by Michou Landon, unless otherwise noted
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Title: All One World
Artist: Anne Trenning
Anne Trenning's All One World was quietly named one of the top five annual acoustic piano recordings by New Age Reporter, falling into step with her debut, Suite Tea, which did quite well in North America, Europe and Asia.
Her compositions and style are propelled by melodies alternately predictable and whimsical. The piano sound seems to stray little from that made standard by the pervasive influence of George Winston's work. The arrangements are fleshed out with accompaniment by horn, flute, strings, harp, percussion, which blend so naturally one scarcely notices their embellishments.
There is a friendly, familiar feeling to Trenning's playing style and melodies that had me more than once consulting the liner notes to ascertain whether this was one of hers or one of the traditionals she includes. Some quality to the selections informs the listener, surely and subtly, that a female head, heart and hands are reaching out through the compositions and performances. The cover photography of scenes rural, rustic and antique further promotes a winsome theme of home and hearth.
Trenning admirably weaves in a variety of diverse influences. The finished soundscape seems more about companionship than viruosity. One is inspired to throw open the windows, catch up on the dusting, and hum along!
Title: Angels and Earth Songs
Artist: Carolyn Nayana Hedger
Mount Shasta's Carolyn Hedger has at last released her new CD, another collection of songs exploring life's kaleidoscope of moods and wonders. These selections celebrate the innocent in us all, most often with the recurring imagery of angels and the Mother.
Joining Hedger on this disc are a number of accomplished musical friends, including Paul Armitage, whose piano perfectly and sensitively supports the bittersweet tenderness of the human experience evoked in the words.
The general beauty and simplicity of the melodies and lyrics, and the accessible structure of the songs, make them easy to learn and sing, infectious (in the best possible way) and inspiring. To sing them invokes the company of angels. The gentle smile in Hedger's voice seems to carry assurance and gratitude of a child and a survivor, and it speaks to the same in the listener. This mutual inspiration is indeed something to embrace and sing about. It's especially uplifting to sing these songs with others, so catch Carolyn live if you can!
Title: Archangel Miracle
Artist: Patrick Bernard
Devi Communications, Inc.
Those familiar with Patrick Bernard's work, both musical and written will no doubt avidly welcome his newest opus: Archangel Miracle.
The song cycle is structured like a formal Oratorio, with words in Hebrew and Latin. While I confess that the melodies did not at first move me personally as much as some his previous releases, the supersensory affects proved much deeper, keenly validating the statement on the back cover:
This music helps the listener to make the conditions of reception ready for the assistance and intervention of the Shining Ones, Angels and Archangels, who direct healing, enlightening and renewing frequencies of God-Light to the World.
It may be that the best praise I can offer is: Amen.
The instrumentation and arrangements share much with the rich (synthetically generated) choral and symphonic sounds of his early, epic offerings (like in Atlantis Angeles and Solaris Universalis). The frequencies invoked, however, are unique to this work.
Even if the music does not win the ear at first, the listener is encouraged to let it play through for some repetitions. What draws one is more spiritual than emotional. One may notice a mysterious greater beneficence in one's life and being well before one finds oneself chanting along (and perhaps eventually leaving Mr. Bernard in the car while inviting the company of Angels of whom you may not even have heard into the melee of the market or office!) It is when we carry these seed sounds (on our tongue or in our hearts) out of our private sonic cathedrals into our secular pursuits that the sacred harvest is sewn...and reaped.
I believe Archangel Miracle is just that, and it is a labor of great love and service for which I thank the artists as well as that which works through them.
CD Title: Title: Bhakti Bazaar: Music for Yoga and Other Joys, Volume 2
Artist: Jai Uttal and Ben Leinbach
Sounds True, 2010, www.soundstrue.com
Hey, it's Jai Uttal; what's not to love? However, it's clear this recording is not about Uttal himself. It communicates itself as a collaborative devotional endeavor — joyful Leela.
Consisting of four extended tracks, the CD cuts an affecting groove with repeated listening. After many, increasingly appreciative listenings, I probably still wouldn't choose to do my own, very inward asana practice to these particular selections; however, as they become familiar, the music, musicianship, and the classic and spartan mantra which either anchor or adorn them (I'm really not sure which!), open into an atmosphere that promotes a more yogic attitude in any activity. It infuses them with a smiling heart. So, overall, the work lives up to its title.
This is more improvisational sounding music, not at all a standard Kirtan or Bhajan recording. Uttal and Ben Leinbach are joined by other soulful instrumentalists — among them Manose, Tina Malia, and Daniel Tucker—to create four meandering songs fluid with their influences and not without whimsy. Any labels, such as Meditative World Jazz, would fall short, as the tracks flow like water through any attempt to pin them down. Among the predictable collection of instruments, one finds also iPhone, melodica, and banjo used to endearing effect.
CD Title: Bruce Lipton's Music for a Shift in Consciousness
Artist: Russel Walder
According to the liner notes of Music for a Shift in Consciousness, Bruce Lipton (cellular biologist and author of The Biology of Belief) tapped the talents of very accomplished composer and performer Russel Walder to create an ambient and deeply womb-like flow of music designed to shift brain activity from beta wave state to alpha.
It is quite effective. I confess I played it four times before I found myself still awake at the end! I mean that as a compliment. It doesn't have to put one to sleep, but the disc does give one permission to let the held stress of a day flow away. It is a watery experience that encourages the release or integration of the unresolved emotion that gets stuck or scattered in one's field in the course of a typical day of modern life. This is typically what we need sleep for.
The liner notes offer a brief history of music's cultivation as a therapeutic tool, as well as an over view of the various brain wave states. I venture that this educational passage further enhances the effect of the music through suggestion.
The instrumentation is simple: Oboe, bass, some ethereal vocal sounds, some unobtrusive percussion, and lots of synthesized "sonic brewing," as the Lipton/Walder team calls it. The melodies flow with a familiarity and comfort after a couple of listenings, but don't call attention to themselves.
Music for a Shift in Consciousness delivers what the title claims, and it seems a good bedtime companion or a complement to any number of hands-on healing therapies.
Title: Chakra Dhyana: A Musical Path to Meditation
Artist: Sri Krishnaraj Bhagavaddasa (with G. Sathyaprasad)
2007, Kosmic Music U.S./Allegro
This approximately 50-minute program is a guided meditation through the main bodily Chakras. It enhances a meditative state in such a way that can both awaken Kundalini and induce a more balanced and relaxed state. The title, Chakra Dhyana, refers to the practices used to access and activate latent life-force and consciousness in this way.
