Gregg Karukas’ music has always had unique melodic qualities. This has defined him as an artist for three decades. But when listening to his new album “Serenata”, which offers classics by Milton Nascimento, Clube da Esquina and Dori Caymmi – plus new and re-imagined originals – it is easy to tell that this is an artist on the very top of his game. From the playful “Tudo O Que Você Podia Ser”, via the reflective “Sound of Emotion”, to the exquisite title track, “Serenata” is an outstanding release by one of this genre’s best performers. The music goes straight to the heart – and stays there.
As a child, Gregg Karukas experimented with drums, guitar, trumpet, and keyboards, but it was not until his teens that he pursued music professionally as a pianist, having played with the Bowie High School Starliners big band. Karukas spent five years with Tim Eyermann in the band East Coast Offering. He was a member of the Rippingtons when they recorded their first album, “Moonlighting” (1987). The same year Karukas released his first solo album, “The Night Owl”. Since then, he has recorded 12 solo albums, which all have garnered consistently solid airplay and reviews thanks to his musical versatility and easygoing nature. He produced, arranged, engineered, and co-wrote two albums with Omar Akram, whose “Echoes of Love” won the Grammy Award for Best New Age Album in 2013. Karukas owns and distributes most of his music on his label, Nightowl Records.
When you listen to “Serenata” for the first time, it doesn’t take long before you pick up on its emotional qualities and realize that this is a very special and personal album for the artist. Karukas says that his years touring with Brazilian artists Sergio Mendes, Dori Caymmi and Ricardo Silveira in the 1990s are some of his favorite musical experiences. “Travessia” by Milton Nascimento and Fernando Brant (known in the English version as “Bridges”), is the gorgeous album-opener. The gentle melody with its delightful hint of melancholy brings back memories of people and places, building a bridge between the past and the here-and-now. Karukas is a true virtuoso, performing “Travessia” like no other. Bravo!
The light and thoughtful “Ponta de Areia” gives time to reflect on life and its true meaning. Karukas’ original “Serenata” seems to refine these reflections one step further, taking our minds on an enjoyable trip down memory lane. It is a phenomenal title track, one that will make you want to come back again and again.
“Nascente” and “Tudo O Que Você Podia Ser” are colorful and lively. Life is not a walk on roses, which these two pieces seem to underline. Yet there are “Better Days” ahead. Karukas’ second original on the album is a refined and positive piece. With so strong performances, the compositions’ qualities often are a bit overlooked – but “Better Days” is a jewel. But don’t take my word for it. Check it out yourself:
The following part of “Serenata” is playful and always brings a smile to my face. It is impossible to feel blue while listening to “Paisagem da Janela”. Moving on, “Dori’s Song” is a wonderful ballad brimming with love and creative twists and turns. Nearer the end, “O Cantador”, “Para Sempre (Until Forever)” and “Historia Antiga” distill the idea that is “Serenata”. We have all had times in our professional lives when everything was falling into place. Karukas is lucky to be able to relive such moments on his piano.
The ending is wonderfully reflective. “Lament” and “Long Ago” are both heavy with melancholy, reminiscing of times gone by. “Long Ago” ends on a high note, underlining that the future holds many promises too. Looking for the replay button seems like the only logical thing to do at this stage.
In conclusion: Gregg Karukas’ “Serenata” is a captivating and delightful album from start to finish. It is mature and playful, complex and delicate, often at the same time. With so many rock-solid albums to his name (my personal favorites are “Heatwave” (2002) and “Nightshift” (2000)), it is almost impossible to say which is the best. But “Serenata” offers something special; It feels so honest and bare. Having been listening to “Serenata” for over two months now, I have concluded that there is a time in life for everything – and this reflective album makes us see it all with an immense sense of gratitude and love. “Serenata” is one of those very few albums where it doesn’t matter how long you listen; from one minute to five hours, you will be amazed by Gregg Karukas’ artistry.
“Serenata” is, in short, a brilliant solo piano release!
For more information and music samples, visit karukas.com
“Serenata” is available on Amazon. It is also playing on New Age Stars Radio.