Reviewed By Darla Bower, Enlightened Piano Radio
In her debut CD, Shoshana Michel recorded and performed a heartfelt collection of twelve (12) Jewish arrangements titled Soul Whispers. These Jewish melodies are also called Chabad Nigunim that as the CD says “nourish the soul.” My interpretation of what Chabad Nigunim means is – songs of the people. A particular people – the Jews in Russia. Ms. Michel fell in love with Chabad Nigunim and desired to share these lovely melodies. Ms. Michel is classically trained, starting lessons as a child and plays ragtime piano professionally. For more in depth biographical information, please be sure to visit her website- www.shoshanamusic.com.
Each piece is steeped in ancient tradition and speaks of an ancient story. My experience with Jewish pieces is that they tend to be written in minor keys which give them hauntingly beautiful tones and rich melodies. I find the arrangements on Soul Whispers to be very rich in melodic tone and texture illustrating a piano story of Jewish journey. These melodies are emotive and contemporary in sound while honoring a deep ancient tradition and heritage. The word Nigun is named in several of the titles and means “melodies without words.”
Several tracks are particularly noteworthy and worth mention. Shamil -track number 3 is the story of Shamil, a leader who led his people with honor and speaks of his captivity and longing for freedom. I love the arpeggios throughout this lament of longing. These arpeggiatos are skillfully woven in this arrangement and lend to its emotional and spiritual impact. Nigun L’Shabbos V’Yom Tov I, II, and III (tracks 6, 9, and 12) heralds like a movement of three parts with each part provoking a melodic blend of spiritual reflection and songs of holidays or “holy days” with each being a “good day.” Nigun L’Shabbos V’Yom Tov III (track 12) is the completion of the movement and a powerful display of beautiful chords with unexpected notes in several phrases grabbing the attention of the listener. This piece in its entirety is both reverent and spiritually reflective at the hands of this master artist.
Upon speaking with Ms. Michel; her desire is for these beautiful melodies to promote healing and bring calmness to the listener which I believe was accomplished thoroughly in this musical delight. If the listener is looking for a spiritual experience then look no further because Soul Whispers delivers a profoundly spiritual and uplifting experience. I love that this work of art opens our hearts with a longing to understand another culture while appealing to everyone on life’s journey. Indeed, Soul Whispers can whisper to your soul. I highly recommend this beautiful CD.
Soul Whispers is available from www.shoshanamusic.com, Amazon, CD Baby and iTunes.
Dancing On The Wind
Reviewed By Donovan Johnson
“Dancing On The Wind” is the latest album release by nationally recognized pianist Shoshana Michel, and is her second neo-classical recording to date. The album is very appropriately titled, and the songs are programmed in a way that flows very smoothly from piece to piece. The overall feel of the music is quite light, melodic, and often dance-like. Although Shoshana is a classically trained pianist, I really wouldn't categorize this recording as being neo-classical. The structure of the pieces and the generalized feeling that one gets when listening to it is one that is fresh, contemporary, and very modern in it's composition and technique. Keeping with the theme of the album, it could be said that “Dancing On The Wind” is truly a “breath of fresh air.” My three picks for this recording are the opening track titled “When Leaves Dance,” track six “A Night Of Lights,” and track eight, “Wandering.” Let's start with the opening track.
“When Leaves Dance” begins with a left hand ostinato pattern and a vibrant right hand melody to match it. The chord movement in this piece is really nice, particularly the movement to the major five chord that Shoshana frequently utilizes here. That progression is a really effective move in a minor piece, always demanding my attention when I hear it. This is not a “chordy” piece either. Both the right and left hands are playing melodies and patterns together that create a sort of “swirling” effect in the music, which goes right along with the title of the piece. Visions of autumn leaves falling from trees, and the crisp fall wind blowing piles of them in every which direction are what come to mind here. “A Night Of Lights” is a story piece. It has a fairy tale sort of quality to it, bringing to mind images of old Europe and times which have been long forgotten. It's a piece that celebrates it's simplicity, and makes it into something truly remarkable. Shoshana does an amazing job at bringing so many things to the surface, and using little to do it. We have here a piece that is played for the most part in the mid-high register of the piano, a straightforward left hand pattern, and a strong and uncomplicated melody. In her playing Shoshana brings all of these things to their full potential, creating an intimate mood and a lush surrounding. Think medieval era castles under the moonlight, candles burning and flowers in bloom. That's the vacation you take when listening to this piece. Her touch at the piano has a lot to do with sculpting this mood, along with the composition of the piece itself. Simply lovely, this is probably my favorite piece on the album. My final pick is track eight, “Wandering.” As I've noted Shoshana has a gift at being able to create music and moods to fit the music, then titling and programming them in a way that fits like a glove. This piece is no exception. “Wandering” sounds like a journey taken without a knowable destination, and that journey is a familiar one to all of us. This is a journey of the heart, one that happens inside every person and within every relationship. It's not as confusing as it is uncertain, and the music reflects that beautifully. The melody in the right seems to ask questions to the listener, but the phrasing is often resolved. This creates an experience that is interrogative in nature, but doesn't seem to demand any answers either. It's an intellectual piece that means to have the listener do some self examination, and quiet reflection. And while it's certainly not a musical “warm fuzzy,” “Wandering” is a piece that will engage the listener in a way unlike any of the rest of the tracks on the album. In summary, “Dancing On The Wind” is an album that is generally easy to listen to, with moments of engaged, focused listening. Many musical pictures are painted here, using a wide array of colors and textures, and this speaks to Shoshana's mastery of touch and feel at the piano. I would add to that that the pieces themselves work together to create an album that's really one large piece of work, a mural of sound, if you will. The pieces blend and flow from one to the next, each one unique but clearly a part of the whole, and together they represent the element of wind at it's finest. With the exception of more aggressive musical approaches at the piano, this album would be suitable for just about any listener and I think they would find great value in it. If you're a fan of genle, refreshing solo piano music I strongly recommend it!