The program combines music (scored by G. Sathyaprasad) and constant chanting of precise, sacred chants in the background with a gently instructional voice-over (foreground) by Sri Krishnaraj Bhagavaddasa, who lends insight, support, focus to the experience with his beatific delivery.
Of course, the impact of this meditation tool will depend on the user's degree of experience and openness with meditation, suggestion and yogic practices. It is potent enough, though, that I might suggest the package include a caution that participants make use of the Savasana portion of the program to integrate, and not leap up immediately and enter conversation or operate complicated appliances! Respect yourself; respect the gifts offered here, and they promise to keep on giving.
CD Title: Chakra Healing
Artist: Dean Evenson (and Soundings Ensemble)
Soundings of the Planet
The familiar affirmation Peace Through Music tucked cozily on the back cover of this CD pretty much says all that needs to be said. A handful of musicians combine a range of strings, flutes and percussion with an unobtrusive dose of keyboards to create restful, organic rise through the charkas in an ambience promoting a drift through various states of consciousness. Soundings ensemble features a number of regionally recognized artists, including Mount Shasta favorite, Scott Huckabay on "trance guitar".
Beginning with the root chakra, which evokes Native American images, each subsequent track moves toward less predominantly rhythmic, more meandering and ethereal arrangement. Commendably, all the tracks keep a certain grounding. Other Chakra "healing" discs out there can promote a less integrated lift off with their buzzy, high frequency vibratory assertions. Not so, here. Furthermore, there is an eighth track for integrating all the frequencies and chakras.
The liner notes instruct or attune the listener to the themes, vibrations, tones and seed sounds associated with each chakra, to facilitate participation with the recording at whatever level — psychic, vocal, vibrational — the listener might choose, in order to balance their being. Active participation promises to be profoundly meditative; and passive listening, whether as ambient music or as accompaniment to healing work, is similarly comforting.
It's not a startlingly impressive piece of work. I don't think it is meant to be. It is a great addition to the collection of anyone who engages in regular healing work, personally or professionally.
Title: The Color of Sunshine
Artist: Lawrence Blatt
LMB Music, 2009
Rain or shine, this CD makes for balanced company on a long drive. Produced by Windham Hill founder William Ackerman and ably composed and captained by guitarist Lawrence Blatt, this song cycle dedicates itself to evoking each major color and character in the solar spectrum of light. Between the two introductory cuts, "Look to the Sun" and "The Color of Sunshine," and the final two synoptic songs "White Light" and "Reach for the Rainbow," flow ten compositions, distinct in guitar sound and tuning, musical style and mood, each devoted to and (I assume) meant to illuminate in our own color body a zone of visible or invisible light.
I confess, the aural color conjured for me by his choice of instrumentation or guitar or tuning on a give track, didn't always splash upon the palate of my heart the same color invoked in the title — our associations are far too personal. However, there is a steady quality of sureness and clarity, such as that we take for granted in the supremely inclusive and radiant star around which we orbit, which communicates itself uniquely in each track, in part thanks to the conviction with which each is constructed and performed.
In each selection, along with his own choice of instrument within the guitar family, visiting support instruments vary and inspire: fluglehorn, cello, accordion, piano, and a charming array of percussion. Even though most instrumental music, for me, falls eventually into the background — and The Color of Sunshine was not exception — the disc never drags. The overall effect is neither too retiring nor intrusive. It is that of intelligent, uplifting, harmoniously diverse community.
Title: Coming Home
www.hebrewchanting.com | www.SoundsTrue.com
ISBN: 978 1 59179 584 1
"Oh, how sweet the taste of Love," rises the mellifluous voice of Danya Uriel, like vapors of incense, from a heart that resonates and smiles with the knowing behind the words.
The youthful duo Temple has issued a CD of ethereal Hebrew prayers, a pastel pallet of sacred lullabies. With the loving and leisurely repetition of a handful of Hebrew syllables (and sometimes a line of English translation or amplification) each of the seven songs intentionally expresses a simple flavor or theme of Divine Remembrance: Wholeness, Invocation, Gratitude, Surrender, Purification, Harmony, Healing, etc. Inter-twining with these vocals, within a fluid foundation of acoustic guitar, bass and keyboard, earthy, sometimes ancient instrumental voices — including cello, oud, esraj, saxophone, harmonium, tabla, and human chorus —echo, richen and ground the spare melodic contemplations.
With this CD, Temple fills a Judaic vacancy in the constellation of nationally visible recording artists (most notably Deval Premal, Snatam Kaur, Jai Uttal, Rasa, etc.) currently popularizing (and somewhat anglicizing) music in the sacred languages of Middle Eastern and other traditions. Late of Boulder, Colorado, Temple's core duo of Danya Uriel and Eyal Rivlin are supported here by Benjy Werthheimer and other heartful musicians to create a smooth, lush production whose instrumentation is varied and soulful and whose spirit is sweet and true.
I must confess, though, for my part, the tempo seems conspicuously unvaried and unspirited as the collection of largos floats along. Each of these song prayers is meant to stand alone; and there is much to appreciate in every one. Yet, as the sequence progressed, I found myself yearning for momentum and passion — a good Hava Nagila! — a celebration of the more kinetic, boisterous aspects of Divine Expression. The final cut, "Shalom," seems to hint that perhaps Temple were beginning to embrace that idea, too!
So, while I commend the tender offerings of Coming Home, now that Temple has so ably and melodically brought the house to sacred stillness, I can't help but hope that the sequel will invite the ethers through form again and bring the house robustly to its feet. What are they for, these bodies, if not to dance the delight of the awakened heart?!
Title: Earth Magic: Sacred Rituals for Connecting to Nature's Power
2006, Sounds True
Author, activist, and teacher Starhawk has collaborated with Sounds True to present this four-disc overview of the goddess tradition and nature-based spirituality. It serves as a solid primer for the curious or uninitiated and as a clear, affirming treatise for those well read and grounded in this path.
Starhawk's delivery is conversational and engaging, conveying her wisdom and humor, experience and knowledge. It's like hanging out with your priestess aunt in her garden on her day off.
Although the word "magic" in the title and "Goddess" in the liner notes might hint at occult and pagan emphasis, this isn't a basic new-age ball-breaker spell-book! It is an articulate and balanced overview of more fundamental, practical themes.
