"I want real things--live people to take hold of--to see--and talk to--music that makes holes in the sky--I want to love as hard as I can." --Georga O'Keefe
It's always a pleasure to welcome another album from American pianist Lara Downes. Like her previous discs, her new album, "Holes in the Sky," involves a central theme, this time music by contemporary women artists. And she's assisted in her efforts by an assortment of popular and talented female musicians, including singer/songwriter Judy Collins, violinist Rachel Barton Pine, pianist Simone Dinnerstein, singer/instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens, cellist Ifetayo Ali-Landing, jazz singer/songwriter Magos Herrera, classical and folk musician Leyla McCalla, singer/songwriter/actress Hila Plitmann, mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran, and the urban youth vocal ensemble Girls of Musicality.
Here's a rundown on the selections:
1. "Memory Mist" (1949 by Florence Price)
2. "Albatross," with Judy Collins (1967 by Judy Collins)
3. "A Tide of Living Water" (2010 by Clarice Assad)
4. "Dream Variation," with Rhiannon Giddens (1959 by Margaret Bonds/Langston Hughes)
5. "Ellis Island," with Simone Dinnerstein (1981 by Meredith Monk)
6. "Don't Explain," with Leyla McCalla (1944 by Billie holiday)
7. "Willow Weep for Me" (1932 by Ann Ronell)
8. "Venus Projection" (1990 by Paula Kimper)
9. "Morning on the Limpopo; Matlou Women" (2005 by Paola Prestini)
10. "Farther from the Heart," with Hila Plitmann (2016 by Eve Beglarian/Jane Bowles)
11. "Favorite Colour" (1965 by Joni Mitchell)
12. "Notes of Gratitude" (2017 by Jennifer Higdon)
13. "Arrorro Mi Nina," with Magos Herrera (traditional, arr. by Lara Downes)
14. "Music Pink and Blue" (2018 by Elena Ruehr)
15. "Idyll" (1946 by Hazel Scott)
16. "Blue Piece," with Rachel Barton Pine (2010 by Libby Larsen)
17. "Bloom" (2018 by Marika Takeuchi)
18. "Just for a Thrill," with Alicia Hall Moran (1936 by Lil Hardin Armstrong)
19. "Aghavni (Doves)" (2009 by Mary Kouyoumdjian)
20. "What Lips My Lips Have Kissed" (2014 by Georgia Scitt)
21. "Rainbow" (by Abbey Lincoln/Melba Liston)
22. "All the Pretty Little Horses," with Ifetayo Ali-Landing & The Girls of Musicality (traditional, arr. by Lara Downes)
Producers Adam Abeshouse and Alan Silverman and engineers Adam Abeshouse, Alan Silverman, Ian Schreier, and Bill Maylone recorded the music at various locations, including Yamaha Artist Services, NYC; Power Station Studios, NYC; Music Shed Studios, New Orleans, LA; Manifold Recording, Pittsboro, NC; and WFMT Levin Performance Studio, Chicago, IL, from May to September 2018.
As we should expect, there is some variation in sound reproduction depending on the particular studio used. Most of the sound, though, is typical of pop studio productions: close, detailed, well spread. Other selections, like the songs with Judy Collins and Leyla McCalla and the piece with Rachel Barton Pine sound a bit more natural, with a tad more air around the soloists. Suffice to say, all of it sounds fine and none of it will disappoint.
Addendum: Shortly after I finished this review, my wife heard the album and immediately took proprietary possession of it. It now resides among the music collection in her car. Well, at least I know where to find it the next time I want to listen.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: