FIONA JOY HAWKINS
Ice: Piano Slightly Chilled..
Little Hartley Music (2008)
There's nothing like getting the new year off to an energizing start, something which pianist/keyboardist Fiona Joy Hawkins does on Ice: Piano Slightly Chilled, an album that sets the bar mighty high for 2008 chill-out recordings. I was caught completely unawares by this dramatic about-face from her previous release, Angel Above My Piano, which was more of a "traditional" new age piano/electronic keyboard recording. Ice... literally bursts out of the gate running flat-out and never looks back, ushering in Hawkins as an immediate contemporary of artists like Ryan Farish (whose music this resembles at times) and Amethystium. However, this is no mere Enigma knock off, no sir. Thanks to the complementary talents of guitarist Dieter Kleeman, didgeridoo player Michael Jackson, and Dave Hopper's bass, Ice… is a full-on chill-out assault, at times amping it up and letting the sparks fly with stinging guitar leads and passionate didge playing (Hawkins hails from down under, hence the didge's presence).
As on Angel…Bruce Wheatley lends his estimable hand at engineering and mixing and the sound here is excellent. Listen on headphones for best effect. Hawkins reveals a whole new side of her musical talent by handling not just the piano but also the synthesizers, as well as composing all ten tracks. She even contributes breathy (and sensual) vocals on "Snow Bird" (her voice reminds me of a cross between Enya and Julianna) and the haunting sexy downtempo "Crystallized Love" (my favorite song on the CD).
Previous to these two tracks are eight excellent instrumentals that epitomize the type of chill-out which I refer to as European, meaning it's less laid back than the American type and features electric guitar in a prominent role as well as more strident beats. Still, the overall vibe on Ice… is that of late night atmospheres, ice cubes rattling about in a tumbler of whiskey and streets awash in rain-reflected neon.
"Iced Rain" opens the album with pulsing Berlin-esque whirly-gigging synths, frenetic sampled hand drums, buzzing didgeridoo, and Hawkins' passionate piano runs. Kleeman's blistering guitar lines light up the skies even as Hawkins dials up the fire and passion on the ivories over ..Jackson's didge tonalities. Talk about kick-starting a CD! "Cloud Chill" turns the beats down to midtempo but the guitar moves into the foreground, pealing off both stinging licks and layers of power chords over a bed of didge and pounding snare and bass beats, all anchored by Hawkins melancholic piano refrains. "Frosted View" speeds the beat tempo back to fast amidst more didgeridoo and energizing piano. Slow and sensual is how "Love in the Refrigerator" plays it, smooth and sexy and satiny with lush keyboards, breathy synth chorals and plaintive piano set against snare and high hat rhythms, while "Frozen Rose" features thumping bass beats, wind effects, and sultry sax in a slow sexy number when compared to the relative higher energy of some of the other songs here.
Coming after Angel Above My Piano and Portrait of a Waterfall, Ice… reveals a whole new side of this talented pianist and keyboard player. If my information is correct, next up is an album produced by Will Ackerman, which means this Aussie artist is reinventing herself yet again, or so it would appear. Fiona Joy Hawkins is poised to make the leap into stardom or I'm no judge of an artist's ability. To top it all off, she has the drop dead looks to make her the first sex symbol in a genre which sure could use a glamour injection (check out her YouTube video entitled "Photo Shoot 2"). Beauty, talent, brains, and ambition - talk about having it all! Hawkins may be just what we need to finally blow the lid off in contemporary instrumental music. I, for one, am rooting like hell for her. As for Ice…, it's already in the running for chill-out album of the year as far as I'm concerned. Very highly recommended!
New Age Reporter