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Album Review: Alaskan Soundscapes
Jill Haley
Cover image of the album Alaskan Soundscapes by Jill Haley
Alaskan Soundscapes
Jill Haley
2023 / Coranglais
47 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Jill Haley's Alaskan Soundscapes is part of a continuing series of albums inspired by her Artist-In-Residence positions in various US National Parks. What better way could there possibly be to compose music that embodies a place than by staying there for an extended period of time and becoming immersed in those surroundings? The album is subtitled Music for Wrangell-St. Elias and Kenai Fjords National Parks and was inspired by the natural beauty of the areas as well as "getting to know the strong, resilient people that inhabit this sometimes-harsh environment." Jill performs the eleven original tracks on piano, English horn, oboe and synthesizer along with David Cullen on guitar and bass, and The Eykamp String Quartet (two violins, viola and cello). The instrumentation varies from track to track, but the flow of the album is very peaceful and relaxed. In addition to her own recordings, Jill often appears on albums produced at Will Ackerman's Imaginary Road Studio and in collaboration with other artists.

Alaskan Soundscapes begins with "Resurrection Bay," a peaceful duet for English horn and acoustic guitar with ambient keyboard background tones. David Cullen's guitar captures the feeling of gentle ripples on a quiet body of water while the smooth English horn expresses grace and tranquility - an exceptionally beautiful start! An "albedo" is a fraction of light that is reflected by a body or surface and "Glacial Albedo" uses a bell-like sound to describe light interacting with a glacier. Keyboard, piano and oboe are light, delicate and sometimes playful as they describe this sparkling dance. Jill demonstrates her artistry at the piano as well as with the oboe on "Seward Artistry," especially when she plays both at the same time (just kidding!)! "Dena'ina" introduces The Eykamp String Quartet, a graceful addition behind the English horn as well as in the lead - very soothing! "Athabaskan" is an elegant, flowing neo-classical piece for the quartet alone. "Cikusinaq," probably the most ambient piece on the album, features the string quartet and English horn. Dark and moving very slowly, it is also quite dramatic in its own way. "Chanshtnu" is the name of a park in Anchorage, and the piece inspired by it is lively and upbeat, perhaps depicting a popular attraction on a sunny day. I really love "Autumn in the Wrangell Mountains," a duet for guitar(s) and oboe - an especially effective pairing because of the very different sounds of the instruments. Another favorite is "Kennicott River," a lively trio for piano, oboe and guitar that expresses grace and power as well as beauty and freedom. "Peeking Through," a duet for piano and English horn, could refer to the sun or moon breaking through clouds or new growth emerging from the snow and ice, or any number of things. I hear the music as expressing hope and strength - soulful and very poignant. Jill closes the album with the only piano solo, "Ribbons of Ice," a slow, blissful piece that gives me the impression of long strips of ice floating on a river, in no hurry whatsoever.

Alaskan Soundscapes is available Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and streaming sites including Spotify. CDs are also available from Amazon. It's another great album from Jill Haley and I very highly recommend it!
November 1, 2023
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Contributing artists:
David Cullen