Pablo Picasso once said that “the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” Listening to Merrill Collins’ «Ethereal Escapes» – to be released on 21 July 2017 – got me thinking of that famous quote. Both stress and worries really seem to disappear when experiencing Collins’ genuine and heartfelt compositions. It is art with a purpose; to give your soul a much needed ethereal escape. I can’t say if any dust will be washed off, though the music will leave you feeling both relaxed and inspired.
“Ethereal Escapes” is a sequel to Merrill Collins’ “Echappées Ethériques” (2016). Fans of last year’s album will feel right at home listening to “Ethereal Escapes”, though the new installation in the series is, in my opinion, a bit less dreamy and more visual. It too has also a larger focus on harmonies, which always pleases a New Age music enthusiast. “Echappées Ethériques” is also highly recommended.
Get to know the artists
Merrill Collins attended Ithaca College School of Music and Humboldt State University where she completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Piano, with a minor in composition. Merrill then completed a Master’s of Music Degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on a full scholarship. Her music label is called Spiraling Music, which features a catalog filled with various instrumental albums influenced by the work of artists such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Oliver Messiaen, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Herbie Hancock and many others. On “Ethereal Escapes” Merrill plays grand piano. She is joined by some extraordinary artists; Laura Halladay on flute and Maksim Velichkin on cello. What a marvelous trio!
The album connects three stories Collins wrote in 1987 – a time when her birthday coincided with the Harmonic Convergence, one of the world’s first globally synchronised meditation events, which also closely coincided with an exceptional alignment of the planets (August 16-17, 1987). This adds a fascinating dimension to the music. Behind each song is a narrative to be discovered. In other words; this is a deeply inspired record.
I’m always impressed by an artist that manages to pull off an “In medias res” effect (Latin; “in the midst of things”). As listeners, we are thrown into a situation and have to adjust our ears rapidly. It is not widely used in New Age music, but we know it well from classical music. On the opening track, “The Fountain of Jewels Activated”, the cello is making a kind of a “flanging sound” while the piano and flute are filling in nicely. The result is a striking, highly original tableau. You really can sense the jewel fountain rising on the horizon; the piano, backed by wind chimes, become ray of bright, colorful lights, washing over the listener. It is interesting to witness how the cello and flute fill the audio canvas with darker colors, even shade – while the piano is suddenly center stage, demanding attention, exploding like fireworks. We are, from the very beginning, drawn into Collins’ masterful musical poetry.
Our Ears Tingled
Second track is “Our Ears Tingled”. Wind chimes add a tingling feeling, while the slow melody is carefully constructed. It is like the cello and flute are having a conversation, and it is not clear where it is going to end. You just have to keep on listening. The song, like most on this album, has a hint of improvisation. Yet there’s a noticeable artistical idea that is holding everything together. It is all part of a grand plan.
“With Every Heartbeat” is my favorite track on the album. Notice how the piano is like a heartbeat, while the flute and cello become like life itself, totally depending on the steady beat – and when the piano stops, it is all over. This song will very much appeal to fans of Secret Garden. It has a marvelous melody and atmosphere. I could listen to it all day.
I must mention the recording. I like how the room is being used; you can feel how the sound is travelling through air, without the loss of audio quality. It creates a more natural sound than placing the microphone “as close as possible”. The instruments are treated equally, which too gives it a live feel.
“Listening with our ancestors” is meditative and instantly creates a connection to history and past lives. Especially the cello part has a wonderful Baroque touch. “Our peaceful uprising continues” is a short interlude before “Flowing Directly to Love” give us wings, travelling on a romantic jet stream. Then there’s a powerful and surprising contrast, violently dragging us back to reality. “We heard Earth weeping” starts – and ends – with a large and deep acoustic gong. Here there’s nothing but black colors and a feeling of utter sorrow. Yet at the same time there’s something truly beautiful here; like watching an explosion on a cosmic scale.
What makes “Ethereal Escapes” into an extraordinary album is how it is both meditative and offers lot of variation in sound at the same time. Very few releases have this quality. Just listen to “Remembering the Emerald”, “In the bigger picture”, “With our timeless elders” and “We are whole together”. A truly rewarding listening experience. “Living in Harmonious Worlds” is a dance piece, originally composed by Baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann.
Over the years as a radio host I have learned that some of the most dedicated New Age music fans are painters. I’m sure that they, or anyone in a creative line of work, will very much enjoy this album. “Ethereal Escapes” has both colors, atmosphere and is, as above stated, highly visual. It is not just for escapes of the mind, but for work and reading too.
Tales of Love
There is a narrative here, stories that are told with pathos of a cosmic connection. On the last part of the album the focus has changed; the drama is gone and we are told tales of love, hope and family. Both “Returning home” and “Riding on waves of gold” are heartwarming pieces made for the replay button. When the last piece is played, “Triumphant upon arrival”, the album clocks in on 1 hour sharp. Triumphant indeed.
In conclusion: “Ethereal Escapes” is close to a perfect release. Its neo classical sound gives it a wide appeal. The combination of highly creative material and first rate artists make this into something truly unique. I’ll end with the Picasso quote: «the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.» I think Collins with “Ethereal Escapes” has captured the very essence of art.
Score: 94/100 – See how I rate music here.
10% of the sales proceeds will go to the Institute of Individual and World Peace.