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Album Review: Ethereal Escapes
Merrill Collins
Cover image of the album Ethereal Escapes by Merrill Collins
Ethereal Escapes
Merrill Collins
2017 / Spiraling Music
60 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Ethereal Escapes is a title that could easily suggest floating, free-form ambient music, but pianist/composer Merrill Collins and her trio have created an amazing album that blends contemporary classical and new age stylings into a unique sound that is accessible, substantial, and absolutely beautiful. Collins composed the music and performs on grand piano. The other members of her trio are Laura Halladay on flute and Maksim Velchkin on cello - superlative musicians who perform together seamlessly. All three have performed on international stages with a wide range of artists, bringing a wealth of experience and musicianship to this project.

The album is subtitled Echappees Etheriques II and is a sequel to Collins’ 2016 release, Echappees Etheriques, which also featured her trio as collaborators. Collins received a Global Peace Song Award in 2016 for her composition, “Every Man, Woman, and Child,” and has composed music for an impressive number of international events that include the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. For the most part, the sixteen tracks on the album lean more to the classical side than the new age, and most have strong melodies and great emotional depth. 10% of the proceeds from album sales go to the Institute of Individual and World Peace.

Ethereal Escapes connects three stories that Collins wrote in 1987 - a time when her birthday coincided with the Harmonic Convergence, one of the world’s first globally synchronized meditation events, as well as an exceptional alignment of the planets. The music expresses the “utter vastness and beauty of the ether” (quoted from the liner notes of the CD). There are too many tracks to write about them all, but I’ll tell you about some of my favorites.

The album begins with “The Fountain of Jewels Activated,” a peaceful and dreamy piece with sparkling wind chimes in addition to the piano, cello and flute. “With Every Heartbeat” opens with the piano setting a gentle rhythm along with a small gong. After this brief introduction, flute and cello join the piano in a slow, absolutely gorgeous piece that shimmers with grace - a favorite! “Listening With Our Ancestors” is a bit darker and more haunting as the three musicians take turns with the very poignant melody - I really like this one, too! “We Heard Earth Weeping” makes full use of the soulful nature of the cello to express the mournful tragedy of the theme. “With Our Timeless Elders” overflows with deep emotion and reminds me just a bit of Chopin and how he might be composing if he was alive today. “We Are Whole Together” seems to offer a message of hope as well as a call for unity. “Living in Harmonious Worlds” has a very classical/Baroque feeling and yet fits in perfectly with the present. Soaring, with passion in every note, this is another strong favorite. “Triumphant Upon Arrival” brings this excellent album to warm and soothing close.

Ethereal Escapes is quite different from anything I’ve heard in a while, successfully merging classical and contemporary styles to create a strong call for peace and unity at a time when the world seems to be falling apart. The album is available from Amazon and iTunes. Highly recommended!
June 19, 2017
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