Beginning with a review of historical facts and influences, elucidating the major shifts in mankind's affinity from the feminine to the masculine, Starhawk then moves into a discussion of the historic and contemporary meanings and aspects of "Goddess." This yields naturally to the close associations with Earth, nature and our phenomenal reality, and an overview of the roles and influences of the four elements. Upon these foundations, Starhawk builds an argument for the imperatives of acceptance, balance and groundedness in life and spiritual practice.
She emphasizes the centrality of relationship and the celebration of Life and diversity essential to this path. With this established she presents a few basic rituals to cultivate, maintain and richen one's relationships with the Earth, the self, others, and all of Life. Benign "spells" of divination and inspiration are offered.
Starhawk demystifies magic; the definition she prefers is "the art of changing consciousness at will," which makes it the fruit of spiritual maturity, responsibility and conscious creativity.
With each listening, Earth Magic supports a deepening of this journey: perpetual and unique to every individual, regardless of gender, race, tradition, and age.
At last, beloved Nepalese Bansuri flutist Manose offers us a CD of his own compositions. We have come to appreciate his work in support of Deva Premal and Miten, Jai Uttal, Krisna Das, John Densmore, and notable others. Some of them appear on this disc in support of him.
The CD starts like a Rumi reading, with Deva Premal lending her voice to a recitation on the dawn, which sounds almost more amused than ecstatic. Then instrumentals (vocalizations among them) take over and wander through a subtle range of moods in the course of the eight tracks.
Manose drifts between the influences of West and East, in his melodic lines as well as the "support" instruments with which his flutes dance and weave. The disc didn't sustain quite the ethereal thrill that his flourishes and soulful anchoring have for me in collaborations with others; however, plenty of heart and skill breathes through the song cycle. Each listener will respond uniquely, and all will likely be happy to share in Manose expressions of himself.
CD Title: Fazman
Artist: Fazman (L. Steve Fazende)
Rather an oddity for arrival on the reviewer's desk at a New Age magazine, but not without its charm, to be sure. The Fazman disc has a smooth rock locomotion that actually does quite literary impel a deep undulation in one's physiology, whether expressed with a restrained foot tapping, or the good old-fashioned neck bobbing and pelvic rocking most of us can at least recall from more youthful, supple years!
The album has a edgy-mellow sound reminiscent of Pink Floyd ax-man David Gilmore's later solo work: a wall of sound with the vocals retiring into the mix somewhat. In fact the first cut is, refreshingly, without lyrics, showcasing what sounds, at first, like any number of smooth-driving eighties rock cuts. But the absence of vocals serves to draw one into the intricacies that would be missed under vocals. Vocals would distract from an instrumental that stands alone and merits more respectful attention. It makes one consider listening again, more closely, to so many other catchy rock tracks heard over the years whose insipid vocals compelled us to dismiss or tune out the tasty music-craft laboring beneath!
CD Title: The Healing Power of Forgiveness
Creator: Ana Holub
As a forgiveness counselor, mediator and peace educator, Mount Shasta's own Ana Holub has long promoted the miracle of radical forgiveness in a variety of contexts – personal and professional. At last, she has created a CD which offers us instant access to her kind, steady guidance in a process which is often hardest to navigate when we most need it.
Matter, itself a form of Love, has a periodic chart of elements, which combine to create the symphony of form we perceive as our world. Love expresses itself in so many distinct frequencies and feelings that these too might be charted in an array of elements, which express in myriad combinations. Among these, Forgiveness would be known as the Cosmic Solvent, the antidote to all emotions of bondage — Fear, Anger, Guilt, Grief, etc.
In her CD, Ana has given us two meditations, a short form and longer form process, which guide us through the alchemy of Forgiveness. Each meditation is powerful and has profound potential for revelation and healing (of self and other). She reminds us often of the ingredients that we must bring to the process: Honesty, Openness, and Willingness.
These meditations offer something of value far beyond the price of the CD. They can be touchstones, standing by for use in moments when we know forgiveness is the key to our peace and freedom, yet we seem to require a mediator to light our way out of a storm of emotion. It matters not whether these emotions are new and extreme or old and entrenched. Ana's knowing voice acts as a guide.
Of course, our presence and will are essential to success. As, with her "witness," we find our way to truth, we must tailor the pace and process to the needs of our situation. She encourages us to pause the program whenever we need more time to complete with what arises. That is important and empowering; even if the act of doing so can feel disruptive. We might wish she had structured in more time at various points in the program; but, as the time needed would vary from person to person and instance to instance, we are made to take personal responsibility. Thus we are prevented from sleeping through the process and then blaming the meditation for not magically curing our pain.
If we step up and meet our highest truth in the space Holub has created for us with these meditations, the miracles are possible, simple and profound. I'd make a tool like this standard equipment for any 21st century citizen or household: available, like Band-aid or flashlight, when the moment is ripe for growth.
CD and Book Title: Healing through the Akashic Records
Author/Presenter: Linda Howe
CD ISBN: 978 1 59179 913 9
Book ISBN: 978 1 60407 96 5
From the title Healing Through the Akashic Records, one could be forgiven for expecting a tenuous and twinkle-toed presentation, awash with new-age jargon and short on substance. However, one would, happily, be mistaken; this is Sounds True (publisher), and this is Linda Howe, a "leading expert" and founder of the Center for Akashic Studies. Her soft voice and kind delivery don't for long conceal an admirable clarity, sensitivity and authority on the subject.
The subtitle also makes the subject matter more accessible: Using the Power of Your Sacred Wounds to Discover Your Soul's Perfection. Healing through the Akashic Records is consistently lucid and balanced, and grounded in wisdom and deep insight into the human psyche, human dynamics and the spiritual journey.
Linda Howe sets a sensible, compassionate tone as she introduces the concepts and guides the listener/reader through some very powerful tools and processes toward deeper personal and spiritual evolution, methods which embrace and use our core wounds as fuel and leverage for healing and insight, not as reinforcement of victim — consciousness and separation.
Howe's introduction to the Akashic Records is refreshingly digestible and down-to-earth, requiring only faith in the fundamental wisdom and goodness of the human soul and the possibility that there is a matrix of intelligence beyond the personal, human mental faculty. (For those not familiar, the Akashic Records contain "an energetic archive" for each soul and its journey — past, present and even future.) Additionally, her definition of ascension may be one of the clearest, most concise and accessible I've heard.
