very warm and nurtured inside.
We are wading in deep waters now, as we reach the piece Long Way Home, the tempo picks up, but it’s a track of endurance and determination created to give you that extra energy to build on the desire to actually get home. This is a cleverly paced piece by Phillips that also contains some quite powerful and redolent percussion, as well as an inspiring performance on keyboards that drives us on homewards.
Ever stood and watched a distant storm build on the horizon and just allowed your senses to feel the approach of that on-coming rage and the darkening sky. What is so gentle can be so absorbing, and this quite picturesque offering called Deepening Skies has that very essence of energy about it. This is deeply moody and insightful; there is an element of tension in the composition that builds to a crescendo, and just hovers in its introspective Elton John Funeral for a Friend discipline.
By the time you have arrived at this piece, your moods will have been nearly satiated, your musical desires fulfilled somewhat, but there is still room to thrill you some more, and we can add to this state of musical bliss by laying before you a track called Looking Back. Like Save the Dance, this has that in-built sense of time and memory, a few minutes to literally look over your shoulder at what has got you to this point in your life, a moment of contemplative and wistful reverie.
I have listened to this piece a few times now and with each spin my heart is drawn closer to its energies. It Comes to This, is perhaps the anthem for that moment when all the choices have all run out. Phillips performance here on keyboards draws a narrative of acceptance and cleverly so, the build and empowering efforts of the music, leave us only one choice, and that is always onwards or surrender.
So we reach the final path home and before Holland Phillips leaves this realm of his creation, he would like to gift us a piece of music to take along on our way, and it’s the quite charming Fairytale Nights. The soft and soothing fluency of this track is the perfect way to leave the album, and leaves us the listener once more completely fulfilled in all ways.
Under a Second Moon is another stunning album, that provokes thought, creates musical memory, allows us to recreate moments of time, so deep and emotive, yes, there are few who can do this, and Holland Phillips is such a musician, who with every arrangement, every composition, manifests songs for you that literally come from his very own heart and into yours. Under a Second Moon is a classic piece of contemporary instrumental music that will raise the bar for all to come.
Rating: Excellent
Seventh Wave by Michelle Qureshi
- posted by Steve Sheppard on 9/12/2017
An album of outstanding natural beauty
The award winning Michelle Qureshi is back with another stunning album after her amazing success with her last release Scattering Stars, which achieved a huge victory for the artist, by capturing the ambient album of the year award for 2016 in the One World Music Radio awards.
The expansive qualities of Qureshi’s composition can be really felt here, by listening to the opening piece entitled Shift. In my view this is some of the finest work I have ever heard from Michelle, this is true ambience and I can see this one being a real fan favourite, the gentleness of performance, especially on piano and guitar is quite moving.
Page of Cups is also a favourite of mine, perhaps some may know of the title through the Tarot, so from this creative new beginning, we can listen to this work as a simple moment of instrumental bliss. Qureshi has grown this vast and wondrous ability to manifest works of art that leave us the listener with so much room to explore, listen to the lightness of performance and the calming backdrop of sound, while the guitar very softly weaves the narrative of tone along with us.
As we arrive at track three, we come across the longest offering on the album that’s just short of eight minutes, it’s called Velvet Rains. Qureshi is an artist in the true meaning of the word, and seems to paint with musical brushes that must have been dipped in genius. Velvet Rains contains a delicacy that is so rare in music these days, and flows with the same energy as you would expect from an Al Gromer Khan album. This is a piece that truly emphasises the artist’s skill in creating ambient soundscapes; it wouldn’t have mattered to me if this piece had gone on for an hour.
Now if ever a title was prophetic this would be it, we’re crying out for this right now, it’s called Each Good Rain. The production quality of this album is amazing, and gives us a really enjoyable texture to allow us to enjoy the compositions further, this one especially so, its fluency and melody are quite harmonious and tranquil, we can almost sit by the window and be grateful for the rains that fall from the sky above.
Reason is a piece that slightly raises the tempo, mainly due to the soft but natural percussive beats contained within. However there is so much in this track, you’re really going to want to revisit Reason many times over.
As we draw nearer to the half way point of the release we come across a composition called We Were Once like This. The piano starts our sojourn here; the moody nature of this track is sublime and draws us into a piece that is so deeply emotive. As a listener, I loved the flow in this track, always controlled and always so very peaceful, the resonance of the guitar latter on is absolutely memorable.
The borderlands have been crossed as we move to, Radiant Ones, however the artist has mixed quite cleverly the dark and light, the radiance and shade, once you arrive at around the minute and a half mark, you may well recognise the land you are within. Om Namah Shivaya calls across the musical divide and the percussive cleverness of the tabla creates that lush eastern feel to the arrangement.
Of the Night is next up, and the almost ethereal quality at the beginning here is a total treat. We can feel the classical influences and can sense the electronic interplay with them as well. Michelle Qureshi keeps on pulling musical and magical rabbits out of her hat and this slice of slightly dark ambience is simply perfection. Through the music we can imagine walking the halls of house in a dimension that has yet to come into existence, moody, mystical and very powerful, all in one basket of brilliance.
We now find ourselves deep within the weave of the release and dear reader and listener the piece Never Odd or Even is upon your table, the deepness of this offering is balanced perfectly with the lightness of touch on performance and tone. We are almost being lifted out of a place of darkness and laid down gently in a realm of a quite blissful nowhere.
Stars Seen is a piece that raises the energies with a quite breath taking repeating ambient melody, that doesn’t impose a pattern in the mind, but reassures us with an uplifting Brian Eno styled performance, this so reminds me of Always Returning from the master, here Qureshi explores further, she creates a whole universal theme through this quite outstanding offering and is one of my many favourites off the album.
We continue this rise through our musical energy centres with this next charming opus called Angels. The creation of this piece is akin to floating on musical clouds and gazing down with safety, on all that is below. The performance on guitar here and the melody structure is among some of the best I have heard for decades.
Our penultimate offering is entitled, There Lightly. Ambient, but almost space styled in build, through the electronic essence of this piece we could easily imagine drifting through a region of deep space. There is a careful and soft nature here though that adds a colourful dimension to the element of this composition. The inclusion of the flute is clever and adds even more to what is already a quite beautiful opus of sound.
So we arrive at our last port of call and this final musical doorway is called Dreaming in Color. A resonating base sound is preceded by an incredibly subtle electric guitar that seems to hover in the distance like a summer haze in August. The mix of floating new age sounds and keyboards mixed with the guitar brings a very classy conclusion, to an extremely sparkling arrangement.
Seventh Wave has not just lived up to all I hoped it would do, it has gone far past that, and then some, this is without doubt one of the best ambient styled albums I have heard this year, and for a long time, and easily Michelle’s best so far. If you liked Scattering Stars, you’re going to be blown away with Seventh Wave, her ability to hold the tone and ambience of each track on the album and create some very emotive and moving musical images along the way, with some quite creative but luscious melodies, is outstanding, and as such I would be more than elated to recommend this release, this is an album of outstanding natural beauty.
Rating: Excellent
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