I must admit that I am a bit skeptical of the many Covid19 quarantine releases. Simply because the artist is not allowed to go anywhere, doesn’t mean that true inspiration will magically manifest itself. On the contrary, being locked up 24/7 is probably not the best way to get artistic inspiration. But my preconceptions all vanished the minute I put on “Karmic Dreams”, a collaboration between Michael Whalen and Rasull a.k.a. BlueMonk. Working over the internet between New York City and Malaysia, the two artists exchanged ideas and performances. The result is “Karmic Dreams”, a stunning and heartfelt meditation album. It is as if the artists have found a sanctuary in music during this time of stress and uncertainty – and now they are sharing it with us. “Karmic Dreams” is a much-needed gift to the world.
There is no doubt that Michael Whalen is one of the most popular and beloved artists on the New Age music scene today. We recently selected the two-time Emmy award winner’s album “Sacred Spaces” as no. 1 on our 2020 – Best New Age Music Albums so far list. We wrote: “When the pandemic started, Michael Whalen’s “Sacred Spaces” was like an answer to a prayer. The album is also profoundly existential in nature, dealing with the search for a higher power.” Rasull a.k.a. BlueMonk is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist. He plays Japanese shakuhachi, piano, synthesizer keyboards, acoustic guitar as well as concert flute and erhu. His two most recent albums are “Dance of the Monks” (2018) and “Water Spirits” (2018). Working with Whalen has obviously had a great impact on BlueMonk’s music, who here plays on “major league level”.
The Secret Garden
The album opener is called “The Secret Garden”. The first you will notice is the incredible richness of Whalen’s synths – easily on par with Suzanne Ciani, Chuck Wild, Tom Eaton or any other #1 artist you would compare him with. Then BlueMonk’s cuts the soundscape in two with the efficiency of a samurai, taking us to flute heaven with one well-placed blow. “The Secret Garden” is the kind of album opener artists set out to make, but somehow fail to do; There’s something uncompromising here that is borderline scary. Perhaps it is the fear of Covid19 that kicked in? It is rich, beautiful and complex. Bravo!
But don’t take my word for it. Check it out here:
Talking about samurais, the next piece is called “The Way of the Samurai”. It is heavy with the mysticism of the Far East, and I have no problem envisioning the powerful and distinguished warrior on his way into the danger zone. I almost find myself expecting that the song would fade into Michael Cretu’s 1985 classic “Samurai”, it is tremendous.
Cherry Blossom Heart
We are still mentally in Japan when “Cherry Blossom Heart” comes on. The piece has a nice build-up, and we get to appreciate even more of BlueMonk’s impressive flute. I also enjoy the free-floating quality of the soundscape. It is impossible to tell where it is going to end, and almost six minutes are gone in an instant.
At this stage we find ourselves admiring the moon. “Moon Scape” has an interesting variation in sound. The synth is center stage and BlueMonk is more in the background, adding depth and contrasts – before “The Trance” takes us into unknown territory. It is a colorful piece, like a mystery within a mystery.
The two last pieces play almost as one. “Boundless Love” is wonderfully meditative and dreamy. Its lightness is nothing short of impressive. The title track does a fine job in making the transition back to everyday life easier, thanks to the chilled, bell-like synths.
The meditation session is over, but you know that you can enjoy “Karmic Dreams” anytime you want. I find that thought both reassuring and comforting.
In conclusion: Michael Whalen and BlueMonk have delivered a magnificent meditation album! As I wrote above, “Karmic Dreams” is almost surprisingly good and captivating – especially given the fact that it is composed and recorded during the quarantine, and that Whalen and BlueMonk did not meet physically. There is, as you know, no shortage on synth-and-flute albums out there, but even compared with the best of the best, “Karmic Dreams” is a phenomenal release. Whalen’s synth wizardry and BlueMonk’s flute skills make “Karmic Dreams” into something we all can benefit from in this difficult time.
Score: 96/100 – See our scoring policy
For more information and music samples, visit michaelwhalen.com. See all BlueMonk’s releases on Spotify.
“Karmic Dreams” is a featured album on New Age Stars Radio