Archive for the “Innova” Category

The Phenomenon Of ThreesThe Phenomenon Of Threes

Trios For Flute, Clarinet And Piano

Innova Records

Suite for Flute, Clarinet and Piano, Lawrence Moss
Breezes of Yesteryear, Dinu Ghezzo
Circular Motions, Richard Brooks
Isomorphic Plenum, Harold Oliver
A Time To…, Ron Mazurek

Esther Lamneck, clarinet; Keith Underwood, flute; Martha Locker, piano

The five works on this disc are nothing like I thought they would be. With the instrumentation of flute, clarinet, and piano, I imagined that the music would be showpieces for the woodwinds while the pianist provided some kind of obligatory backdrop. Instead, I found delightful and engaging chamber music. It is nice when that happens.

Each of the five works has its own sense of fluidity and flow. Lawrence Moss’ Suite is a delightful collection of miniatures, rich with color and vibrant gestures. Breezes of Yesteryear is an impressionistic-inspired fantasia that swims through time and timbres. Richard Brooks’ three movement Circular Motions takes the performers through spritely and playful material, keeping everything light and airy the whole time. Isomorphic Plenum is the thorniest work on the disc but is engaging and compelling with rich contrapuntal lines and long, sinewy passages. The final work, A Time To… is an energetic and passionate work with abstracted electronic sounds which are well-orchestrated into the acoustic fabric. I preferred the shuffled vocal textures over the synth punctuations, but everything works well together.

The performances on the disc are first-rate. The ensemble has a wonderful sense of blend and a smooth, rich sound overall. The cohesiveness in their playing makes every piece shine, shimmer, and sparkle regardless of compositional language. I can’t wait to hear more from them!

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In Two WorldsSusan Fancher

In Two Worlds
music for saxophone with electronics

Innova Records

In Two Worlds, Morton Subotnick
Jovian Images, Reginald Brain
SaxMax, Mark Engebretson
Corail, Edmund Campion
Penelope’s Song, Judith Shatin
Slammed, James Paul Sain
Aeterna, John Anthony Lennon

Susan Fancher, soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones

In Two Worlds collects recordings of works for saxophone and electronics that cover a wide range of styles and showcase different sound worlds from the 80s, 90s, and today (that latter part sounded like a radio station ad, I apologize). The title track, composed by Morton Subotnick, is at times dreamy and at times driving. Some of the synth sounds are a little dated sounding (the original date on the work is 1987) but the quality of the work and the performance outshine any cheese the synths possess. This recording addresses the issue of historic preservation and performance practice of electronic music. The technology originally used to create In Two Worlds is no longer viable and available. Thanks to the interest of Susan Fancher and the programming chops of Jeff Heisler and Mark Bunce, the work gains new life. I love it when a work of this nature is embraced by such talents that are unwilling to let technological adversaries overcome the access to the music.

Jovian Images, for soprano sax and electronics, let’s Fancher play around an improvised landscape that provides space and shimmering serenity. Fancher’s tone and control are the real draw here, the electronics are more texture than gesture and the focus never turns us away from her solo line. For something completely different, we follow up with SaxMax by Mark Engebretson. This work is sneaky, murky, and dark. Fancher’s sax murmurs and mutters, the textures of the electronics murmur back and coalesce into a freaky calliope of twisting accompaniment. Fancher really controls this work, guiding and shaping its energies through a myriad of sound worlds. When the drums kick in and the piece turns into a free jazz style jam, it is hard to remember how exactly we got here. It sounds right, though, so I don’t ask too many questions.

Solemnity returns with Corail for tenor sax and interactive electronics. Fancher’s sound is sultry and thick, even as the piece erupts with ebullient pops and snaps. Pound for pound, this piece sounds like it does the most with the saxophone’s sonic potentials. An earthy funk groove tries to emerge about 3 minutes in and, again, it sounds like the absolute right thing to have happen. Corail’s organic processes make you forget about the electronics and just listen to the sound of what is going on. Fancher seems to be playing chamber music with her subconscious.

Penelope’s Song seems to take the most traditional approach to sax+computer music. A solid beat starts the piece, representing Penelope’s loom from the Odyssey. Fancher sings in a playful and spritely manner which is a fitting match to the sneaky story of the source material. The beat, while persistent, is never sonically static. Shatin resonates the beats, providing extra nuggets of timbre and pitch to the groove. At the same time, Fancher does the same with multiphonics (in a truly integrated and effortless way). There is a lot to listen to on this track and repeated listenings will provide rich rewards.

The last two works, Slammed and are perfect polar opposites to round out the CD. Slammed is muscular, angular, rough, and irritating. You start in an uncomfortable place, intentionally, and the energy keeps pushing and pushing and pushing until the whole system reaches the breaking point and snaps. A fun ride. Aeterna, with its simple delay, is a lovely and plaintive closer. Instead of dazzling us with computing power, Fancher reminds us why we were interested in this disc in the first place: the soloist. Alternate fingerings provide the spectromorphology, but it is Fancher’s poetic playing that gives this work a real soul. Lennon gives Fancher the right material, the right use of electronics, and just lets the music happen. The piece could keep going but manages to find a perfect ending nonetheless.

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MantraRobert Moran


Innova Recordings

Da enstünde ein Engel, Chrismos Vocal Ensemble, Alexander Hermann, dir.
Cortege, Grassauer Blí¤serensemble
Elegy for a Young King, Robert Ridgell, organ of Trinity, Wall Street
Mantra, Latvian Radio Chorus
Obrigado, Stirling: I’ts Raining Cats and Dogs, and Kboco, Iowa Percussion, Dan Moore, dir.
Processional, Robert Ridgell, organ of Trinity, Wall Street

Robert Moran’s music lives in two different worlds. The first world, that which occupies the first half of this disc, is the world of serene, graceful, and timeless music. The first three works waft through the ether with lush tonal harmonies. The halls used for the recordings are extremely resonant and this greatly enhances the spacious nature of Moran’s chords and gestures.

The title work on the disc turns the spirit of the music towards rhythmic energy. Mantra sounds a bit like a live version of a Paul Lansky Chatter piece with a slower harmonic rhythm. Where the first few pieces on the CD were about timelessness, these last works permeate joy, something I’m afraid to say I haven’t heard in a while. The three percussion ensemble pieces exude happy and peaceful energies. Of particular note is the work Sterling: It’s Raining Cats and Dogs. This piece, for a gargantuan setup of percussion, does for the rain what Messiaen did for bird calls.

Categorically, all the performers are excellent. Each ensemble and performer hits all the right notes, musically and emotionally, on this recording. Iowa Percussion does an absolutely phenomenal job with their three pieces. I hope we hear more from this ensemble in the future.

It is also important to note that the CD is dedicated to the flood recovery efforts that damaged so much of Central Iowa this summer, including the music building at the University of Iowa which is the home for Iowa Percussion. As a native Iowan, and one with many family members in that region, I do hope that the recovery in Iowa City (and all other effected communities) is swift. The great performance of Sterling: It’s Raining Cats and Dogs. might be seen as prophetic. I hope Iowa Percussion keeps it in their repertoire, though.

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Brant Volume 8

The Henry Brant Collection: Volume 8


Whoopee in D; Music for a Five and Dime Store; Revenge Before Breakfast; Inside Track; Jazz Toccata on a Bach Theme; Jazz Clarinet Concerto; Double-Crank Hand Organ Music; Altitude 8750; Dialog in the Jungle
performed by:
Netherlands Wind Ensemble; Henry Brant; Vera Beths; Reinbert de Leeuw; New Performance Group, Seattle; Barbara Hannigan; Yvar Mikhashoff; Gerrit Hommerson; Werner Herbers; Jacques Meertens; Telluride Glacial Spatial Ensemble; Arioso Winds; Modern Brass Ensemble; Frank Baker

It feels a little odd for me to write a CD review on Brant’s music the day that I learned of his passing. I’ve been spinning the disc for the past few days and enjoying it quite a bit.

I was delighted to hear rash and exuberant music matched up with the meditative and spatial works. The opening Whoopee in D and Music for a Five and Dime Store are energetic and spleen-venting. The following Revenge Before Breakfast is rather subdued and mellow in comparison with a mournful accordion serving as a sonic centerpiece.

