Free as a Bird

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Even as Real Music kicks up its release schedule to include more Eastern meditation projects, the label has committed to more pop-minded new age artists who beautifully blend relaxing atmospheres with tight, colorful melodies and grooves. Pianist/composer Omar thanks piano legend David Lanz in his liner notes, and like Lanz has done recently, takes a radio-friendly smooth jazz sojourn on many of the tracks here. Every other track alternates between soaring, self-produced atmospheric and exotic pieces and more in-the-pocket rhythmic tunes produced by smooth jazz keyboardist Gregg Karukas (who has also produced Lanz). Working with top outside musicians (from violinist Charlie Bisharat to saxman Eric Marienthal), Omar creates a wonderfully diverse collection which allows him to remain firmly at center stage. On the title track, his sensual musings are given dreamy and elegant harmonic support from Bisharat, while other pieces involve interaction with strings and percussion ("Passage Into Midnight") or gentle, electronic grooves. No label release would be complete without some ode to Indian instrumentation, and Omar's nod to the Orient is the sensuous and atmospheric "Beauty Unveiled," which begins in an ambient trance state with intermingling sitar and flute before the pianist enters and begins a more upbeat adventure. For all the lush production values, it's Omar's piano, beautiful in its elegance and rich in its quiet rhythmic power, that proves the most unforgettable element.

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