I spent more time with the audio presentation, of which the book is predominantly a companion volume, very useful for the advantages most paper books have over their audio counterparts.
Both versions of Healing Through the Akashic Records encourage a person to work at his/her own pace through the chapters and exercises, which build upon one another. My only complaint applies to the otherwise-impeccable audio program. Each exercise begins with an opening prayer, used for entering the records. While Howe seems to be leaving time for the home listener to recite passages of this prayer silently, in my experience, it was seldom enough time to do so in a consciously connected way.
Thus, the participant will either feel rushed or will have to pause and re-cue the CD, in order to connect in his or her own, grounded time. In either case, this can be disruptive and distracting. It is an unfortunate demerit to what is, overall, a most commendable program — a program impressive enough that I do not hesitate to
CD Title: Hybrid
Artist: Bruce Kaphan
Pedal Steel is such an underused, siren's call of a sound. Bruce Kaphan, however, uses it to commendable effect here on his CD hybrid. He enlists quite a variety of instruments and styles to support him in the exploration of the instrument's (an the instrumentalists') many moods. Upon initial listening, comparisons to the stunning score for Brokeback Mountain are inevitable, and positive, I assure you! However, Kaphan freely extends his pedal steel meditations beyond the palate of Gustavo Santaolalla's sountrack and far beyond cliched riffs echoeing through the country-and-western canon.
Kaphan's work is atmospheric but not lullably by any means. Pedal steel is just too subtly inviting a sound, so versatilely evocative in combination with other sounds and grooves (hence the title — hybrid), not to draw you into sublimnity and admiration for it as a force of sonic nature.
CD Title: Love Abounds
Artist: Brenda McMorrow
In the first few notes of "Shante Prashante," the opening track of Love Abounds, Brenda McMorrow's mellifluous voice touches the heart and ear with an immediate, expansive and nourishing ease; it is a voice that broadcasts equal parts eternal wisdom and eternal youth. Although the songs are based on a roster of traditional mantra, she doesn't strain to sound culturally authentic. She is an Anglo singing Sanskrit (mostly). However, the transmission and the appeal seems to be less about the words than about the sublimnity that abides in the heart once their themes and truths they are internalized, understood beyond meaning, beyond mental shorthand. McMorrow complements the mantra with her own lyrical musings, which, far from sounding like woo-woo clichés, are genuine and quietly whimsical, serving to make the songs at once more personal and more universal.
Occasionally one hears echoes of influence from Deva Premal and Snatam Kaur &mdsah; this might be inevitable, given the support of shared collaborators, including Ben Leinbach and Manose. However, her sound is her own. Cellist David Darling also contributes. Overall the musicianship is admirable and the musical styles unobtrusively playful and contemporary. Most importantly, the songs grow on you. I found myself singing them (and finding solace there-from) in the grocery store. Moreover, I must declare that the image on the jacket is of a beauty and impact as grounding and appealing as the songs themselves, and which draw you into that Love abounding of the title, even before the music kicks in. The image is almost worth the price of the CD!
Title: Mantras for Precarious Times
Artist: Deva Premal
Stripped down. Hard Core: Hardly words one associates with Deva Premal. And certainly they feel like harsh overstatements here, but not inaccurate in a relative sense.
With Mantras for Precarious Times, Deva Premal offers more standard readings of simple, ancient Sanskrit mantras designed with specific applications in mind. These mantras are traditional recitations, in which "Om Gam Ganapatayei Namaha," for instance (to invoke Ganesha and bless an endeavor) or "Om Shree Dhanvantre Namaha" (to invite healing) is repeated 108 times.
These recitations feature minimal instrumental accompaniment, and are thus more straightforward and penetrating, less ethereal, tuneful and symphonic than the feel-good mantra baths with which she and Miten have wooed their public over the years. The intention is instruction, not so much entertainment. She's kept the selections simple (she says in her explanatory liner notes) for the listeners' ease in learning to repeat them on their own. And, likely as not, her familiar, dulcet voice and benevolent delivery will make the learning more accessible for certain listeners. A spoonful of sugar, as they say.
CD Title: Mantra Rocks
Artist: Dave Dale and Nadaja
2010, White Swan Records
Dave Dale has credits in the more conventional contemporary music scene, but here he brings his tight guitar playing and tasty production skills to spiritual content. Adding vocals, harmonium and the feminine balance of Nadaji, he's crafted a toe tapping setting and new melodies for some oldie-but-goodies in the truest sense of the term.
These mantras, which originally dictated specific breath patterns and tones, don't carry the full, pristine and penetrating power one might feel from their more traditional delivery. But in any setting, these sacred sounds and affirmations are so charged with the devotion of millennia of repetition, and so much more uplifting than most lyrics associated with the musical styles to which they are wedded here, that Mantra Rocks makes for infectiously positive and energizing ambience. Admirable musicianship, great beat. I give it an 8.5! Dance on, Shiva!
Title: Mayan Days of Sound
Artist: Craig Howell
Sunset Venue Music
Mayan Days of Sound doesn't sound particularly "Mayan" in the geographical, cultural, or instrumental sense. No "El Condor Pasa" and Pan Pipes here.
This CD is meant to attune one to the qualities and intentions the Mayans isolated and observed for different "units" in their calendar. The liner notes profess: "The Mayans were obsessed with time....It is hoped that each of these patterns will find a resonance ...and be a catalyst, inspiring the ideals of each sign, bringing healing and wholeness..." during this period "...as we shift our perceptions of time and space."
This is a very sedate and spare series of synthesized sound thoughts, if you will, or contemplations, which have an appreciably timeless quality very supportive of meditation and healing work.
Artist: Michael Brant Demaria
Ontos Music, 2008
Lazz promotions, www.ontos.org
Although his album Siyotanka recently won the 2009 Native American Music Award (Nammy), Ocean is a bit of a comeback for Demaria's Healing Sound Series, whose first installment, The River, came out in 2003. Apparently, Ocean is a healing for Demaria himself, who had to come to a new peace and understanding with water, whose power and caprice brought him much personal loss with hurricane Katrina.
Water has great power, to heal and to destroy. It is the elixir life, which itself is an irresistible force of nature. The compositions on this CD seem to be contemplations of water in relationship with light, rhythm, texture, etc. Demaria ably evokes, with instruments both electronic and indigenous, many moods of Water.
The ethereal flutes lull us with water's wisdom, fluidity and intimacy, while melodies, percussion, keyboards and rhythms keep us in touch with its elemental autonomy, its power, its freedom and changeability. This soundscape is often soothing, but not always. There are passages where, if used as ambient massage music, sensitive listeners floating along might find themselves waking to check the skies for clouds or the surf for fins!
All in all, it is a lovely song cycle that can help us all renew our respect for water, and for Demaria's work.
Title: One Blissful Dream
Artist: Ariah Firefly
8 85402 29991 5
There is a natural smile in the voice of Ariah Firefly that lends itself sweetly to the devotional songs that fill her CD. A youthful purity combine with a more worldy ease, seeming to pour with fluid clarity from open heart and healthy lungs, broadcasting in their vibrancy a prayer of gratitude.
The first track, simply called "Krishna Devotional," draws you in to its fetching groove like that rare, transcendent pop song, where a deeper human truth has not been sacrificed for an easy hook. She showcases a song of praise of her own composition among an admirable variety of selections, which include mantras both readily recognizable and obscure.
I appreciated the very tasty and generous musicianship and production evident throughout the album, although, I confess that the first track remained my clear favorite after repeated listenings. Still that likely has more to do with my own with different vocal instincts and pop sensibilities than any qualitative measure of the work. She shows the influence of more recently popular vocal styles. One also detects the inevitable influence of other Kirtan luminaries like Deva Premal and Snatam Kaur. It is all very pleasant, though, and given the content, contagious with uplifting vibration.
CD Title: Paradise Lost
Artist: Michael Stribling
I consider Michael Stribling's Paradise Lost commendable for two reasons. It is an evocative song cycle, creating a sound-scape that effectively captures the majesty and nobility of nature and the indigenous populations that inhabited this continent for centuries, as well as the misguided energies that intruded on that "paradise" and brought a culture of suffering still afflicting the populations of the beautiful continent today.
Secondly, he does this using instrumentation dominated by synthesizer and electronic instruments, to which this reviewer generally responds unfavorably. Stribling manages, however, to capture the heart and spirit of his subject and trace a quietly epic and poignant arc, grounded with the heart and passion of the archetypal themes, an astute and well-tuned musical vocabulary, and some keen placement of older, more organic sounds here and there — rifle, wind, snare drum, the calls and commentary of hawk and wolf, etc.
It's a satisfying journey, and despite the subject, is uplifting. Stribling's arrangement of recurring and evolving melodic themes carry the listener seamlessly — symphonically when warranted, more contemplatively when required — from the Eden of America's indigenous days, through the assault of the Europeans' brutality and greed, and ultimately to the redemption and peace of the Spirit World.
The suite flows nicely, and, as I mentioned, is so evocative of the true Spirit of his subject that the listener can often forget that these are synthesizers pouring forth the majesty of heart and drum.
Title: Prayers by Women
Artist: Karnamrita Dasi
2003 Blue Monsoon Records; www.karnamrita.com
Although her CD has been out a good while, Karnamrita Dasi's live presence is what is giving the recording momentum. I quote an associate of mine whose almost uncharacteristically enthusiastic and poetic report recently speaks volumes:
"This CD is a true labor of love from a musician classically trained in India whose heart is as open as the clear blue sky and as passionate and loving as a true mystic. Her voice rings like a bell and conveys every emotion in its simplicity. Without stylizing the Eastern music to make it sound more American, or more sexual, she lays bare the intent of each chant so anyone with the slightest devotion in his or her heart can feel its meaning and is taken to new heights of spiritual bliss. I mean, sitting in the audience while she sang—with unassuming delight — was as much an experience of bakti (sacred devotion) as entering any temple. I hope you can hear that in these songs!"
There isn't a whole lot more to say. However, perhaps some background would serve. Karnamrita Dasi is a beautiful, young, American woman raised in a California community devoted to Krishna. She was inspired by her mother to pursue her studies in classical Hindu song, and, also inspired by her mother, she has dedicated her focus here to the transporting and powerful prayers of women in Hindu scripture and epic stories. The liner notes translate the scripture (sung in Sanskrit) and briefly summarize the circumstances originally inspiring each prayer. The wisdom, devotion, or emotion in each however, is universal. All are powerful; I found Draupadi (from the Mahabharata) profoundly stirring. The simple Truth discovered and expressed in this story and these few lines may be all any of us really needs to know.
Needless to say, style, mood and instrumentation of each track varies distinctly. This illustrates not only the young artist's versatility, but the stillness and wisdom of a much older soul. There is a clarion innocence in this voice — still young and full of suppleness and liveliness of heart — which melts together her anglo origins with the bath of Hindu influence derived from her upbringing and formal musical studies. The fusion creates a truly original sound.
Although this recording may not evoke quite the transcendent experience of her live appearances for every listener, anyone can savor a sincerity and purity here and share in the joy inhabiting the current of song in body and body in song; they become one and the same, mutually absorbed in the Great Love.
Artist: Isaac Shepard
Lazz Promotions; www.isaacshepard.com
ISBN: 8 85444 09934 2
...Heaven in a Grain of Sand, Eternity in an Hour, as the poet observed. Isaac Shepard's third solo piano CD is entitled Renewing, and it does carry a certain freshness, hope and clarity of a dewy morning. Just as a drop of dew holds within it the expectant thirst of midday and the thunder and bluster of an evening storm, each note and selection on the CD seems to carry its contribution to renewal. Even if the pace, intensity and moods of the compositions range a spectrum, there is a certain unassuming wisdom imbued in and unifying both the compositions and Shepard's able playing. A contemplative and fluid ease, heart and competency rule the day here.
Among the spate of solo piano collections arriving in the mailbox this season, this one's been the freshest company. To say more is to belabor the point. Let's let the music and its poetry speak for themselves.
Title: Return to Love
Artist: Kathy Zavada
Precious Music; www.kathyzavada.com
Zavada sings the blues! The song cycle in Return to Love seems to build a graceful arch from the palate flavors with which a heart can meet and express the sacred ache of life.
The CD begins with an almost melancholy tone, with Kathy's voice as dewy as it gets, as if freshly cleansed with tears. The contemplations lighten in tempo and perspective, as more playful instrumentation and arrangements assert themselves; these propel us through the concluding odes, which, while they continue to describe universal human challenges — potentially discouraging themes — are more buoyant with the contagion of building faith and trust in pervasive Divine Love. The listener can feel the conviction of an early lyric echoing through: "Love will prevail in the end."