We are missing something in hearing Brant’s spatial works on CD instead of in a concert hall. Altitude 8750, Revenge Before Breakfast, and Inside Track are all given great performances that make me wish for the live experience. I hope that someone takes it upon themselves to create surround mixes of Brant’s spatial work so his acoustic visions aren’t mashed into a simple stereo field.

Back on task. Where Revenge is moody and spatial, Inside Track is an absolute nutjob of a composition. And I mean that in the best possible way. The energy and kinetic nature of Whoopee and Dime Store merge together with expansive spatial ideas in this rather trippy piano concerto. Strings, woodwinds, and a “street band” duke it out around the soloist. Inside Track synthesizes the playful and the expansive natures of Brant’s output in an extremely attractive package. Altitude 8750, an improvised work, shares more with the sound world of Revenge than Inside Track.

Now, throw all that away and listen to the jazz works: Jazz Toccata and Jazz Clarinet Concerto are up next. These live recordings are sparkling gems. The only complaint one might have about these two pieces is the audio fidelity of the concerto’s recording. Recorded in the 80s, it sounds a bit more like a vintage recording from the 60s. Since that recording aesthetic matches the spirit of the composition, it doesn’t bother me. It might bother some. If there is something wrong with his toccata on “Wachet Auf,” I certainly can’t think of what it would be.

Brant’s compositional craft and mercurial voice ooze all over this whole disc. Brant’s voice was too big to be contained in a singular focused output. His compositions are all over the map, brimming with ideas and sprawling out over the stage and into the world.

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Music for Percussion (mostly)Music for Percussion (mostly)

Todd Hammes and his Tool and Drum Ensemble

Innova Records

Four Movement from Remembering, Kalimba on Marimba, 14+8: A Mood, Eh Wa Ba Wa Jo, Marimba, Pan and Tabla, Spedway Boulevard: Tucson, Four Steps, Inconsistencies, My Hunter of Dragonflies
performed by Todd Hammes and his Tool and Drum Ensemble, Norman Weinberg, Doug Smith, John Snavely, and Brian Harris. All music composed by Todd Hammes.

Todd Hammes’ percussion writing is clearly an extension of various world music traditions synthesized with a quirky and charming harmonic vocabulary. The Four Movements from Remembering are excerpts for dancers and, while the visual element is clearly lacking on the CD, the music holds its own. Each movement has its own hypnotic groove and I’m sure many dancers would enjoy “doing their thing” to this music.

In contrast to smooth dancy music, we have the “musical temper tantrum” of 14+8: a Mood. This work sounds a lot more like the contents of Mr. Hammes’ drum studio falling on the ground in clumps. The xylophone solo over the top of the crashes is, in my opinion, a little too polite as is the virtual piano (played by Mac Intosh). Virtual instruments have come a long way, but it will take a while before they can match the overpowering smashes that a big grand piano can deliver. This is definitely a piece to hear live.

Mr. Hammes has clearly made African and Indian tabla music a part of his own style. Eh Wa Ba Wa Jo is a delightful setting of a Nigerian song that is well arranged and well performed by Mr. Hammes (on all three parts). The hypnotic Marimba, Pan, and Tabla combines the sound worlds of Indian tabla with a quasi-Gamelan-inspired tenor steel drum and a peculiar-yet-engaging harmonic rhythm.

Most of the pieces on this disc are smooth and serene. They are very pleasant to listen to and would also make for some hypnotic concert pieces. Sonically, the recordings vary from live (Four Movements) to hyperclose (Inconsistencies) to just weird (Kalimba on Marimba has a very close and fairly dry marimba sound against water splashes that sound cavernous and distant). What I like most about this disc is the synthesis of world styles. This music isn’t just the emulation of African or Indian musics but an interpretation of those musics through Mr. Hammes’ mind.

