Every so often,
a CD comes along that blows the listener away with
its creativity and quality of its music. This is one
Four years in
the making, Jennifer Thomas's latest CD,
'Illumination', is a work of art. Clearly a master
of her craft, Jennifer has created an album that is
simply superb from beginning to end.
If ever there
was a good reason for artists still releasing their
music in CD format, this is it. Accompanying the
disk is a beautifully produced sixteen page colour
booklet containing the amazing landscape photography
of her father, Ron Southworth. As she herself
explains, "In some instances, the art drove me to
write a particular song, and in others the music
came first and inspired the photograph." The
wide-ranging photographs were all taken from the
Pacific Northwest down to the California coastline.
The whole insert has a sumptuous feel to it, boding
well for the listening experience ahead.
piano features in every track and is the dominant
instrument, this album also features the impressive
violin skills of Kelley Marie Johnson as well as
Jennifer herself. In addition, the beautiful
cello-piano combination can be heard thanks to the
playing of Stephanie Yose, and wordless vocals come
from Felicia Farerre and Rachelle Hrncicik.
Additional orchestration, which really enhances this
album and separates it from the norm, comes from the very talented Glen Gabriel.
Much of the
music on this CD is quite upbeat (and sometimes
amazingly so!)- music to get you
out of bed in the morning rather than to drift away
to sleep. This is amply illustrated by the opening
track 'Elude for the Dreamer'. The music is as
invigorating as it is beautiful. The accompanying
photograph shows Jennifer looking resplendent gazing
into a mirror at Seattle's Paramount Theatre. The
piece is bursting with energy- an amazing cacophony
Storm' slows things right down, as our planet
recovers from what Mother Nature has thrown at it.
There is definitely a sense of hope and optimism in
this gorgeous piece, and it is dedicated to a friend
who has overcome all manner of storms in her life.
The image shows Coquille Lighthouse, near Bandon in
Oregon- a beacon of light in sometimes stormy
I think my
favourite piece is the title track, 'Illumination'-
what an appealing melody! Positive and upbeat, this
is toe-tapping stuff. Shafts of light penetrate the
tall, thin trees close to Ruby Beach in Washington.
I think this would make for a perfect film score!
notes of 'Gymnopédie No. 1' by Erik Satie greet the
listener in the opening to the next track, but this is very much Jennifer's own take
on this well-known composition- the cello
combining particularly well with the piano.
I love the CD's
fifth track, 'New Life' which, after a gentle
opening, bristles with life. It's a beautiful track
with a very catchy and appealing melody. This is
another piece which is full of hope and optimism for
life's journey ahead.
When I saw the
photograph for 'Beyond the Summit', I had to look
very carefully as I thought at first it must be a
painting. Surely such a beautiful sight could not be so
perfectly captured in a photographer's frame? But
there it is, Diablo Lake in North Cascades,
Washington. It is not difficult to see why the
photography of Ron Southworth (www.ronsouthworth.com)
has won awards. And my goodness, the flowing
composition that ensues is gorgeous from start to
finish. As I listen, I embark on a soaring journey
over the snow-covered mountain peaks looking down on
the crystal-clear water below.
I am intrigued
by track seven, 'Into the Forest' in a number of
ways. Wordless vocals give the piece an ethereal
feel at the opening, then with the addition of
drumming, I'm transported to a tribal forest! It
almost sounds like there's a didgeridoo lurking as
well, although there is no mention of this. The
accompanying photograph shows a grand piano in a
small clearing surrounded by the greenery of the
forest. I would imagine Jennifer is inspired by
'Secrets' is a
beautiful interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach's
'Cello Suite in G Major'. Again, the angelic voices
give the piece a heavenly and slightly mysterious
feel near the start, then there is a change of tone
at around the 1:20 mark, with the addition of
various orchestration. The piece literally bursts
into life before slowing down once again at its
conclusion. I love this track!
Bach is clearly
a composer dear to this musician's heart, and by way
of a tribute, a lovely version of 'Toccata and
Fugue' makes up track nine. This particular piece is
arranged and orchestrated by Jennifer, with beats
and additional orchestration by Glen Gabriel, and
additional beats and effects by Adam Amos.
has a haunting opening, with a deep-voiced
Vangelis-style choir. The piano is accompanied by
various beats and drumming. I can't quite make out
the location of the photograph, but Jennifer sits in
what appears to be a forest surrounded with ancient
has a Latin feel to it. Surely this piece could make
an appearance on 'Strictly Come Dancing' in the near
future? One moment, all is gentle... the next moment
the piece is full throttle!!
Canon' is, in my opinion, rather overused in CDs in
this genre- it's almost a stipulation it has to be
included somewhere. However, when there are versions
out there that are as interesting and gorgeous as
this album's twelfth track, I am happy to make an
exception! This particular version is for one piano
and four hands... and this makes for a fascinating
and highly appealing listening experience. Around
the 3:00 minute mark, it really takes off. An
experience not to be missed!
From the title
'Across the Starlit Sky', the listener would be
right to expect a slower, gentler and more
reflective piece. As darkness descends, Jennifer's
piano sprinkles the night sky with ivory dust. Her
father's stunning picture of Mount Rainier
(Washington) complements the composition perfectly.
The dream theme
occurs again, with 'Requiem for a Dream', but there
will be no sleeping whilst listening to this
'Piano Sonata Op. 7. Movement 2' gets the Thomas
treatment as we begin to head towards the close of
this remarkable album. Her interpretation- a joy to
listen to- is entitled 'Sonata Minoré'.
track in this jaw-droppingly good CD is called 'Eventide'
which slows things right down as night beckons, and
Jennifer's delightful piano playing is enhanced with
Kelley Marie Johnson's violin solo. This is a
delightful, majestic piece of music which I simply
Rachmaninoff's 'Piano Concerto No. 3, Movement 2' and Antonin Dvorak's 'Symphony No. 9 in E Minor- Largo'
close out this remarkable album, with a real
symphonic sound. What a way to finish!
This CD is
brimming with quality from the very first track to
the very last- all seventy-three minutes' worth.
Fans of Jennifer will not have minded the four year
wait given the consistently high standard of this
albun. The sound quality is top-notch, and the
orchestration is of such high quality, it really
does sound like the whole album is being performed
in a concert hall somewhere with perfect acoustics
by world-class musicians.
could sit happily in the New Age / Contemporary
Instrumental section of your local music store, but
would be equally at home in the Classical section.
If Jennifer can bring out albums as good as this,
perhaps one day in the future people will be talking
about Bach, Dvorak, Thomas...
album, and one in which I have no hesitation in
giving my highest recommendation.