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Review Bill Binkelman - 04-01-2009 FIONA JOY HAWKINS

Review Bill Binkelman - 04-01-2009 FIONA JOY HAWKINS
Blue Dream
Little Hartley Music (2008)

For a 180 degree turnaround from her electronica CD Ice: Piano Slightly Chilled (released earlier this year), Australia’s Fiona Joy Hawkins journeyed halfway around the world, teamed up with super-producer Will Ackerman in his Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont and recorded the jaw-dropping Blue Dream, a tour de force for both artist and producer. Comprised of 22 tracks (!!!), the album is Hawkins’ “most personal piece of music I have written yet,” and is literally “autobiographical” (per her liner notes). She refers to the album as a “piece” of music because, while there are indeed 22 “cuts” on the CD, the music flows unendingly throughout, the segues from fast pieces to slow meditations handled seamlessly yet with clear delineations, so that a listener who goes to selected tracks will not notice the lack of spacing yet someone who plays the album all the way through will discover a “whole” greater than the sum of its parts. This is just one of many allures of Blue Dream, a landmark recording for Hawkins and yet another feather in Will Ackerman’s cap!

This wouldn’t be an Ackerman disc without his passel of accompanists, except that this “passel” has swelled to such a large number that mentioning them all would take most of the remaining space I have for this review! Suffice it say the usual suspects are present as well as some relative newcomers. However, Hawkins’ piano playing predominantly holds center stage, carrying the lead melody and serving as the “sun” around which the instrumentalists and vocalists orbit and contribute (which is not meant to belittle anyone’s contribution, but only to describe the characteristics of the music itself).

The album contains both “songs” and “interludes,” the latter occurring every two, three or four pieces. The interludes are titled after colors (with one exception), e.g. “Sapphire,” “Lilac,” and “Indigo” to name a few. As their titles would indicate, they are short bridging selections, subdued in nature, sometimes solo piano and sometimes featuring other accompaniment.

The CD’s back cover list Blue Dream as “world fusion piano” an apt description with the presence of much ethnic percussion and didgeridoo, as well as lyrics in both Lugandan and Gaelic. While global influences surface now and then, the predominant motif is closer to previous Imaginary Road acoustic instrumental recordings. Blue Dream also frequently features a fuller richer sound than previous Ackerman productions, as well as more inherent variety track-to-track. Everything is anchored by Hawkins’ talent and versatility, whether playing energetic odes to joy (“Feeling Sunshine”), uptempo optimistic jazzy tunes (“Moving On”), romantic ballads (“From the Outside”) or classically influenced pieces (“Blue Dream”). No matter what style, tempo or mood she immerses herself in, her technique is matched by her obvious sincerity and passion. From the delicate nuance of “Sunrise at Ularu” to the powerful rhythmic excursion that is “Song Phonique” to the somber funereal-like “The Void” with its dramatic powerful ending crescendo, Fiona Joy Hawkins has elevated her playing to the highest level. No wonder she just won the MusicOZ Award for best jazz/classical artist in her native Australia.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful CD packaging for Blue Dream, the equal of its music. The digipack’s inner sleeve contains a booklet, detailing each track’s accompanists as well as other CD credits and featuring Steve Hawkins’ gorgeous winter landscape photography which serves as the perfect complement to the evocative music on the album itself. Blue Dream is a must-have album for fans of Hawkins and of Ackerman’s other recent productions, as well as devotees of contemporary piano and ensemble recordings, for which it sets a new standard of emotional depth, production quality, and musical variety. An exemplary release, one of the best of 2008.

Rating: Excellent

Bill Binkelman
New Age Reporter

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