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Notes From the Kelp
Music by Alex Shapiro
Various Performers

1. Slipping, For Violin, Harpsichord and Very Mixed Percussion
2. Bioplasm, For Flute Quartet: 2 Bass Flutes, 2 Alto Flutes, 2 C Flutes,
3. Current Events, For String Quintet: 2 Violins, 2 Violas, 1 Cello/Surge
4. Current Events, For String Quintet: 2 Violins, 2 Violas, 1 Cello/Ebb
5. Current Events, For String Quintet: 2 Violins, 2 Violas, 1 Cello/Rip
6. For My Father, For Solo Piano
7. At the Abyss, For Piano, Marimba, Vibraphone and Percussion/Observe
8. At the Abyss, For Piano, Marimba, Vibraphone and Percussion/Reflect
9. At the Abyss, For Piano, Marimba, Vibraphone and Percussion/Act
10. Phos Hilaron, For Flute, Clarinet, Bassoon and Piano
11. Music for Two Big Instruments, For Tuba and Piano
12. Deep, For Contrabassoon and Electronics

Innova Records

Alex Shapiro is a NYC expat now living on an island off of Washington State who writes what has been described as “midtown music” for lack of a better term. In her words, Alex’s music lies somewhere in the canyon between downtown and uptown. I think the reality is somewhat different—Alex Shapiro’s music doesn’t need to be categorized; it should be listened to on its own terms.

This is a very personal album, the first one exclusively devoted to her music, and one that provides a wide range of Alex’s works spanning a number of years. It asks the question “Can a composer be happy and live a balanced life filled with music, social activism and marine biology?” Apparently, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

There are a lot of works on this CD, including pieces for electronics as well as acoustic instruments. Of all the pieces, the two that worked most for me were Current Events for string quintet and Music for Two Big Instruments (piano and tuba). The tuba works very well in this piece, and it’s great to hear the instrument being used so lyrically and in a way that it is so exposed. The string quintet was nicely written for strings and is a compelling work of music.

The other items were great to listen to and probably will grow on me after even more repeated listening. There is a wide range of styles that makes this album diverse enough to have something of interest for anyone. There is also a great range of instrumentation, including strings, winds, (very mixed) percussion, piano, electronics…even a harpsichord. The piano work For My Father is particularly compelling. I should also say that the performances can be assumed to be definitive, being supervised by the composer. So unless Alex blew it and didn’t pay attention, this is as good a set of performances of her music as it gets.

You’re not going to find postminimalism on this album, or totalism, or serialism, or whatever. It’s just pure music, and there’s nothing wrong with being a movement of one.

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Andrew Violette

Innova 674

Andrew Violette, keyboards; Gregor Kitzis, electric violin; Curtis Macomber, violin

I have been listening to this CD a lot over the past weeks. The music, a constant barrage of keyboard textures and soaring violin melodies, is dense and thick without much downtime through the 75 minutes. The twenty-two sections fall upon you like waves at the beach during a hurricane. At times, the sensation is glorious and enlightening. At other times, you just want to stop and catch your breath for a few minutes. But Mr. Violette is in charge here and he doesn’t want to stop Rave for anything. This isn’t music that gets stuck in your head, it is music that gets stuck in your mind.

The comparisons that you read about Mr. Violette’s music being a fusion of Messaien and prog rock are spot on. The emotions are big, the sonic walls that he places around you are enormous, and he is thoroughly committed to making this experience happen. He does not rave lightly.

As the onslaught of music went on, certain moments really stood out. Track 7, “Hollywood” takes all the textural and hectic noodling to an utterly gorgeous Romantic climax. It comes out of almost nowhere but, once it starts, you realize that everything you have been listening to has been inexorably leading to this moment. It is glorious.

After this moment, the next palpable shift is during tracks 12 and 13, where fragments of Beethoven’s 5th arrive in the violin. This quote does not feel as musically justified as the lush Romanticism of track 7, but I think that is part of the point (please note that if you put the CD into your computer you can read the 23 page thesis that describes each section in gruesome detail. I scanned through this but did not read the whole document. Yet.). Once the Beethoven motive enters, the tone of Rave changes. It is hard to put your ears directly on what or why this change has occurred because the texture remains constant throughout. And yet, there is a change. The rest of the work seems darker and more ominous. There is no further drive to another emotional peak like in tracks 1 – 7. Rave seems to dance madly onward but in a more disturbed manner.

