CD: Passionata
Artist: Denise Young

Passionata-by-Denise-YoungFor many people, the quest to find love and fulfill their passion in life is all consuming. Those who are fortunate enough to have found that path and set foot upon it are truly blessed. One such person is Denise Young. Her third and newest release, Passionata, is a reflection of that desire.

In her words: “The music on Passionata embraces love and passion that can be discovered and rediscovered in each of us – not unlike trees that lose their leaves in the fall only to grow new ones in the warmth of spring.” She goes on to say: “My mission is to move and delight the world with my music. Since music has a miraculous ability to express, it can be very healing; emotionally, physically, and spiritually, whether you are the listener, the musician, or the vessel of its creation. And it’s a really wonderful feeling when people of all ages tell me that they love to listen my music – it validates and tells me this is one of the things I’m called to do!”


A key to Denise’s multi-faceted career is found in the above-mentioned phrase: “…one of the things I’m called to do.” In addition to being a pianist, composer, and recording artist, she is also a music educator. Music and education have played an important role in her life from an early age. Denise shares: “I began my musicianship at the age of four, playing by ear with my father and I began taking piano lessons at age five. After nearly ten years of studying classical and modern musical styles, I began to write music as a way of self-expression. I have a Bachelor of Science in Music, Music Therapy, and a Master of Arts. I have taught music for about ten years to all ages including those with special needs and Autism.”


piano at imaginary roadFor Denise, the piano has been a constant in her life and goes beyond entertainment or even a tool for creative expression. For her, there is a spiritual dimension to it as well: “”Perhaps the greatest benefit of having a piano in your life is also the one we’ve known about the longest–the uplifting effect it has on your spirit. When you sit on that bench and open the keyboard cover, you tap into a powerful way to communicate emotion.”


To that end, Denise has created Passionata, an emotional journey composed of eleven original songs that tell a story through classical and modern Victorian themes and motifs. Like her previous recording, this one was also recorded at Imaginary Road Studio, owned by Grammy winning producer and Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman, who produced this album along with Tom Eaton who also recorded, mixed, and mastered the project. According to Denise: “My return to Imaginary Road Studios was a long awaited hope that finally came to fruition in late summer of 2012. As summer waned and autumn approached the hills of Vermont, the memorable Steinway B piano once again faithfully expressed the nuances of my music.” And adding to that expression are the talents of a number of top studio musicians who often grace the tracks of Will Ackerman-produced recordings. Four pieces contain beautifully layered cello orchestration, three include authentic African percussion instruments, and one is accompanied by evocative vocal melodies.


From the opening refrains of the title track, which begins the album, I was struck by how much classical influence there Denise Youngis in Denise’s playing. While many piano albums that fall under the new age heading are by artists who are classically trained, the influence of classical music is often more in the background, or just hinted at. On “Passionata,” however, it is quite present in all its romantic glory. In fact, Will Ackerman commented on this when he said: “Denise’s love of classical music has never been more evident and this new release is ultimately a seamless marriage of classicism and her own contemporary style.” The melody is emotionally evocative with an air of romantic undertones, and listening with eyes closed it conjured images of an earlier era. On the next track, entitled “Above The Clouds,” after a solo piano intro, Denise’s delicate musical passages are gracefully accented by sonorous strings of cellist Eugene Friesen. A frequent contributor on Will Ackerman-produced recordings Eugene is well known as a member of the legendary Paul Winter Consort.


As befitting its title, a solo piano piece called “Moon Song” has a reflective presence, and it’s minor key gives it more of a lunar, nighttime ambience compared to a brighter solar feel. Following in this theme is the dreamy “Starlight Melody.” This is the second track on the album to feature Eugene’s cello playing. Additional accompaniment is provided by Tom Eaton on bass, and percussionist Jeff Haynes, who is known for his work with the Pat Metheney Group. This ensemble is joined on the next track by the ethereal female vocals of Noah Wilding. As on many recordings produced in this studio, the contributions of the session musicians are understated, and kept relatively low in the mix, although the cello does have a bit more presence on some compositions.


imagesSometimes a song’s title fits so well and perfectly captures the mood of the piece. Such is the case with “Cobblestones In The Rain,” with its melancholy tones in shades of gray that echo loneliness down a rain swept street. In keeping with the album’s theme of love and passion, another ensemble piece called “Desire,” keeps the flame burning with some of Denise’s most heartfelt playing. I also liked the delicate washes of cymbal that accentuated the composition at just the right moments. The album draws to a conclusion with, what was for me, one of the most interesting and certainly intriguing songs. Entitled “Secrets,” there was something hauntingly familiar about it that took me a while to figure out what it reminded me of. I could be misperceiving this, but the chord changes in certain sections bore a remote similarity to parts of “Hotel California” by The Eagles, although with more of a classical leaning. But whether there was any resemblance or not, it was one of my favorites, and made a wonderful ending to the recording.


Denise’s objective on this recording was to “take you on an emotional journey of love and passion,” and I think she has certainly achieved her goal. Her songs are sublimely evocative and she expresses a range of sentiment with great romanticism, both in her playing and her composition. I am certainly not alone in recognizing Denise’s unique musical talents, and I’ll leave the last word to the maestro Ackerman who notes: “Probably the greatest compliment I can pay any musician is to say that they have a musical voice. That somehow through all the influences that have shaped them, they still sound ultimately like themselves and no one else. This is very much true of Denise Young. This is unquestionably her finest work to date.”