Matthew Shell and Vahagn Stepanyan
2021 / Narked Records
Review by Kathy Parsons
Contemplation is a piano album that focuses on the themes of love, loss and contemplation. A soulful and very personal collection of fourteen beautiful instrumentals, thirteen of the tracks were composed, produced and arranged by Matthew Shell and Vahagn Stepanyan, and one, "In Time," was co-written and co-arranged with Gabrielle Pisani. (A more pop-styled version of this song was released separately as a single that features the lyrics sung by Pisani; the version on this album is instrumental.) Vahagn Stepanyan is the pianist on all fourteen tracks and guest artists include guitarist Sami Turunen, cellist Yoed Nir, violinist Ian Cameron, and flutist Douglas Lira. Deep reflection during the night can evoke strong emotions, and that is expressed throughout the music on Contemplation, some of which is solo piano and some that has the other instruments listed. A concept album about night, it begins with "Starlight" and ends with "Morning Bliss," intentionally closing the album on a more hopeful note. Matthew Shell is an incredibly versatile artist and producer who has worked with a wide-ranging group of artists, giving his own compositions a unique voice.
Contemplation opens with "Starlight," a gently-flowing piano solo that is more ambient than melodic and sets the peaceful tone of the album. "Peace From Within," also an ambient piano solo, moves around the piano keyboard freely and with grace. "In Time," a heartfelt trio for piano, guitar and cello, reaches out to a lost love with honesty and sincerity and is equally poignant with and without words. "Healing Touch" is hypnotic with its open, ambient style. So much is expressed with so few notes - the magic is in the way those notes are played. "Immortality," a piano solo, is a favorite. Very fluid and open, it conveys the way thoughts float around your head on a sleepless night and sometimes reveal answers you didn't know were there. The title track is another solo piano favorite and expresses deep thought as well as a feeling of aloneness. The tempo freely changes from slow and relaxed to more agitated and restless. It is never uncomfortable - just can't quite let go and drift into sleep. Acceptance can often bring a sense of relief and inner peace, and the piano solo that bears that name expresses this perfectly. "You're the One For Me" is a passionate duet for piano and violin - a plea begging to be heard and understood. "Tribute To All We Lost" feels lighter and a lot more hopeful than the title implies. Warmly introspective and relaxed, it's another favorite. "Light On the Horizon" is a piano and flute duet that reflects the peaceful promise of dawn and a new day. The jazzy flute floats over the quieter piano and paints a colorful aural picture of the morning sky. "Morning Bliss" ends this excellent album feeling like a fresh start is at hand and life is moving in the right direction. Heart-opening and honest, I really love this one!
Matthew Shell and crew have created an exceptional musical journey with Contemplation! It is available from NarkedRecords.com, Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and streaming sites such as Spotify. Both thumbs up!
October 27, 2021