Album: Signature – Synchronicity
Artist: Fiona Joy

fionajoyThe new release by Australian pianist/composer Fiona Joy represents one of the more interesting and unique projects I’ve encountered recently in my 35 years as a new age music journalist. Just about one year ago, I wrote a feature article about her previous release, Signature – Solo, which out of the 11 albums she has recorded was her first solo piano CD. With this new release, Signature – Synchronicity, Fiona reprises these same piano compositions, but adds accompaniment by a host of world-class musicians, recorded at GRAMMY winning producer and Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman’s iconic Imaginary Road Studios. Some tracks were also recorded at Crash Symphony Productions in Sydney.


Having written feature articles about a number of Fiona’s previous albums, including Signature Solo, 600 Years In A Moment, Sensual Journeys, Christmas Joy, Blue Dream, and a concert review of a performance by Fiona and Trysette, I have watched her career blossom into becoming the internationally-recognized artist she is now. As Will Ackerman noted: “One of the brightest lights in the contemporary instrumental genre, Fiona Joy is poised to move into stardom and we only have to watch to see it happen.”


At this time, Fiona is simultaneously preparing for another grand tour of China, a new recording session in the U.S., and a feature concert with her Blue Dream Ensemble at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre (Sydney) — an extension of the Sydney Women’s International Jazz Festival – scheduled for August 2016. On her last tour of China, fans have nicknamed her “The Piano Angel,” not just for her romantic melodic songs and lush arrangements, but also for her gracious and mesmerizingly ballet-like performance style in concert. Fiona’sFiona in concert music has earned her numerous awards, nominations, and number one spots on the charts for radio airplay. She also contributed to the Winds of Samsara album by Ricky Kej and Wouter Kellerman which won a GRAMMY in the new age category.


Among the things I enjoy sharing in my feature articles are a bit of the back-story behind an album and its tracks, as well as a glimpse into the artist’s creative process. In my interview with Fiona, she was gracious enough to share a number of facts and details about this. Here she gives some background with regard to the name of the two albums in this series: “I named it  ‘Signature’ in honor of my left hand which has osteo-necrosis (bone death) and has been remarkably resilient to date given the doctors prognosis. I have left the medical fraternity shaking their heads in disbelief that my hand has held up this long. I wanted to say thanks to the very thing that decides on the longevity of my career… my left hand.”


Fiona also shared a bit about her creative process: “I write all my music to stand alone as solo piano pieces. Only on rare occasions do I write with other instruments in mind during the formulation process, and yet I consider myself a multi-faceted composer, because as soon as I have the bones of the song constructed I can ‘hear’ other parts.  Because of this, I have always had a fascination with presenting the songs totally solo (which I did in Signature Solo) and then re-recording in a studio environment adding the many layers of instruments and vocals that make up how I ‘hear’ the songs after their initial conception. That’s how the two Signature albums came about – one solo, live, single take, and the other a fully produced and orchestrated and edited version.”



Fiona Joy & Michael Diamond at Blue Coast Records session

Fiona Joy & Michael Diamond at Blue Coast Records session

She goes on to say: “The other interesting fact is that Signature Solo and Signature Synchronicity are both recorded by ex-Windham Hill producers. Signature Solo was produced by Cookie Marenco at the OTR Studios of Blue Coast Records near San Francisco, and Signature Synchronicity was produced by the Founder of Windham Hill Records – Will Ackerman (with Tom Eaton & James Englund).” I was honored to be invited to one of Fiona’s solo recording sessions with Cookie Marenco and had the opportunity to hear the music over their state of the art audiophile system. Incidentally, Fiona’s music is available in audiophile formats, as well as on standard CD. With regard to the recording of the two versions, Fiona shared: “I wanted to do the single take live energy performance for the solo album on the Steinway at Cookie’s studio, and an edited orchestrated version for the second part of the Signature series using my Australian-made 97 key Stuart and Sons piano. The songs are note for note identical in terms of writing (except for the title track which is a little more improvised.)”


