Please read my personal musical journey before the reviews of these magical CDs, for it puts it all into context.

I’ve always been a music head. I was living in London with my parents when Help! by The Beatles was released. I was five and it was probably the first album I had. The single, “Get off of My Cloud” by the Rolling Stones topped the charts the same year.

The predominant music in my house was Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Astrud Gilberto, some Italian crooners, Jazz and Latin music, with some pop of the era like Petula Clark.

There was also the classics, mostly Russians like Rachmaninov, completely over the top and engaging. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos were a favorite.

Later I did the whole Jimi Hendrix, Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Supertramp, The Police, Talking Heads and many others in no-particular-order-thing.

Then it was Blues and Jazz for the longest time. Forever. Very serious and utterly devoted. I dreamt of studying the Blues curriculum offered in some Southern university, and having front row seats to Miles.

Monk and Mingus were gods, Coltrane an elder. The list is looong. Very long.

I’ve omitted a lot of names from the other genres too. You get the point.

I’m not a musician. I played guitar and the sax for a while, could read rudimentary music. Then I forgot it all. Later, Paramahansa Yogananda channeled himself down my arms and taught me how to play his songs to the Divine on the harmonium.

I was instantly able to read basic music again and found my singing voice. This was unique because as an actor for twenty years, I’d never sung. In fact, I’d been told I was tone deaf. What a lark!

I became enraptured with devotional chanting and lead three hour sessions every Friday, as well as at many other gatherings. The chanting and untrained voice talent have continued. I’ve forgotten how to play the harmonium or read music since, unless I pick it up again and it would return.

Finally I became a fan of healing, world and devotional music. More than a fan, this kind of music has become a practice, because it teaches.

The reviews below have emerged from the astounding people I’m meeting on Twitter. I’m not a musician but have an affinity to it, and as a Soul WhispererSM can recognize substance. This is music that grabbed me instantly and transported me to imaginal realms of deep connection and beauty.

Ashana BelovedBeloved by Ashana

When Ashana friended me on Twitter and I listened to “Opening to Love” on her MySpace page, I couldn’t stop listening and had an instant recognition. Within the first few chords my chest changed and love was present immediately. It’s from Ashana’s latest album, Beloved.

These songs are musical experiences of the Divine, harmonies to the Divine, and an undeniable example of artist as vessel.

Ashana breathes and gives life to alchemy and classic frosted crystal singing bowls. She also sings and composes. On Beloved, Thomas Barquee is co-writer on all but one track; producer, arranger, and on keyboards, bass and vocals. The other instrumentation includes cello, guitars, tablas and percussion.

Let’s be clear though, this is ethereal music and the arrangements make use of these instruments in unique ways.

Barquee’s arrangements and production values are richly sensitive and provide a container for this music that wouldn’t be readily available in other hands.

Before going into any other details, and fully acknowledging her special touch with crystal bowls, let me mention that Ashana’s voice is…purity personified. It has a singular clarity and a layered presence.

The Tracks

One of my favorite aspects of Beloved is that it honors world traditions. For instance the first track You are My Breath includes the Sufi invocation, La’illaha il’Allah, meaning “There is nothing other than You, O God. You alone are God!” This is really the title track of the album as it’s a serenade to the Beloved.

I’ve been a fan of The Aramaic Lord’s Prayer for some time now, in various translations that are so radically powerful, compared to the version in the regular translations of the Bible. Here, Ashana actually sings a version by Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz in Aramaic. Listen once and you’ll understand why I’m so moved by this music. Clocking at 10:10 minutes, it can easily be put on prepetual repeat.

O Birther! Father- Mother of the Cosmos
Focus your light within us – make it useful.
Create your reign of unity now-
through our fiery hearts and willing hands
Help us love beyond our ideals
and sprout acts of compassion for all creatures.
Animate the earth within us: we then
feel the Wisdom underneath supporting all.
Untangle the knots within
so that we can mend our hearts’ simple ties to each other.
Don’t let surface things delude us,
But free us from what holds us back from our true purpose.
Out of you, the astonishing fire,
Returning light and sound to the cosmos.
Amen.

