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Awareness Magazine
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Music Reviews

By Michael Diamond


Ben Leinbach presents Sangha
Various artists

The title “Sangha,” meaning “community,” is most appropriate, since the album brings together some of the top artists in kirtan and mantra/chant music. The energizing force behind this communal creation is award-winning producer, composer, engineer, and multi-instrumentalist Ben Leinbach, who has been garnering a reputation as one of the top people in this increasingly popular genre.

Interestingly, most compilations are a collection of songs from existing albums, however the majority of songs on Sangha are original collaborations between Ben and each artist, created exclusively for this CD.

Members of the “community” include Jai Uttal (who Ben works with regularly), Deva Premal & Miten, Donna De Lorry, Mukti, Jaya Lakshmi, David Newman, Snatam Kaur, and Prajna Vieira. As expected, there is a strong Eastern influence, although it is not “traditional” Indian music.

Ben and the artists he worked with have done a masterful job of blending various influences, lending a 21st century aesthetic to an ancient art form. A good example of this is on “Rama Bolo” featuring Jai Uttal, which unfolds from its Indian roots, evolving eventually into a reggae groove complete with a cool wah-wah inflected guitar solo.

“Guru Brahma” featuring Donna De Lorry has a breezy smooth jazz feel, while “By Your Side/Jaya Gurudev with David Newman, plays more like a lilting contemporary pop ballad. This “re-imagining of the power and place of mantra in the modern world” gives the music a wide appeal that can open listener’s ears to a new way of hearing these graceful songs of devotion.

Lia Scallon
Crystal Keys

Former actress Lia Scallon who once shared the stage with the likes of Cate Blanchett, Glenn Close, and Liam Neeson, has found a higher calling in music and the healing arts. The al-
bum’s subtitle — “Songs To Awaken & Heal” — goes a long way in describing the intent of
its creator. The soul-stirring sound of Lia’s crystal clear voice at times evokes the ethereal ambience of fellow Irish-born recording artist Enya, although with its own distinctive quality and sense of purpose.

One will notice right away that the chants and lyrics are not in English, nor are they in any other language they might be familiar with. Lia describes her inspired vocalizations as a “Language Of Light.”

Supporting Lia’s vocals are a number of talented musicians with extensive and impressive music industry credentials Although used subtly and sparingly, instrumentation features keyboards, flute, didgeridoo, Tibetan and crystal bowls, gongs, chimes, and a variety of percussion. The album is divided into ten tracks, each of which focuses on a different crystal or mineral such as sapphire, amethyst, clear quartz, emerald, ruby, etc.

Each song, like the stone it represents, reflects diverse facets. As mentioned earlier, there is a sense of purpose to this music. It is not created for “entertainment” as much as it is intended as a tool for inner attunement and uplifting the spirit. If this is the kind of experience that appeals to you, Crystal Keys may just unlock the doors of perception and provide a glimpse beyond.

Aryeh Frankfurter & Lisa Lynne
Weaving Worlds

“Weaving Worlds” is a harmonic convergence of the first magnitude. Lisa and Aryeh reprise the collaboration that began with their first CD together, “Two Worlds One,” and adds the masterful flute work of Lisa’s long-time musical friend George Tortorelli.

Listening to this music is like getting into a time machine and going back to when life was much simpler and music was “unplugged”… played on instruments handcrafted of wood and wire. Although Lisa and Aryeh are known for their harp artistry, there are a wide variety of instruments from around the world.

Lisa, whose music on the Windham Hill and New Earth labels has sold over one million recordings in the past twenty years, plays Celtic harp, Ukranian bandura, bouzouki, guitar & bass. Aryeh, who has performed around the world — from large outdoor festivals with thousands of people to a private performance for Prince Charles, adds Swedish Nyckelharpa, viola, violin, cello, guitar, cittern, hammer dulcimer, and Celtic harp.

There is something about the crystalline purity of the harp strings that speak to the soul like no other. I found that I got the most out of the music while listening with eyes closed, so as not to be aware of the contrivances of modern living that surround us. I couldn’t help but reflect on what life must have been like when these kinds of sounds created the pop music of the day. I thoroughly enjoyed the sweet soulfulness and stunning virtuosity on the gentle tracks of “Weaving Worlds.”

Hennie Bekker

Hennie Bekker is a multi-platinum-selling musician, a multi-genre artist, as well as a gifted composer and arranger whose expansive discography includes over 60 albums. He also has one win and six nominations for the prestigious Juno Award, a Canadian music industry honor that is similar to a Grammy, and he has been named “one of the most prolific and successful figures in contemporary Canadian pop music” by Billboard Magazine. His collaboration on Dan Gibson’s Solitudes — Exploring Nature With Music resulted in a well-known series that has sold literally millions of copies.

Hennie’s latest release: “Spectrum” is a well-chosen compilation from a sampling from his many albums over the years. Subtitled: “An Anthology of Relaxing Instrumental Music,” the compositions showcase diversity, yet interestingly enough, exhibit a sense of cohesion that makes it feel like a body of work rather than a collage of unrelated tracks.

As a keyboardist extraordinaire, his lavish piano and synthesizers create a cinematic soundtrack with new-age and classical overtones, as well as providing backgrounds for the more rhythmic excursions, which reflect his native homeland of Africa.

I could not help being continuously impressed with Hennie’s compositional ability and the level of expertise and creative vision he brings to whatever style of music he plays. Rarely have I heard a recording artist able to cover such diverse musical terrain and do it so well. From tender piano melodies, to dreamy ambient soundscapes, and earthy African-influenced grooves, Hennie Bekker is a consummate composer and masterful musician.

Jeff Oster

Jeff Oster’s name is one I’ve been hearing quite a bit recently — often as a session musician on a number of new releases produced by Windham Hill Records founder William Ackerman, which I have had the pleasure to review. However, I was also familiar with Jeff’s own new release, “Surrender,” which was chosen by the nationally-syndicated Echoes radio program as the “CD of the Month” for September 2011.

What distinguishes him from nearly every other musician in this genre are his instruments of choice — trumpet and flugelhorn. Jeff is charting new sonic territory in his expansion of the instruments into a context of electronica, downtempo beats, and loop-based electro-orchestral bed tracks. Although a description of his music as “Miles meets Enya” is a good starting point, it soon transcends those references as various elements combine in audio alchemy.

He is joined by producer and engineering master, Bryan Carrigan, who adds additional synthesizers, drum programming, and sound design, as well as having co-produced and co-written eight of the songs on this album. Also adding her own inimitable talents to a number of the compositions is vocalist Diane Arkenstone, who is an artist of note in her own right.

Trying to pick favorites on this CD is an exercise in futility, as literally every track is a winner. While there is indeed a dreamy, almost surreal quality to the music, it is infused with a cool urban vibe that makes it intriguing, entrancing, and irresistible.

Michael Diamond is a music producer, recording artist, and music journalist in the San Francisco Bay area with over 30 years of experience writing for nationally-published magazines and more recently worldwide on the internet. He currently has five CD’s including two with new age music pioneer Steven Halpern. For additional reviews of CD’s, DVD’s, and more, visit: