New music is being released every day and it is hard to keep track of it all. A release that you might have overlooked is Randy Baltzell’s 2018 brilliant debut album Heart of the Wilderness. This 10-piece adventure into the unknown is a true New Age music gem in every sense of the word! It is an album too good to be overlooked.
Randy Baltzell is an Oregon-based trumpet teacher. He teaches for all levels and ages, classical, contemporary and jazz. About music composing Randy says: “Most of my songs originate on piano and develop from there. I try to use a wide variety of instrumentation to express my ideas, and usually, the finished song ends up quite different than how it started. I’m always working to experiment with new ideas to portray the message of my music.” The album is co-produced by John Adorney.
Check out Heart of the Wilderness and discover what a music gem this really is (if you agree or disagree, please leave a comment below):
“Embers by Starlight” begins slowly. Yet again I’m amazed by sound of the synths and light piano. It a colorful, upbeat and positive soundscape; It is like the piano and trumpet are singing a duet, telling a story of nights by the bonfire. This is truly an artist with a deep love for nature and the outdoors.
“Where Eagles Soar” is a wonderful and gentle piano melody. You can almost feel the wind and see the majestic eagles, flying high above an endless forest. It is a breathtakingly beautiful portrait. Next out is the title track. We are now at the album’s center, the very heart of the wilderness – and what a fantastic song! It has a wonderful nerve, and the trumpet sounds absolutely divine. It communicates the feeling you get when suddenly stumbling upon a great view, or arriving at your destination after a long and demanding hike. What a brilliant song!
“Tall Timber” is almost 7 minutes long, but time just flies when listening to it. I love the synths and effects in the intro. You really feel like you are surrounded by thick forest. Then a happy sounding piano comes on, followed by trumpet. It is a gorgeous, light melody Randy has in store for us. Notice how the trumpet adds layers of darker colors, while the piano carries on cheerfully as nothing has happened.
Listening to “Heart of Wilderness” it is easy to focus on the trumpet, perhaps because there’s so few trumpeters on the New Age music scene. But this is also a keyboard and synth album, and will very much appeal to fans of these instruments too. I think it is a fantastic and highly original mix.
Talking about good vibes; next track is called “The Simple Things”, my favorite song on the album. It is, as the title implies, a simple piece. Yet the melody itself is breathtakingly beautiful in all its simplicity. There’s lots of life wisdom here. We all tend to go for the big things in life, loosing perspective and not realizing that simple things too have high value – like a walk in the forest, perhaps.
“First Light” is a piano melody with light analogue sounding synths in the background – and when the sun is fully up, we can appreciate “High Desert Sky, a warm and upbeat tune. Randy has a fantastic ability to capture the essence of a tableau and transform it into notes and music. If he were a painter he would use nothing but the brightest colors.
“Moment of Truth” has a nice feel of anticipation. The synths lay the foundation, and when the trumpet is heard it is like the truth is finally out. What a glorious moment! I like the distant sound of the trumpet, like it is being played on top of a mountain. “Sun on the River” is a worthy album closer. When you have heard it thought, the only logical thing is to hit the replay button.
I’ll end this review where I started; “Heart of the Wilderness” by Randy Baltzell is a triumphant debut album! The best thing is perhaps that it is so honest; It is beautiful, but never sugar-sweet. Randy’s love for nature and the places he is describing is 100 % heartfelt and genuine. The melodies are beautifully crafted and the trumpet adds an extra dimension of sound.
If you don’t feel like venturing into the heart of wilderness yourself, listening to this album is the next best thing…
Interview with Randy Baltzell
BT Fasmer: Tell us a bit about yourself and the process behind “Heart of the Wilderness”.
Randy Baltzell: Thank you! I have always been a composer. When I was very young maybe 4, certainly no older than 5, I remember my dad coming home from a hiking trip. I remember him telling me about the woods he hiked through and what it was like in the woods as the sun went down, how the woods grew quiet, and how wildlife behaved. I remember the scene that unfolded before me, and a picture began to form in my young mind of “my dad in the wilds”, or a “man surviving in nature” type of thing. I went to the piano, and began to play out what was unfolding in my mind, which was bigger than life to me! I just had to express it. The melody was simple, but it was fulI of everything I was feeling at that moment. It seems strange now as I look back, that a 4 year old would feel in such a way, but that’s how it was. I still remember the connection that was formed at that moment for me, between life experience, particularly in nature, and the connection to music, to tell what cannot be said with words. Over the years, my compositions have developed from there on that premise, “expressing what cannot be said with words”.
I have always been like that. I have written many songs over the years, that were inspired by very special moments in life, some good, some heartbreaking. In difficult times, one of the best ways for me to cope, has always been to write music about it. I have written songs inspired by moments with my wife and my kids in every stage of life, and my own experiences in the wilderness. When something touches my heart, a song begins to form. I find I can express things in music I cannot say any other way.
The Heart of the Wilderness project began as one song, the title track itself. That song is very directly related to Mt. Pisgah in the Ochoco Wilderness in Central Oregon. I have some great memories in that area, and grew up listening to my dad tell me stories of his growing up years and his experiences in that same area; this particular piece, “Heart of the Wilderness”, embodies all the feelings and experiences, some of them quite dramatic, that have developed over the years in the wilderness. The wilderness is quite uplifting and inspiring to me. I really want my music to be an inspiration and a comfort to people who hear it.
BT: I understand that nature and the outdoors is very important to you. Tell us about the area that inspired you to record this album.
Randy: As I mentioned, my experiences in Central Oregon are what began this project. But I have explored many wilderness areas; Washington, California, Arkansas, Missouri, Wyoming, Colorado and other areas. I appreciate the beauty and power of the wilderness. As I got to thinking about the magical moments I have witnessed in the outdoors, such as an eagles flight in early morning, mist rising from a mirror-like lake just before dawn, or a dramatic sunset in the high desert, music begins to form in my mind. For example, my song “Untold Stories”; I have walked many game trails, some of them well off the normal hiking paths. I have always wondered, “Who was the first person to walk this trail?” When I follow it, sometimes to a fantastic vista, I wonder, “Who was the first person to see this sight? And what are the stories of the first families that settled here, that have never been told?” That idea alone, could write several songs!
BT: You worked with John Adorney on this release. How was that?
Randy: I had written several songs on piano, and recorded them on a tape recorder over the years, and later on my smartphone, then I began recording them on a Yamaha Clavinova keyboard. A few years ago, my wife encouraged me to take the next step and compose these songs in a manner that others could hear. I had no idea how to go about this, what software to purchase, what to consider for microphones, or anything else. I began to reach out to artists I enjoyed listening to, and the labels that produced them, to try and glean any information I could to get started. No one responded to my emails, except John, when I contacted Eversound. He was so helpful in leading me in a direction to get started. We started off with a 45 minute phone call, in which he was telling me what software to buy. I remember being so surprised, that a successful recording artist such as John, would take the time to answer my questions, when he had never heard any of my music! He offered direction in what software to use, the various plugins he used, and also how to use the software itself. Over the following months, John told me to contact him anytime I had a question, which was a priceless opportunity, and I used it. I began to send him some samples of my work, then he would offer input. Soon we began to Skype, and he would give me mixing and recording tips as we discussed my music. He gave me insight into things from lessons he had learned the hard way that might have taken me years to uncover. Such insight is priceless. He was a major encouragement and help to me to get this project off the ground. I can’t say enough about John’s support and friendship.
BT: What artists are your inspiration? As a trumpet teacher, I guess you have many trumpet idols?
Randy: Yes! I was classically trained on trumpet for the most part, my jazz influences came later. Probably the teacher that had the biggest impact on my playing, was Jim Kvech here in Portland Oregon, the man who started me on trumpet when I was 9. The man is inspiration itself with kids and music, and his inspiration worked magic on me. He really launched my interest in the trumpet.
I have always loved the classical playing of Maurice Andre. The first time I heard him play, something connected in me, and I knew that ‘sound quality’ on the trumpet was everything. I knew then, if I was ever going to tell a story with my trumpet, it was only going to be through the quality of my sound and expression. There would always be people who could play higher, faster, louder… but sound! That was the magic key! The technical skill of Rafael Mendez was eye-opening to me, and the power and majesty of Doc Severinsen all had a major impact.
I have also been greatly influenced by a certain style of music that isn’t always about trumpet. There has always been certain music that would strike a magical quality for me, and thereby influence me. “Music Box Dancer” by Frank Mills in the 70’s was one of those. I was only 8 or 9, but I was mesmerized! Recording artists Ray Lynch, David and Diane Arkenstone, Enya, Vangelis, David Lanz, Jan Hammer, and many others in more recent years have all struck me in a way that influenced my compositions. Sometimes it isn’t an entire song, but a certain chord structure combined with certain sounds that may really strike me as magical and moving. The film scores of John Williams have also been a great influence!
BT: From watching this video on YouTube I understand that you have strong opinions on Spotify and the streaming economy. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Randy: I don’t know if it’s strong feelings, so much as bewilderment. The music industry is not what many people think it is. The way streaming has developed in recent years is fantastic for listeners, but not for the artist. I myself have enjoyed finding many things to listen for free on YouTube, Spotify, and other online sources. But it’s way out of balance for the artist. As an artist, we certainly want our music to reach people, but in all fairness to the artist who created it, the compensation for streaming is so low it seems bizarre. Spotify admittedly pays somewhere between $.006 and $.0084 per play. There are other streaming services that pay a little better, but it’s pitifully low. There’s really very little to be done about it, that’s just the way it has evolved, so we make the best of it. It could change a little for the better perhaps, but we’re not holding our breath. There was an article in January of 2018 (this year), in Mashable by Mark Kaufman, which reported, the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board ruled (the weekend before the article came out) that music publishers must be paid more for their songs, as much as 43% higher than current payouts. But that will take time, and the cost will probably be passed on to the consumer, affecting memberships. It’s hard for me to say what the landscape really looks like. But certainly, it is a real issue for artists, and one that is noticed by the Copyright Board. But we’ll have to wait and see how it all plays out.
BT: Are you working on any new material at the moment?
Randy: Yes. I have begun work on my next album project, which I’m very excited about. It continues from where Heart of the Wilderness left off, trying to capture more of the essence, beauty and power of the wilderness. I will explore some new ideas in this project, but that’s all I can say at this point.
There is another goal behind my music; I want my music to offer hope. I do believe such a message can come through the music, regardless of the title, and without any sound effects. When music comes from the heart, it comes through to the listener and has an effect. I wish for people to feel uplifted, and feel that perhaps their life is not as bad as they thought. If that happens through my music, then my mission is accomplished.
One more tidbit…
One man we met at a coffee shop, who is an outdoor enthusiast, was interested in my music, so we gave him a CD just before he left for Alaska. A few days ago, after arriving home from a 2 week camping trip with his son in Alaska, we saw him again. He said:
“My son listens to rock music. We saw animals but they would all run away, even the deer. On a whim I put on your CD (Heart of the Wilderness), and the deer hung around our camp! It was Crazy!”
You may sample and purchase the album on EverSound.com.
Also, make sure to visit randybaltzellmusic.com