The term “synchronicity” is defined as: the coming together of inner and outer events. On Fiona’s homage to this phenomenon, her deep inspiration and artistic vision combine with the exceptional talents of the gifted musicians and producers she had the good fortune to work with. The opening track, entitled “Ceremony,” is a song which Fiona wrote for her wedding and begins with a lovely and lighthearted piano arpeggio that unfolds in a way that brought to mind the path a couple might follow as they begin their life together. This lively version of the song is beautifully accented by layers of ethereal vocals provided by Fiona and Borbala Bodonyi, as well as percussion by Jeff Haynes (Pat Metheney Group), and the keyboard pads and bass of Imaginary Road Studios producer and engineer Tom Eaton, whose own excellent music I recently had the pleasure to write about.


Fiona’s misty angelic vocal is a highlight of the track called “Grace,” which she wrote for a fan who shared thatFiona piano her music helped her through a profound personal tragedy. Another distinction is that a version of this song was featured on the GRAMMY winning album by Ricky Kej and Wouter Kellerman mentioned above. Adding to the poignancy of the song is frequent Will Ackerman collaborator Jeff Oster on flugelhorn, the soulful cello of Eugene Friesen of The Paul Winter Consort and Tony Levin on NS bass, who has played with Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Judy Collins, and more. Another vocal by Fiona is featured on a wistful tune entitled “Once Upon The Impossible,” which she describes as written about: “love that has tried its hardest but cannot work.” This album seems to include more vocal tracks than I remember hearing on Fiona’s previous albums. Interestingly though, her vocals have a whispery, ghostly quality that blends in with the instrumentation rather than standing out as in traditional vocal recordings.


On a track (no pun intended) called “Invisible Train,” a feeling of forward motion is captured by Jeff Haynes’ percussion, and an atmospheric element is created by one of my favorite instrumentalists, Premik Russell Tubbs who plays and EWI, or electronic wind instrument. Premik has recorded and performed with huge list of top artists including Ravi Shankar, Santana, Lady Gaga, Sting, and more. Up next is a pleasant surprise, and one that was not on the Signature –Solo album in this form. It’s called “Grace (Chill Version)” and is a reprise of track 2 but with a twist. This version includes Fiona’s son, Nick Hawkins doing beat-box percussion, as well as the ambient horn maestro himself, Jeff Oster on flugelhorn, Tony Levin on bass, electric guitarist Marc Shulman, percussion by Jeff Haynes, and Borbala Bodonyi adding vocal layers. I love the cool contemporary feel they’ve given to the song, and the way Fiona’s vocals drift dreamily over the instrumentation.


mistOne of the songs that was most intriguing to me personally is “From The Mist,” which Fiona describes as a “Celtic fairy march,” and is inspired by her Irish and Scottish heritage. What made this of particular interest to me is the fact that I produced a music video for the solo piano version of the song a year ago. The accompaniment in this version certainly adds another dimension, with the Irish whistle of Paul Jarman lending an air of authenticity to this lilting tune. Although there isn’t room to discuss all the songs, I would, however, like to mention the other musicians who have contributed to this project: James Englund – additional percussion, Noah Wilding – vocal layers, Rebecca Daniel – violin, soprano vocal layers, and Will Ackerman himself on acoustic guitar.


But of course, the brightest spotlight belongs to Fiona Joy; a truly a remarkable composer and pianist whose graceful and elegant piano work is as technically impressive as it is emotionally evocative. In fact, the depth of feeling that goes into her music is one of the things that distinguish her in the new age music genre. Fiona’s 11115671_819118668175866_7013293433411714278_ncompositions range from subtle and understated to more elaborate and ornate but always exhibit the emotional expressiveness she has become so well known for. In addition to her exquisite piano playing, Fiona’s airy vocals imbue the tracks they are on with an ethereal ambiance that reminded me at times of Enya.


While Fiona’s music has a maturity and sophistication, much of it derives from images in her childhood. As she shares: “The fairy-tail theme was my way of exploring subjects that fascinated me from as far back as my child-hood. Those childhood stories and dreams of princesses and towers and rainbows and all things magical have been explored with a modern day adult perspective.” Whether these themes are stated overtly or not, I think that the listener picks up on them subliminally, which further enhances the enchanting quality that so many find in Fiona’s music – I know that I certainly do.


Click the links below to hear samples and/or purchase this album:



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