True to the title's promise, the word and theme of Love dominates and unifies this collection of songs, many of which will be familiar to those who have heard Kathy play live in recent years. Kathy's trademark piano anchors each song, along with the lush embrace of her voice, which flows here again like a heart pouring forth and even laughing. Her voice, her piano and her rhythm section frolick often with harmonica and fiddle, giving many tracks, as mentioned, a breezy, bluesy feel.
The lyrics and melodies are customarily simple and earnest. And while a couple of tracks don't seem to hold the energy of their companions in this collection, the overall message of the album is infectious in a welcome, inspiring way. For most, Return to Love will prevail in the end.
Title: The Road to Happy
Artist: Jack Brown
2008, Pig & Bear Music
Singer/Songwriter Jack Brown's confident second CD seems to toss out at least one song capable of landing high on every musical chart in his range: Folk, Pop, Country, White Blues, Inspirational, etc. That's not contrivance or pandering on his part; it is simply the incidental expressions of one (versatile) human's many moods, which flow naturally from one to another in this collection... some witty, some wise, some wistful. These are evocative snapshots from a life lived with honesty and enthusiasm, by an observer with the talent to articulate them. The arrangements may vary in style, but Brown's clear and friendly, unaffected singing style remains consistent.
In songs ranging in theme through personal cosmology, people and places remembered, love's triumph over money, even, amusingly, media-mania and the weather, Brown speaks to the universal by nailing the personal. With poetically average-guy musings, he has us nodding our heads with the same energy as we're tapping our feet. The ache conveyed in songs of personal loss becomes balm for the common human tragedy. Dismissing certain cuts for unabashed sentimentality might be a temptation, but also a pity; as, given the chance, they could just as well massage warmth, connection and supple acceptance into a heart armed against familiar wounds.
It is the humanity of Brown's songwriting that makes it a soundly spiritual album. Brown only refers to "God" in the rousing final track "You are Still Speaking;" but the Great Love illuminating all things smiles through his unassuming voice, his tender regard for his subjects, and his willingness to feel, to admit it, and even joke about it. It displays the potential of music and personal faith to provide the moorings of an engaged, courageous and decent life. One might ask what other point there is to embodiment.
On The Road to Happy, you don't skip steps, as many racing down the New Age NeverNeverLand Freeway seek to do. You cruise along, meeting the scenery (appealing or not) at an assimilable pace, and find there is poetry in all of it.
Artist: Keiki Takeda and Ed Rosenberg
2008, Viagem Records
Shikisokuzeku is a sparse yet warm collaboration between Ed Rosenberg and pianist Keiko Takeda. The title is a Buddhist expression meaning "All is vanity." As no promo or review omits to say, these musical meditations transport the listener to a sort of Zen sanctuary. True enough; it does evoke those images, and also that state of mind, reminding us that retreat into sanity and space is accessible to us always. The music brings it into our immediate surround.
The selections are complete improvisations, with no premeditated themes or structures. They are quiet, economical, musical conversations between Takeda/piano and Reosenberg/saxaphone, polished with unobtrusive percussion and incidental nature sounds. Standing in here for shakuhachi (Japanese Zen flute) the tenor saxaphone's timbre may add a blush more emotion, but doesn't engage with it, commit to it, quite appropriately.
This CD makes for good, unassuming yet supportive, company off the Zafu cushion. While peaceful, it is not soporific; while wordless and undemanding it not unintelligent (in the way “No Mind” in no way means stupid). It struck me as perfect for cold, gray mornings; not in a lugubrious sense, but contemplative, understated and still, yet free and meandering, like one's musings on such a day, when one is naturally inward. Recommended, and available through CDbaby.com.
Title: Song of the Sage
Artists: Dan Millman and Asoma
2009 Asoma Music Publishing
Song of the Sage sets essays of wisdom as expressed by author Dan Millman (Way of the Peaceful Warrior and more) to supportive music by the duo Asoma. In the end, it is good company, a fix of fellowship between meetings.
At first, however, I confess it provoked a fair amount of resistance. The effects employed, I assume, to give mystical dimension to Millman's simple readings, sound embarrassingly amateurish and pretentious, as if a sketch troupe or students without the right equipment were attempting to simulate echo effects. Certain phrases are repeated during pauses or whispered in the background. It is distracting and laughable, a bit of a groaner.
That said, if you can tune out that pointless preciousness, the music is quite pleasant, engendering the contemplative mood and opening optimal to receive and resonate with the truths delivered by Millman, most of which are hardly revelatory, but which offer reminders, reassurance, resolve.
Each of the twelve tracks considers a universal law that apply to human experience and spiritual evolution. These begin with the Law of Balance, run through the Laws of Choices, Presence, Process, Compassion, Faith, Expectation, Integrity, Action, Cycles, and finish with the Laws of Surrender and of Unity.
Different among these will resonate, feel most profound and cogent, at different times, depending, I assume, on the issues Grace has one processing on a given day.
The Law of Balance itself is a fundamental one for humans to master. To me, however, it might have been the least profoundly worded track, and the one most riddled with the ridiculous false echoing.
This first track includes an introduction that will trigger the Woowoo alert of some listeners, but which actually serves well to focus the intention of the whole word-song cycle. Even so, I might recommend that some folks skip it on the first listening, in order to allow the rest of the program to redeem itself for them, if it is going to.
I commend Asoma and Mr. Millman for the effort, and I know there are listeners who will benefit.
CD Title: Sound Medicine
Anima, an inspired duo consisting of Ali Calderwood and Daniela Broder, continues to create evocative soundscapes. Following up 2010's releases, Temple of the Stars (a compelling ambient CD with select spoken passages in the mix) and Temple of the Heart, emerges 2011's Sound Medicine.
Sound Medicine makes use of the six Solfeggio frequencies -- the original frequencies of familiar notes of our scale, which were misguidedly reassigned more "convenient" frequencies in fairly recent history. I believe the original frequencies are more true to the deep cosmic frequencies from which creation has evolved.
Also speaking from the mix are indigenous soundings, as well as Daniela's plaintive vocalizations in places, which augment emotional subtexts of the music. The way the latter are mixed rather forward in the music may provoke some listeners to curl up into the fetal position, either contacting their inner child in solidarity with her childlike timbre, or in attempt to escape the rather saturated emotion emanating from the sounds.
