If you had asked me: “Can a whole album – from start to finish – be filled with nothing but gratitude?”, my answer would have been no. Ask any artist; To make one genuine feel-good song is hard, and to make a whole album of it is nearly impossible. But then I came across Max Highstein’s “Gratitunes,” a recent Global Music Awards winner. It gives the listener a deep sense of gratitude almost instantly. Highstein is performing with world-class artists Howard Levy, Rusty Crutcher, John Yoakum, and others, making “Gratitunes” into one of 2020’s most excellent and heartfelt New Age music releases.
Max Highstein debuted as a New Age music artist in 1985 with “The Healing Waterfall.” His two albums, “Touch The Sky” and “Stars,” included some of the most heavily played music on the New Adult Contemporary Radio format of the ’90s. His most recent albums are “Flight Plans” (2009) and “Flying Not Falling” (2017). For “Gratitunes,” Max spent two years learning and practicing playing the soprano saxophone, which is actually his first wind instrument since grade school (read his soprano saxophone blog on maxhighsteinmusic.com). Max shows that he can pick up any instrument and play it like a virtuoso.
It is hard to put a genre label on “Gratitunes.” You can call it World, Latin, New Age music, and Jazz. This gives the album broad appeal.
When you hit play for the first time, remember to hold on to your hat because “Rain Driver” is FAST! It starts with a fabulous cello and flute segment, played by Ed Willett and John Yoakum before Max enters the stage. The soprano saxophone sounds terrific! In a contemporary instrumental setting like this, it sounds less “1980-ish” than the standard alto saxophone, much softer and gentler. Also, take notice of the arrangement; how you can “hear” the raindrops. The Rhodes piano in the end is beautiful. It is, all in all, a fantastic album opener!
Next out is the colorful and highly danceable “Badango.” The expression of the soprano saxophone and flute is very different than on “Rain Driver,” with charming World music influences. The guitar, trumpet, plus the rhythm, percussion, and vocals, all make “Badango” into something unique and inspired.
How They Fell in Love
“How They Fell in Love” is a thoughtful piece. I like how close the microphone is on the sax, making the listener feel how the music is coming to life. Needless to say, the song ends on a high note. Dog lovers will enjoy this music video:
One of the finest songs on the album is “The Bussman’s Triumph.” And what a triumph it is! Its playful melody instantly connects with the listener, and you’ll feel like taking part in the celebration. The combination of saxophone, trumpet, and flute is exquisite. What a winner this song is – bravo!
Open to Receive
“Open to Receive” a warm and positive piece. True to its name, it is filled with a healthy dose of positivity and eagerness. Walking out in the world looking for companionship and love suddenly seems less scary; Its therapeutic qualities are right there on the surface. I have said it before, and I’ll repeat it once more; The arrangement and recording are world-class. Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton couldn’t have done it any better.
Now we set sail with “The Ship Hail Mary.” Previous albums have shown that Highstein is a master in describing all kinds of travel, like flying or riding. I like how “The Ship Hail Mary” is developing; there are some exciting twists and turns here, up and down like waves. It is as if we can feel the wind and taste the sea salt. Also, notice Mark Clark’s drums and percussion.
I wrote above that gratitude is everywhere to be found on “Gratitude.” This is especially true for the song “Darshan Line.” There’s something good in everyone and everything, and the song makes you see it all. With “Ten Dollars Ticket” we are out traveling again. The electric guitar is the cheery in the pie, expertly accompanied by saxophone and trumpet. The song is almost 6 minutes long, but take my word for it; Time flies listening.
“Gratitude” sums up the whole album in one song. It is a joyous piece – but there is a complexity here too. It seems to say that life is not a dance on roses, but as long as you are guided by gratitude, you will be ok. The jazz piano is terrific. “Rail Runner” shows that one of the greatest things in life is music. We who can hear and pick up its frequencies should be very grateful indeed.
Max Highstein is famous for doing unexpected things, and the ending of “Gratitunes” is a joy to behold. The cool & fast “Rail Runner,” with its fantastic harmonica, electric guitar, and sax solo, is a real treat. There are so many great analog instruments here, but at this stage I have to give some credits to the keyboards in the background too. Wow! The playful album closer “Bone Time” will bring a smile to your face. It is a song that any dog owner can relate to. Yes, bone time is the best time of the day!
In conclusion: “Gratitunes” by Max Highstein is a genuine tour de force by one of the finest New Age music artists of all time. Making the listener feel gratitude is never easy – gratitude is such a complex emotion – but Highstein and his talented friends manage to do just that from the very first note. Brilliant!
It is comforting to know that when we look back on this year of crisis, at least something good came out of it; “Gratitunes”!
Score: 96/100 – See our scoring policy
For more information and music samples, see maxhighsteinmusic.com