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Christopher James | Grace From Persistence | Album Review by Dyan Garris

Grace_Softpak_6Panel_CC2015_V3_Final.inddGrace from Persistence

 by Christopher James

Album Review by Dyan Garris for Zone Music Reporter and New Age CD

“Grace from Persistence” is the third solo album from Christopher James (Christopher James Roberts), an American composer, producer, and ex-CEO of Universal Music Group’s Classical and Jazz division.

That Christopher James has spent many years composing in various styles for film and television, is clearly evident. Grace from Persistence” is a big, bold, cinematic, “New Age” contemporary instrumental album. The album was created in collaboration with engineer, co-writer, and co-producer Bob Stark.  It features more than thirty musicians and it was mixed by Grammy® Award-winning engineer Kevin Killen.

Combining elements of jazz, pop, and classical arrangements into a multi-colored, multi-faceted fusion that can’t easily be stereotyped as one thing or another – and shouldn’t be “Grace from Persistence” is a dynamic tapestry.  And it is enjoyably epic, with a full-bodied banquet of orchestration that includes piano, violin, viola, cello, guitars, trumpet and saxophones, various flutes, clarinet and oboe, drums and percussion. Added to the mix are heavenly, ethereal vocals as well. You get the idea. It’s a profusion of spectacular instrumentation, all perfectly arranged, orchestrated, and produced. This is something to be savored and thoroughly enjoyed. There is relaxation here. There is some fun here. There is also drama, mystery, intrigue, and depth.

Now what about those Saguaros on the album cover? The title “Grace from Persistence” was inspired by a visit to the desert Southwest, and a film Christopher James saw during that visit that described the Native Americans’ beliefs about the Saguaro cactus.  There are many interesting legends and stories regarding the Saguaro. And there is one thing that becomes quite apparent if you spend any length of time in the desert: It’s a fascinating and mysterious place, truly.  As is this album.

But what you notice immediately in the desert, is that everything living in the environment – which can be spectrally extreme – including the enigmatic Saguaro, finds amazingly resourceful ways to not only stay alive, but to thrive.  It’s quite remarkable. And this is, indeed, grace through persistence. Saguaros exist as “individuals,” resembling humans with their arms outstretched, as if in greeting. But together they all make up a uniquely distinguishable landscape, as does the whole of humanity. Through persistence, Saguaros can live to be about two-hundred years old.  Can we?  Perhaps, through a certain amount of grace and our own determination and persistence, or our determination to be persistent.  Something to think about as you listen to this beautiful music.

The album opens with the very relaxing, “Awakening,” which is dreamy and gentle, with soft, jazzy piano, and ethereal vocals, plus more. It’s just right and it is to love.  This is an ever-changing panoramic vista, much like a desert landscape. This song could perhaps be the desert itself awakening from a long slumber or perhaps it is representative of humanity awakening. It’s very pretty and one you want to listen to over and over.  From there we have the up-tempo, joyful, “Get on with It.” This is a happy, hopeful, exciting tune. Yes, indeed, let’s go. The sultry, hypnotic, and mysterious “Mother Russia” follows, which is a “fantasy based on a theme by Scriabin.”  For those that do not know, Scriabin was Alexander Scriabin. If you know anything about Scriabin, this makes for a fascinating and brilliant piece with darker undertones. And even if you don’t, it’s still that. Compelling, audacious, and eloquent on many levels. Here, again, we can fully appreciate the superb orchestration, among other things. Excellent.

“Where’s Frederick?” a musical scenario blending the Chopin-esque with a dramatic concept from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” is equally as interesting, as is every composition on “Grace from Persistence.” “Rear Window,” now considered a theatrical work of art, is a movie ostensibly about voyeurism, but more than that it is also about perspective and what we think we see from our particular vantage point.  If you listen to “Where’s Frederick?” with headphones, you’ll be sure to get all the nuances.  “Beyond the Stars,” takes us out there to a bigger picture. It’s a captivating composition that ranges from somewhat jazzy, to somewhat darker, to somewhat romantic, to somewhat gentle, to somewhat not.  Truly fascinating.

The title track, “Grace from Persistence” is exquisite. The compelling and persistent piano melody mixes with various percussive elements that make this track just simply enthralling.  Although it’s really hard to choose, because all of it is so very interesting, this is one of my definitive favorites on the album. The vibrant and lively “Yes and No” follows. Another favorite. It’s one that leaves you breathless in its depth and scope, and if it isn’t there already, it seems like this is one that we will hear in a movie. Love it.

 “Weimar Blues,” is bluesy, as the title suggests.  But more than that, I believe it speaks to what was once known as the Weimar Republic (Germany). As I understand it at a simplistic level, many of the issues that were encountered in that structure – that led into nothing good – are many of the same issues our societies face today. And this is one of the things I believe Christopher James is imparting (successfully so), with his album “Grace from Persistence,” which is truly a work of art, rather than “just another New Age album.” As a collective, we have to decide where we go from here.

The lively, jazzy “Cul-de-sac” is far from a dead end. So many layers here. The piano performance is outstanding, as is the orchestration.  Closing out the album is the hypnotic and mesmerizing “Neitherworld.” A haunting trumpet performance along with the piano and orchestration makes this one you feel deep, deep inside your heart.

“Grace from Persistence” is an unforgettable album, full of color and emotional depth. This is over thirty amazingly talented and creative people working together as one beautiful, glorious unification; a magnificent celebration of life.  Certainly, we should strive for the same.

Highly recommended. Get “Grace from Persistence” here:

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