The music scape would lend itself well to accompanying bodywork or other inward endeavors. But the vocalizations seemed distracting from the rest of the sound, calling attention to themselves rather than blending in synergistically. This may in fact have been intended. The disc is called Sound Medicine. Medicine and healing are not always smooth and yummy. They often illuminate and activate discord, that it may be brought to consciousness, or its energy moved.
What I can say is that the sounds continue to work on the listener after the CD stops spinning. What we do with that is up to the wisdom within.
Title: State of Grace III
Artist: Paul Schwartz (et al)
Zakatak Music; www.state-of-grace.net
Modern-classical composer/producer Paul Schwartz is releasing a third in his State of Grace series. Listeners familiar with Schwartz's earlier work (which include his compelling Aria trilogy and his collaborations with Andre Previn, Carlos Santana, and others) will recognize his trademark instrumental and tonal preference. If you enjoyed his previous offerings, this is more of a good thing — not really breaking new ground, just freshening the garden.
For those not familiar, Schwartz combines classical influences and instrumentation with contemporary and electronic ones. In his Aria series he reworked some of opera's most stirring Arias with contemporary rhythms and instrumentation, to refreshing and poignant effect (for all but the purist looking for offense).
The versatile Lisbeth Scott, his most often featured vocalist, contributes all but one of the vocal performances on this collection of songs, which contain both original lyrics and words drawn from classical texts. Where Aria's congruency derives from the operatic sources, State of Grace combines more varied styles that share a more subtle thread of wistful, soul searching themes. This one makes a good gift for someone with wide-ranging taste — a sense of musical humor, beauty and adventure.
Title: A Still Motion
Artist: Michael Samson
Pianist Michael Samson appears on the CD cover in front of a slightly blurred transit train, looking thoughtful, affable, content. His collection of compositions is titled A Still Motion. That can evoke so many things. It took me a while to find how I personally related the title to this music.
All in all, I like it, though. These are good melodies, and within a very few listenings, some become welcome friends. As I listened I imagined myself hearing the CD of a friend or brother, whose melodic sense, performance and efforts I'd be predisposed to admire because it is infused with a recongized innocence and earnestness. something in the compositions and execution here demonstrated either a limited range and subtlety or a thematically constrained palate — not sure which. Yet, there was a consistency, fluidity, and heart that made it endearing, and any whiffs of clumsiness instantly forgivable.
A combination of the winsome melodies with a slight heavy-handedness in the rhythmic style and playing reminded me of a prodigious Newfoundland puppy: A loft of heart and innocence, enthusiasm and humanity brought down to earth by gravity of melodic melancholy and ever-so-slight clumsiness of puppy paws. Moments of imprecision in repetitive rhythms alerted the attention to watch that nothing slipped or got broken! Indeed, rhythm features strongly in many of these compositions, and, therefore, called attention to itself. Yet, even without a flawless or winged deftness or subtlety, there is a buoyancy of heart that carries us through.
In terms of the title, A Still Motion, one does have a sense of movement around a still center, as with the Earth itself, where emotion and rhythm dance around a still, wakeful axis, whose gravity grounds them in a heart at once wise, youthful, wistful, and hopeful. Good company!
p>Award-winning singer/songwriter Faith Rivera also has a new one out. SunCatcher is a sweet smorgasbord of songs and styles that showcase her vocal versatility and range of influences. The disc starts with a sweet, almost folksy ditty harkening to her Hawaiian roots, runs through a variety of pop arrangements, and ends with a dub remix of a haunting, rhythmic dirge of chanting in various sacred tongues. The piece sticks with you.
Artist: Faith Rivera
'Lil Girl Creations; www.faithrivera.com
While the songs may sound in style and instrumentation like a trip along the pop radio dial, the lyrics are a refreshing departure: Verses of celebration, inspiration and empowerment, both personal and universal. There is here something for everyone.
CD Title: Tapestry
Artist: Michael Hoppe
This lovely multimedia CD came to me via the Rocky Mountain chapter of the A.L.S. Society. It was a gift to patients and family members affected by a condition known for its cascade of cruel deprivations, as one faculty after another is lost in the advance of the paralyzing disease. It was a thoughtful and compassionate choice on their part. This is not at all to imply that Michael Hoppe's new CD, Tapestry, is a downer! Not by a long shot. To listen to much of this Grammy-nominated composer's music is to wonder, "Did I hear that in a movie somewhere?" He seems a born soundtrack writer, even if he is not writing directly for an existing film. He masterfully captures mood.
This CD's suite is rather a gondola ride through different flavors of nostalgia, some of them wistful, some jaunty, some quiet, some more symphonic, but all evocative. For each track, the booklet contains a corresponding poem, most by Therese Tappolini and most inspired, in some way, by the music itself. These are poems of contemplation and reminiscence. One track is actually written to accompany a short film, which is also viewable on the CD. All the tracks, if played in a DVD player, have accompanying abstract animation, similar to that offered when playing a CD on Windows Media Player. So, you gather that this CD offers more than just a pleasant collection of aural fancies.
The film, an award-winning short by Heather Harlow, is Nous Deux Encore, a reminiscence by Maxie Leoussis about her deceased beloved (Yianni Leoussis). It is in French with English subtitles. On the CD, the companion track, Maxie's Theme, hearkens to a timelessly Mediterranean-style nostalgia. Tapestry is aptly named, weaving together many moods. It can take you on a journey, or richen your own journey — whether a routine car ride or simple housecleaning — with good company.
Title: True Meditation
Adyashanti may be best known in California, where has been based and quietly teaching for ten years. With the 2006 release of his three disc program True Meditation and the second edition of his book Emptiness Dancing, he seems likely to attract a wider audience.
Those unfamiliar with Adyashanti will find his delivery on True Meditation accessible and conversational, so much the latter in fact, that the lectures can seem somewhat repetitive at times. This may actually prove advantageous, however, since, as he himself states, the wisdom presented is often so obvious and easily resisted, that it might take a few strokes to sink in. Why else would anyone else have to tell us what we actually already are and know?
He makes a number of good, inspiring points on the first disc to better equip us to "experience the freedom of meditation without techniques." Thus read the liner notes summarizing his thesis, which contrasts true meditation with many practices and techniques — often labeled meditation — which, while valuable, are more accurately called concentration techniques, means of controlling (rather than observing or accepting) the expressions of the ego or mind.