Dona Nobis Pacem means “Give us peace” from the Roman Catholic mass. This track highlights Ashana’s voice. It’s also impressive in how the guitar is played to sound like an instrument from the Renaissance. In fact, throughout the whole album the juxtaposition of all the instruments is surprising. It really makes me smile for instance to hear tablas accentuating this very Latin chant.

Opening to Love comes from a depth of heart the world needs so much. Ashana actually wrote it for a deceased friend, but as is the universal theme of this album, and as she says on her website: “I dedicate this piece to his spirit, which is of course, the spirit of everlasting, unconditional love that is the essence of who we are.”

Only You in My Heart has no notes about it. It doesn’t need explanation. You refers to…you know by now.

Deep Peace is a traditional Gaelic blessing that I happen to email to my students as my wish for them after completing Level I Reiki. This version has 10 and 12 inch Aqua Gold crystal singing bowls as drones in an arrangement which gently rocks you side to side in peace, literally.

Deep peace to you.
Deep peace to you.
Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace to you.

Here’s what Ashana says about Alleluia – Wahe Guru: “Alleluia” is a word used in both Jewish and Christian traditions to express praise, joy and thanks to the Divine. Wahe Guru! is the primary mantra of the Sikh religion, and means “Wonderful Lord!” Yogi Bhajan, who brought Kundalini Yoga and Sikhism to the West, translated it even more deliciously as “Indescribable Ecstasy!”

Beloved is a complete work and substantial achievement. I’m very enamored of way the cello is a constant presence and highlighted beautifully in several parts. There are rich, sustained basses and other drones, eloquent guitar, embellishing keyboards, and bemusing tablas.

Then it’s all tied together by the presence of the Divine that fills you from the speakers or headphones.

Now go buy it! >> Beloved

Cello Circles by Kalyan and Sambodhi Prem

Cello CirclesI was having a conversation on Twitter with someone about my love for the cello when Sambodhi Prem friended me and introduced me to this collaborative album. Entirely composed and performed by Sambodhi and Kalyan, and produced by Sambodhi, Cello Circles also instantly stopped me to listen and opened my heart. Then my mind opened too!

Kalyan is a classically trained cellist, and can also be heard here as a multi instrumentalist on dilubra, recorders, kena flute, Japanese kyotaku flute and fretless bass.

Sambodhi is on acoustic and electric guitars, bass and sound modules.

Seven years in organically coming together, this is richly evocative music. Textured, layered and endless; when a track or the CD finishes there’s a palpable resonance in the room and in the listener.

It’s remarkable that this music is driven by improvisation. When it’s of this quality, mastery is the only word that comes to mind. Living on separate continents, Sambodhi and Kalyan meet in the circle of creativity, and add sheer beauty to the world.

In the literature Sambodhi supplied me, he says, “I love the cello because it’s able to express great depths of sadness and is equally able to reach the heights of joy…” I agree, and cello is just so warm to me and brings a fullness of heart.

I’m partial to the fretless bass too, and the slide trombone. I think I just like instruments that don’t show you where your fingers go. It adds a dimension of actually feeling where the notes are.

The Hindu dilubra is plucked on Leaving Space, and bowed on Spring Water. The Japanese kyotaku is heard on This Moment. Kalyan’s cello is faultless and elevates this instrument. He plays it with a passionate authority, and the sound it yields is full and liquid.

To break down Cello Circles to its individual tracks would be a disservice. This album is a continuous journey, aesthetic and exquisite. There are moments of quiet reflection and surges of celebration.

This music is without genre. There are subtle hints of contemporary jazz, orchestral music, studio sounds, meditative music, tributes to nature sounds, and other soundscapes.

While the compositions are built around the cello, what’s built around it has its own value and voice. Sambodhi shines on his guitars. There’s a delicacy to his fret work that’s unmatched, and the ease of spaciousness that comes from stillness. It’s obvious that he put in countless hours in his studio too, flowering the acoustics this music lives in; a labor of love.

Harmony in Lily Flat MajorThe cover art by Sandipa is also gorgeous, appropriately titled “Harmony in Lily Flat Major.” In fact, Sambodhi has quite a few creatives around him and his website is well worth a visit.

What else can I say about Cello Circles? I can’t stop listening to it! Every time I think I’m ready for another mood, this album provides it. To go out to the edge of the known like this is courageous and true artistry.

Now go buy it! >> Cello Circles

Some extraordinary music