Album: The Wisdom of My Shadow
Artist: Lisa Downing

album coverEver since the golden age of rock music in the 60’s and 70’s I’ve had a particular fondness for “concept albums.” Wikipedia defines them as: “studio albums with thematic unity or artistic cohesiveness.” Examples such as The Beatles Sgt. Pepper, Tommy by The Who, and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon come to mind. Albums of this type often tell a story or take the listener on journey. The latest instrumental release by pianist/composer Lisa Downing, entitled The Wisdom of My Shadow, is one of these albums. In Lisa’s words: “There is a journey that we all must take. A journey into those parts of ourselves that are mysterious, hidden and powerful. The wisdom that belongs to our shadow-selves is a necessary part of our path to the Divine. The music found here in The Wisdom of My Shadow reveals the Heroine’s Journey.


In our interview, Lisa shared a lot of fascinating behind-the-scenes information and personal reflections about the album and its creation: “You know, this album started to reveal itself to me in 2011 with the first song “Forbidden Dance.” Although my previous compositions are all quite personal and come from a place of personal experience, this song presented itself as sort of a parable, a fantasy that expressed itself in almost a “third person” format. The feeling of the piece was also quite different than my other compositions – very dark and almost ‘gothic.’ At first I thought that this was just a cool anomaly, but then another piece revealed itself — “Black Lisa at The Castle (square) 2015Wedding” came into being and then “Tragic Dream” right after that. I started to think that this was becoming a trend, and I even consciously tried to change the mood of my next compositions. After several unsuccessful attempts, and after recognizing that the deeper “shadow” melodies continued to emerge, I finally decided to quit fighting it and just go with the music I was hearing.”


Interestingly, Lisa doesn’t perceive her music as coming from her, but rather through her. She believes there is a “Universal Source” of music. This “Source” is streaming at multiple levels through endless and unseen channels that are available to anyone. The only thing required to become aware of this abundant stream is to be still and listen. Lisa simply emulates the music she can hear from the “Source,” using her skills at the piano. These skills have earned her multiple awards and nominations, critical acclaim, and extensive radio airplay. Lisa has impressed audiences worldwide in her performances where she has shared the stage with new age piano luminaries such as Liz Story, Peter Kater, David Lanz, Suzanne Ciani, and more. Although Lisa began piano lessons as a youngster, in her high school days she became enamored with the hard rock and heavy metal sounds of groups like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, and Deep Purple. However, after going to college and earning a degree in music, Lisa began tuning into the emerging Windham Hill sound in the 80’s and the many solo piano artists such as George Winston and others, leading her to pursue her own music along these lines.


b552f6e80869d3c20d9eb56ce4e56d1dSo let’s prepare for our journey into Lisa’s latest music by following her directive in the liner notes to: “Set aside your thoughts of how things should be, and travel to your internal land of what is.” The first three tracks of the album comprise what Lisa calls “The Shadow Trilogy,” which I briefly mentioned above in discussing her inspiration for the album. The first piece is entitled “Forbidden Dance,” and deals with a subject that is in popular culture these days. Lisa describes this as a story is about a young woman who also happens to be a vampire. She is caught up in an impossible crush on a young man who is a mere mortal. There is a Deep Magic that keeps them apart as they seem to fall endlessly during their dance of impossible love.” This theme is relatable to anyone who has desired or lusted after something that is beyond his or her reach. Lisa’s piano work is stunning, and I was inspired by her masterful sense of dynamics, phrasing, timing, and space which were used to great dramatic effect, setting the stage for the unfolding of her musical story.


The plot that weaves throughout the album, and which is described in the liner notes, is quite detailed and there isn’t room here to talk about each of the 14 tracks and the narrative that accompanies them. But I’ll be glad to provide an accounting of some of the highlights. After the more arcane energy of the trilogy, the mood brightens with an upbeat playful piece called “Mischief.” In her bio, one of the early influences Lisa mentions is the progressive rock group Yes, and there was something about this song that reminded me a bit of them and their iconic keyboardist Rick Wakeman.