The insights and instruction on the second seem to build in specificity and poignancy. The final disc contains three guided meditations focusing on the three progressive pillars of his approach to meditation: Allowing things to be as they are; Letting go of control and letting the Heart's will be done; and self-inquiry.
The message Adyashanti conveys is not new; but, again, while it is simple and readily apparent to the still mind, it is not necessarily easy to accept and rest in. This insight is shared in many traditions: Early Zen, Advaita Vedanta, etc. As in those, it must be discovered from within, by every individual, often more than once.
It is helpful to hear another voice reassuring us of these truths, however, supporting us to relax and live them with the clarity, courage and effortless effort required, and fortifying us in the face of the chaotic currents of contemporary life.
Title: The Ultimate Brain
Artist: Tom Kenyon
This nine-CD box set is an investment, for sure. Yet for those sonically sensitive and inspired by the frontier where music, science and healing merge, it is, if you'll indulge the pun, a sound investment indeed. Be sure to also budget for a good set of headphones and comfy chair.
Each disc in the set targets a different category of brain function, with the intent of enhancing performance (creative problem solving, activate the holographic mind, opening the heart) or addressing some neurologically implicated condition, like sleep disorders, addictions, etc.
Depending on one's individual needs, desires, or level of awareness, different programs will seem more obviously potent or effective. Another important factor is the degree of the listener's willingness to trust the programs — their efficacy and benignness — and to surrender, to open the ears, mind and heart to whatever sounds, imagery and demands the selections present.
Most selections lay carefully produced music and vocal tracks over scientifically tuned "Bio-Pulses," and other content to be registered subliminally. The delivery of some of the vocal tracks and guided imagery may repel more intellectual listeners prone to resist "new-agey" sounds and affirmations. The delivery can at times seem obviously manipulative and contrived. And, of course, they are, quite deliberately and scientifically, according to the explicatory information provided. (There is actually an entire disc in the set dedicated to explanation and application.)
All seems to be carefully tailored to evoke a particular effect on the open heart and mind, on the ears of the innocent within us that may be laboring under the burden of some limiting pattern of wounding, conditioning or sabotage. Be assured there is something for the whole dysfunctional family!
In fact, two of the programs — Deep Rest and Ambient Support — have been available individually since July; others in the set are expected to emerge separately in 2007, promising to keep you stocked for a couple of years in very thoughtful gifts to the depressed, sleep deprived or existentially stymied loved ones on your Christmas list.
Title: When Angels Dream 2
Artist: Anton Mizerak and Friends
It is always a pleasure to listen to these musicians and friends performing and collaborating, because the sense of natural fluidity and familiarity they seem to have with their instruments and one another brings a gift of ease and welcome to the listener.
Ease is indeed what was intended for the listener of this CD, a sequel to the first When Angels Dream CD, designed to accompany and promote healing in both professional and personal settings.
Anton and friends create a nourishing, evocative soundscape in which esraj (a soulful, Mid-eastern, stringed instrument), bamboo flute, operatic voice and even harmonica feature as what feel like the rich, comforting voices of mentoring angels, reassuring us as we rest cradled upon clouds that glide and churn gently through the realms and elements created by the backdrop of keyboard and guitar.
The friends with whom Anton gratefully collaborates on this project include: Manose, whose sublime flute play seems to carry the sensuous smile of Krisna himself; Benjy Wertheimer, whose skill and sensibility on the esraj transmit pure and otherworldly longing; and Virenia Lind, whose soprano manages to blend here and appease this listener who rarely associates operatic vocals with relaxation!
The musical themes on this collection are based on classical Indian ragas for healing, but one hardly need know this to enjoy the effect! Most of them come from the raga Sindhi Bhairavi. Bhairavi is the name of a most wrathful expression of Kali, consort of Shiva — the aspect of the Hindu trinity who governs healing and transformation. The music here, though, is anything but wrathful, reminding us that while true healing and evolution may not be comfortable, resistance is futile, and the compassionate and ever-present breath of Grace carries us through it all. These sounds offered by Anton and friends encourage us to surrender into the eye of the storm. Enjoy the ride.
Title: The Yoga of Sacred Song and Chant
Artist: Deva Premal and Miten in concert with special guest Manose
Prabhu Music, 2009
Happy news: Our old friends Deva Premal and Miten have done it again. If your once-transporting copies of their past releases had become a little tired and fallen off rotation for recharge, let them rest as long as they need. This new one can take it from here! In concert here, with the breath and presence of Mt. Shasta's fond friend (and Krishna incarnate) Manose on Bansuri flute adding inspiration and an otherworldly depth, the trio blesses us with a song cycle that includes many newer selections, and infuses some of their standards with pristine new heart and life.
The set includes both a DVD and a CD of material recorded live in Byron Bay, Australia, in 2008. The flavor and song list of the CD and the DVD are not identical, however, and each is effective in a slightly different way. A caption on one panel of the packaging reads Front Row Tickets: Listen with Headphones. This is especially true for the CD, which seems to enhance intimacy with the Silence within oneself. The DVD, by engaging the visual sense; by emphasizing more human/five-senses interaction among DVD viewer, the musicians and their concert audience; and by including more humor, promotes a more communal expanse into the Silence, melting all hearts into the one Heart. This is, indeed, the effect of their "concerts."
The CD is a soothing, nourishing and expansive experience in remembrance. The DVD is two-hours long, but it builds beautifully all the way through the final, masterful crescendo of the heart-melting favorite "So Much Magnificence," which so effectively closes their shows. It seems to saturate and seal every participant in the bath of love, wholeness and equanimity. For this reason, the DVD program's little postscript of the Moola Mantra on its heels is almost vexing. As powerful as Deva's version of this mantra is, here its placement gave the effect on an entranced viewer of someone turning on the lights just a little prematurely after deep meditation.
In general, the camera work unobtrusively supports the power, grace and flow of the performance. Only occasionally during double exposures used for effect, do these superimpositions become obtuse or distracting, as one is drawn into identifying the individual images. A booklet of liner notes includes lyrics and translations for the songs and mantras, and although most might be recognized as Sanskrit, English or Tibetan, indication of the original language of each would have been welcome.
These are small, forgivable wrinkles in a sumptuous tapestry which will be a treasure for anyone who has never had the pleasure of experiencing a live SatSang with Deva Premal, Miten and Manose; it is equally that, however, for those of us who have had the pleasure, until we can again, and beyond.
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