Due to heavy amounts of overdubbing, there is a constant virtuosic piano scramble in the background. After a while the piano becomes this grey backdrop for the violins and almost ceases to have its own life anymore. I found it slightly disturbing that SO MUCH was going on in those pianos and yet taking it all in would have lead to my madness. On the one hand, this texture is brilliant because it is never-ending and never flinches, as you would expect from a rave’s energy. On the other, sometimes I wanted the pianos to shut the heck up for a minute and let me digest it all. I think that is the desired effect.

The performances on Rave are high caliber. Not too many people can put together such a solid 75 minutes of virtuosity. This piece will drive some mad and drive others to Nirvana (the place, not the band…although some might want to hear some Nirvana after hearing all of Rave…). I’m not sure where I am with it yet. It is almost too much to take in. The experience certainly hangs in my brain and haunts me at night. I think that Rave is an artistic success on many levels and, like a David Lynch film, everyone is going to walk away from the experience with something different. Rave is not for the squeamish, but those who take it on will be entranced.

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663-130.jpeMILLIKAN: Trens Coloridos Para Gabriela; Three Reflections; Red Migration; The Woodcarver & The Blacksmith; Cantando Para A Oní§a; 221B Baker Street. California EAR Unit/Marc Lowenstein. Innova 663. 60 minutes.

This disc is my first encounter with Ann Millikan’s music, and I’m pretty impressed. She knows instruments, has a good command of harmony and structure, and a solid sense of style. Make that “styles”. There’s a little something here for everyone. Ms. Millikan’s eclectic music moves seamlessly (usually) between such diverse stylistic poles as late modernism, totalism, jazz, and expanded tonality.

My favorite piece is Red Migration, a taut (seven and a half minutes packed with incident) exploration of the emotions involved with moving halfway across the country. The gestures and recurring motives are vivid and expressive, and as with everything else on the disc, expertly written for the instruments.

Less successful, for me at least, is 221B Baker Street, which is, in the composer’s words, a “quirky jazz/rock detective story inspired by the brilliant Sherlock Holmes series portrayed by Jeremy Brett”. It’s built on a 5:4 groove but seemed less groovy than that. It may be that I’ve been listening to a lot of Stevie Wonder lately and his grooves are more satisfying.

The California EAR Unit gives incredibly clean and committed performances and Innova’s sound is clear and detailed. Recommended.

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American Voices
American Voices

Brian Sacawa, saxophones

Innova Recordings

Piece in the Shape of a Square, Philip Glass
Pre-Amnesia, Lee Hyla
pastlife laptops and attic instruments, Erik Spangler
Netherland, Chris Theofanidis
Bacchanalia Skiapodorum, Derek Hurst
Voice Within Voice, Keeril Makan
The Low Quartet, Michael Gordon

American Voices is, without doubt, a CD you need. The performances by Mr. Sacawa are amazing and the music selected is equally so. This is music that every sax player you know needs to perform and that every music listener you know needs to hear.

The first track is an arrangement of Piece in the Shape of a Square (aka Music in the Shape of a Square) and it is hard to imagine that Glass didn’t write it for the saxophone. Mr. Sacawa’s performance is light and effervescent with a great attention to energy. This is “old school” minimalism (whatever that means) at its finest.

The next piece, Pre-Amneisa by Lee Hyla is angular, disjointed, and tremendously captivating. Mr. Sacawa is nimble, musical, and effortless throughout. There are two things about the piece I don’t like: it is too short (I want more! I usually listen to this one 2 or 3 times before going on) and the performance sounds so smooth that many people will think it was easy to play.

Just as the first two pieces on the recording are very different from each other, the third piece is different still. Erik Spagler’s pastlife laptops and attic instruments includes a tape part and live turntables (performed here by Mr. Spagler’s alter ego DJ Dubble8). This piece is funky, lyrical, and sounds more like free improv than it really is. Lots of great beats and textures provide wonderful counterpoint to Mr. Sacawa’s soaring lines. I’m not sure I’m in tune with the dramatic shape of this track, but there are a lot of moments throughout that I love. Definitely worth multiple listens.

Chris Theofanidis’ Netherland is the most “traditional” piece on the CD. The saxophone is set as the lyrical focal point to Wenli Zhou’s piano accompaniment. These two movements are strong, striking and wonderfully melodic.

