Review by Kerry Barnes Official Reviewer for New Age Music Planet
Album entitled “Fire in the Clouds” by Eric Bikales
Introduction My labour of love, reviewing CDs!! And, I find Eric having a real fun time, enjoying all that is on offer in his home-studio!! Sounds rather wonderful to me!! Also on board, the talents of colleagues namely, Gus Laux on production, mixing and engineering, (along with Eric), Mike Haynes on mastering, graphic art with Julie Webster and photo editing by Anna Jaap……Great team!! Eric, at this point in his life is revelling in a time where he can concentrate on his own ‘musical-musings’ …….and really writing from the heart, without focussing too much on any particular genre. Khai, Eric’s beautiful wife of three years, has a whole track dedicated to her, and probably sweetly about her. They have both been enjoying ‘drone-photography’ to make the most of the stunning sunsets in Tennessee where they live, and which grace the CD wallet to great effect!! In very recent times, Enlightened Piano Radio hath bestowed upon him “Best Jazz Album”. Many congrats Eric!!!
TRACK 1 “Yellow Bird”
The ‘symbolism’ of a joyous and positive outlook on life, and the possible gift of a ‘spiritual freedom’ and ‘psychological liberation’ This is the perfect run-up for Eric’s first track. Straight in, no fussing about. A forward energy and a confident stride greets us saying “Come on, it’s a beautiful day and so great to be alive, walk with me!!” I have to say that Eric is a stunningly gifted pianist in all aspects of technique and facility, but it is his use of ‘harmonic-language’ that grabs me immediately. Free and light, full of exquisite things like ‘descending open intervals’ of 4ths and 5ths etc. For my very English ears, it is the epitome of American new age jazz. I’ve always wanted to be able to use this musical-makeup in my own playing, but I can’t……I just don’t have it!! The melodic framework in this track is beautifully engaging and leads to (at 038 and 106) ….THE MOST SUBLIME SOFT PEDALLING I’VE EVER HEARD!!!!! My jaw just dropped on hearing these moments. Even more impressive is the fact that Eric may have produced this sound by his own immaculate tone control abilities, and no soft pedalling at all! I would love to know which????? …..incidentally, the same phrase comes up at 206 but Eric’s intention has changed, and he adds a more normal mp-mf sound. At 206 I’m thinking ‘ooooh, is this the Coda??’ ……it almost is, but he gives us just a little more teasing before coming to rest…….and guess what…..there are 3 very sweet bird-calls, almost cuckoo like, could this be our “Yellow Bird??” in disguise? I very much hope so.
TRACK 2. “Cebu Sunrise”
What a lovely way to ‘welcome-a-sunrise’! Laid back and somewhat mellow, just gorgeous. Expertly applied sliding acciaccaturas, just slipped in with a very natural stroke. A beautiful melody is delivered, and repeated, and flies gently over a staccato terrain, punctuated to perfection!! These two devices compliment each other really well and produce a friendly and very sociable sound. This is a very happy album so far!! I’m loving the gently shaped phrases that sing a slight crescendo within them but never too obvious. Nice touch Eric. The tonal colour-palette is interwoven with carefree accents, peppered at will, and reveals just what amazing finger-hand-wrist dexterity Eric has. It comes to him so easily!! Double encore please!!!
TRACK 3. “Journey Within”
There’s an immediate happy buoyancy to this piece in the main, as it frolics with a quadruple metre, my feet are tapping. Eric uses octave-playing in the right hand to develop and grow the melodic hooks, with great effect. I feel a slight ‘searching’ vibe as the piece travels on it’s journey within. I love how Eric uses modulation and crescendo to invite a surge of adrenaline within the listener. However, nothing prepared me for what was to happen at 2.17!! …..an unusual veil of silvery sound bursts onto the scene, mystical, ethereal, clairaudient, almost guiding us through the next stage of this journey. I have no idea how Eric has produced this sound but it fits in beautifully!! The piece in closing pedals a delicate lace of ascendant and pearly notes, I’m looking up towards heavens kisses.
TRACK 4. “Fire In The Clouds”
An orange sun bathes in clouds of bubbles, awash with a fiery light, amidst washes and swathes of sound, really smooth and surreal. And in complete contrast!!......a punchy, staccato, catchy piano terrain!! Really spikey and on point, played with great energy!! The rhythm is detailed and feisty. These masterful synthy additions really create magical moments for this piece, I wouldn’t have dreamed of putting these together, but IT SO WORKS ERIC!!! To finish, piano and ‘unidentified’ are in complete harmony. ‘Ain’t no SUNSHINE when this has gone! BRAVO!!