While most of the songs on the recording are Lisa’s original composition, a few very interestingly chosen cover songs that blend with the theme of the album are included. The first of these is “Mad World” by Roland Orzabal from the group Tears For Fears who first released it in 1982. While the original version has lyrics, Lisa’s wistful instrumental version evokes the meaning and feel of the song that portrays the lonely feeling of being an outsider. According to Lisa: “It conveys visions of the vague disillusionment throughout our existence along with the dawning awareness that there is Divine wisdom available even in times of despair.”


Lisa with Al Jewer & Andy Mitran

Lisa with Al Jewer & Andy Mitran

Although most of the songs on the album are solo piano, a track entitled “Cloudwalker” is a collaboration with two of my favorite artists in the new age music genre, Andy Mitran and Al Jewer, who also featured this piece on their stellar album Transmigration, which is also featured on this site. The blend of Native American flute, electronic elements, orchestration and percussion adds another dimension to Lisa’s beautifully expressive piano work. As the legend goes, Cloudwalker appears as a spiritual midwife to lead us into a new and more balanced existence with the reintegration of male and female energies.



Lisa and her dad

Lisa and her dad

Another composition that Lisa has chosen to showcase her own rendition of is a classic jazz standard from 1939, “Harlem Nocturne,” a tune which has great personal significance to Lisa and which puts her in touch with part of her personal heritage. Lisa’s father, who was African American, was a radio DJ in Denver, CO, in the 1960s, and this was his theme song. I loved this deeply sentimental take on the tune and hearing it in a solo piano version revealed twists and turns in the melody I hadn’t been aware of before. It is quite complex and evokes a number of different moods from wistful and dreamy to a mysterious film noir feel, and even a touch of ragtime. The tribute to her father continues on the next track, a poignant ballad about Lisa’s experience of being by his side in his final days and hours.


A track called “Moonrise” taps back into the earlier part of the theme that deals with the reawakening of the Divine Feminine and the attunement to ancient lunar rhythms. This is another of the collaborative pieces and includes the talents of Améthyst and Gunnar Spardel. A more cosmic vibration is reflected in Gunnar’s enthralling instrumental mixes and Améthyst’s heavenly, echoed vocals along with her haunting ethereal sounds played on an esoteric electronic instrument called a Theremin. All these ambient elements combine to create a celestial soundscape for Lisa’s piano to cast its musical moonbeams upon.


The songs by other composers that Lisa has chosen to cover could not be more different, yet each holds a deep personal significance for her. The last of these is, interestingly, “Sad Lisa,” by Cat Stevens. In her words: “Sometimes, I feel like the “Lisa” in this song. Sadness is a powerful and necessary character in my life. It provides an opportunity for me to access my natural feminine ability to receive care from others. This piece has spoken to me since the first time I heard it on Cat Stevens’ album “Tea for the Tillerman.” Lisa’s version of it is breathtakingly beautiful and so imbued with emotion that it gave me chills when I first heard it.

dragonfire-womanPerhaps the most powerful piece on the album is the last one, “The Dragon Within.” Starting  from a gentle glow, the song builds in intensity to a roaring blaze. Lisa’s inspiration for this song came from bedtime stories she used to tell her son about a dragon named Jasper. According to Lisa, “As I started to create this piece, it began to evolve when I recognized that the power and energy of this dragon is actually a dynamic power and energy that lives inside me – a power that lives inside all women. An aspect of feminine ability that tends to be discounted — even discouraged. I dedicate this composition in honor of that profound feminine strength.”


Lisa Downing is a name I had heard many times in new age music circles, but until this album, I had not really experienced her music. Now, I’m glad to have had this opportunity. I am beyond impressed with the power and passion that flows from her fingers to the piano keyboard. While 12439002_10153586716803071_204204075243693496_nLisa has formidable technical ability to dazzle the listener, she also knows when to pull back and let simplicity speak with measured eloquence. The Wisdom of My Shadow draws from a deep well of emotion and Spirit bringing the listener along on Lisa’s personal journey, not as an observer, but in a way that resonates with our shared humanity. I, like many others, believe that the reintegration of the Divine Feminine is a key to restoring harmony in our increasingly unbalanced world, and I gratefully acknowledge Lisa for helping to foster awareness through her elegant and evocative music.


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


CD Baby