Jonathan Elias

American River

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Acoustic pianist Jonathan Ellis has created a striking vista of American horizons, sunset skyscapes, pathways, waterways, and shimmering colors within instrumental, new age style music. Invited guests occasionally read prose or add different acoustic instruments within classical, country, and various ethnic elements. The combination of these concepts lives and breathes in a unified whole, idiosyncratic within its scope, but never removed from the realm of sheer beauty. Ellis has conceived music that sports a distinct organic feel while avoiding pretentiousness or noodling. Danceable qualities close to an Irish jig crop up on two pieces -- "At the Edge," and the familiar "Ave Maria" like traipse "Toward Home." At the core of the group's sound, "Crossing Rivers" and "Southern Delta" feature the soaring violin of Charlie Bisharat and cellist Cameron Stone alongside the bright tonal piano of Ellis. Classical sounds are attained during "The Great Divide" and "Move," the former theme displaying a snippet that was used on a television commercial for Valspar paints. Busy 5/4 rhythms on "Wild Colorado" are an essential basis for a jam featuring guitarist Tony Rice and mandolinist Ronnie McCoury, while "Ice on the St. Lawrence" is easily an inexorable, chilly wintertime film theme. For the rest of the program there are the vocal outlooks -- Johnny Cash and Rosanne Cash separately recite about a river during the sighing echoed music of "The Continuance/Mariners & Musicians," while Kris Kristofferson waxes poetic on the Great Southwest over Philip Glass type minimalism for "The Source." Emmylou Harris is a perfect choice (when is she not perfect?) for "Mother of Exile" based on the classic "Colossus Reaffirmed" with the great line"'give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...etc." A bonus track has Marty Stuart reading "Can't Stop Love (Wake Up America)" which seems an afterthought tacked on, which it is. Stuart does play some fine acoustic guitar and mandola, while the incredible dobro master Jerry Douglas appears on four selections. Ellis lays out on two tracks -- not that noticeable -- but his distinctive piano sound is a central part of this music that for the most part is wonderful and fully realized. Its appeal will speak to a specific crossover audience into the environment, healing music, and a distinct spiritual path.

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