TRACK 5. “Now This”
A soundbite. A snapshot. A deepest bass toe in the water. …….and the 2nd entry of a phrase presented twice, with a soft tone to DIE FOR!! 26 seconds.
TRACK 6. “Khai”
Written and penned by Eric, for his beautiful wife of 3 years, Khai. The beating heart of this most beloved piece is a repeated note, perpetuated by love and pure joy. It represents their joined pulse, their love for each other, the whole world is theirs. It’s so happy, so full of longing, and she is his totally. And he is hers. The regular modulations reveal different aspects of their love and relationship, showing a typical day in the life of lovers who don’t always see eye to eye! Making up is sweet harmony right?? Although this melody of love is 4.36…..I can’t help thinking that Eric could have gone on for an hour, Khai never exhausts him!! I can think of other ways in which she may exhaust him!!......am I allowed to say that on national television!!! A sun kissed energy carried by a golden wind, go hand in hand, just as they walk beside each other, hand in hand. Xx
TRACK 7. “And Then”
0.14 Seconds!! Another quick challenge for me! And what a beautiful challenge it is. Despite it’s brief life, it definitely doesn’t sound like an ‘after-thought’……more of an interlude providing a bridge between before and after. Here, Eric has chosen the most blissfully beautiful jazz chords that you would ever want to hear. Full stop!!
TRACK 8. “Setting Sun”
A straight in melody envelopes this melting honey pot, as the orange disc disappears into the horizon. Herein lies a harmonic language only angels can know, combined with a strong melodic message in the upper regions. A somewhat staccato-detached terrain really adds punch within the metre and adds sharpness and clarity. I’m loving the 3 against 2 moments, and the finger-twisting right hand ornaments like trills, slides, and acciaccatura. Played brilliantly fluently and smooth. There are a couple of ‘dry’ right hand moments with no pedal and Eric completely dominates this technique. To close the dying embers, a beautiful ‘Tierce de Picardie’ graces the dusky hue and is a warmly welcomed harmony.
TRACK 9. “Reasoning with the Wind”
I think this track is my favourite!! ……and definitely not just a puff of wind!! Come on I’ve got my best hat on! The instrumental combinations of this piece are truly divine and I love how the piano 6ths dance with depth and intensity, with a purpose of movement in every melodic fragment. Strings threads sing with a current like ‘fingers-caressing-wine-glass-rims’ in the eye of a breeze. This music moves me greatly, it carries an emotional headwind, and I don’t want it to stop! My eyes are closed, I’m in a tempestuous ecstasy. Just ahead of a tailwind sings a solitary ‘whistle’ as it holds it’s singular note, slightly drifting. With a very gentle current, and fading, a gorgeous synth-sound takes us home. I can now breathe xx
TRACK 10. “Kansas Wind”
As we know by now, Eric has been trying to ‘reason’ with the wind, but here I feel he is completely at ease with it!! …..hence the upbeat major-tonality. This really is a happy piece of work. Loving the bluesey-blasts and blows, real catchy hooks. I have to say at this point that Eric really is a ‘virtuoso’ pianist of the highest level, this tapestry is very complex, however he makes it all sound so free and easy, just floating on a Kansas breeze! Some excellent added instrumentations in the form of synths and drawbar organ type sounds are very effective and complimentary indeed. The right hand piano work is in total domination, strong, robust, and with such clarity of technique. I detect little call-and-response figures between the piano and synths, a real point of interest for any listener. Eric is also an expert in the art of layering, and sneaking in the odd ‘irregular’ time in a bar. (in one bar there is a right hand 5 in the time of 4 pattern, like 5 semiquavers in the time of 4) Wicked!! The closing sensation is like a pulsating blood pressure machine. Mmmmm, very hypnotic, love it. B R A V O E R I C!! ENCORE PLEASE!!
Eric expresses his thanks and love to the following people: Khai Bikales Ed Bazel Vida and Gina Bikales Kerry Kirk Debbie and Bob Schissler Sherry Carlisle Smith Cathy Oakes Donovan Johnson David Nevue And Sherry Finzer. END