Pulling the stylistic rug out from us yet again is Derek Hurst’s Bacchanalia Skiapodorum for sax and tape. Once again, Mr. Sacawa takes spastic rhythmic bursts and makes them sound fluid, organic, and darn-near easy. The tape part, made largely from sax samples, provides a disjunct and angular commentary on the live performance. Some of the sounds recall the more “vintage” sound worlds of earlier Davidovsky or Subotnick with the same flair for interaction and texture. This piece is rich, fun, and energetic.

Voice Within Voice once again takes a completely different approach to the instrument. According to the notes, the sax is being used as a “megaphone for the performer’s singing and breathing.” The end result is a piece haunting and mesmerizing. My one regret is that I haven’t seen this piece live. I can only imagine the theatrical intensity required. Truly stunning stuff.

Finally, we have Michael Gordon’s The Low Quartet arranged for low saxes (with a contrabass providing that extra bottom octave when needed). If that isn’t reason enough for you to get this disc, then I don’t know what else to say. The low saxes are, in my humble opinion, the best saxes. And Michael Gordon’s piece is fun, quirky, rhythmic, and absolutely awesome.

Brian Sacawa has done a masterful job performing and selecting music that showcase his instrument in as many different ways as possible. Each piece is radically different than the one before it and equally different to the one that follows. All of them are played with an ease and virtuosity that almost defies logic. This is an excellent recording. Period.

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Move in the Changing LightMove in the Changing Light

Music by Phillip Schroeder


Amy McGinty, soprano; Robert Best, baritone; Daniel Cline, cello; Phillip Schroeder, piano, synthesizer, electric bass, percussion, and digital delays

Phillip Schroeder’s music is sparkly, calm, and extremely listenible. The seven works on this disc all feature multiple pianos (all performed by the composer) often processed with digital delays which add to the tinkly effervescent harmonies. The musical consistency of style on this recording is unlike anything else I have experienced. Listeners will know within 15 seconds if they will like this CD or not. Either you fall into the shimmering caverns of soothing textures and drown in over an hour of it or you’ll say “this is not for me” and walk away. There is no “bait and switch” or “buy my popular piece and let me throw these other lesser compositions at you” to this disc. Every moment is pure Schroeder.

The compositional unity is strengthened by the fact that all pieces were composed (or at least completed) in 2004 and 2005. Two pieces, Move in the Changing Light 2 and Move in the Changing Light 1 bookend the CD. The only difference between the two is the inclusion of Amy McGinty’s innocent soprano vocalise on #2. They each call for 5 pianos with digital delays and synthesizer, all played by the composer.

The one aberration (if you can call it that) is the miniature Make a Distinction for piano (no delays) and synth. It clocks in at a mere 59 seconds instead of the typical 8-12 minute duration of the other pieces. I have a strong suspicion that this was inspired by Robert Voisey’s most excellent 60×60 concerts, but it is just a hunch. Other than length, the piece does not differ in musical language and makes a nice centerpiece for the album.

The musical consistency, as I said before, is astonishing. This collection of pieces is one of the most single-minded batches of music that I’ve heard recently. This unity can, at times, be a liability as well as an asset. On casual listening, one never really knows when one piece is over and the other one begins. Depending on your point of view, that can be good. Sometimes I question why these 7 different pieces aren’t, in fact, one single work. Each piece has such a similar function, harmonic palette, and subdued dramatic shape, that I’m not sure what one gets out of hearing these as seven separate works as opposed to a single 62 minute epic. Done correctly, I’m sure that Mr. Schroeder’s next opus could be like 6 Sorabjis on quaaludes.

Since the composer’s hands are all over the performances, too, it makes me wonder what these pieces would sound like in a live environment. The monolithic piano textures would benefit from the idiosyncratic touches of an ensemble. Sheer logistics explains why a single piano was used for the recording: Mr. Schroeder teaches at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas and the instrument was a Bōsendorfer Imperial Grand. I sincerely doubt that HSU has 5 of the Bad Villagers squirreled away. I would, nevertheless, prefer to hear these pieces live and wallow in an even richer pool of piano sparkles.

This music pours the listener into a meditative and serene mood and wraps them soundly within the safe confines of its language. If you want serenity, you need not buy a single other CD in your lifetime.

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