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The Stick EWI Project – In the Moonlight Review – Michael Kollwitz & Walton Mendelson

Usually, one unique instrument is enough to make an album stand out from the crowd. “The Stick EWI Project” has TWO, Michael Kollwitz’s Chapman Stick, and Walton Mendelson’s Electronic Wind Instrument – the EWI. Kollwitz and Mendelson willingly share the limelight, and the listener can sense how each artist is trying to make the other one shine. This feeling of mutual respect strengthens the project immensely, making “The Stick EWI Project” into a delightful, inspired, and completely one-of-a-kind release. 

Michael Kollwitz has played The Chapman Stick for over forty years. He has recorded in such diverse genres as Jazz, Classic Rock, Latin, Hawaiian, and Americana. Michael’s 21st album, “Serenity – Peaceful Music on The Chapman Stick” (2017), marked a change in course for his music. His goal was to create a sonically healing experience to evoke soothing simplicity and peaceful relaxation for his listeners. The Serenity Series has become very successful over the last few years. In the Christmas of 2019, Kollwitz released “Santa Plays the Stick”, which we here on Newagemusic.guide called “a creative, playful, and joyous Holiday album”.

Walton Mendelson grew up in Cleveland, playing the saxophone and flute as a child. In the late ‘60s, making the requisite pilgrimages to New York and L.A., where he immersed himself in the folk, rock, and jazz scenes. In 1989 he relocated to Prescott, Arizona, and began playing the EWI soon after. In 2018, he met Michael Kollwitz at a local venue where their very first impromptu jam earned them a standing ovation from the audience.

This episode of Dream Mixtape is dedicated to The Stick EWI Project:

Pleasant Dreams
The album opener on “The Stick EWI Project” is called “Pleasant Dreams”. True to its name, the song contains several beautiful, dreamlike visions. The Stick lays the foundation, while the EWI takes the early lead. It sounds like a saxophone, giving the song a wonderful 1980s vibe. Later the Stick takes over with a guitar-like lead, expanding and redefining the theme before the sax returns. It took less than four minutes to convince this reviewer that the Stick and the EWI not just “work” in a general sense but is a match made in heaven. In short: “Pleasant Dreams” is an extremely promising start!

“Whispering” makes the listener pay attention. It has some of that atmosphere that has made Kollwitz’s “Serenity Series” into such a hit recently, plus Mendelson’s “whispering” EWI. I very much like the melody and how the saxophone adds both coolness and attitude.

In The Moonlight
The title track is worth the price of the album alone! It is a sublime piece with a hint of Eastern mystique, thanks to the EWI, which here sounds like a sitar. The acoustic qualities of the Stick strengthen this impression. The song brings out the best in each instrument. I love the song’s atmosphere; It could go on for an hour, and I wouldn’t mind. It is a masterpiece, and the uniqueness of each instrument makes it even more beautiful. But don’t take my word for it. Check it out yourself:

It is hard to follow a one-of-a-kind song like “In The Moonlight”, but “Summer River Day” is everything it has to be; Cool, laid-back and unpretentious. The EWI sounds divine, and the Stick solo segment in the middle shows that Kollwitz is a genuine virtuoso.

Spinnakers Bay
The uncomplicated vibe continues on “Spinnakers Bay”. Here we get to hear more of what the EWI is capable of. It sounds like a violin, giving the song a romantic, neo-classical touch. The view of the bay is stunning.

No yin without the yang, right? “Missing You” is a sad and lonely song. I can also sense a deep-rooted gratitude and a myriad of good memories, making it into a good kind of longing. The somewhat abrupt ending might indicate that the feeling passed quickly. Here the EWI sounds almost like a harmonica.

Kapalua
Now we find ourselves in Hawaii, enjoying beach life and a relaxed environment. The EWI trumpet is like a warm breeze before Kollwitz cuts in and makes the Stick sound like a steely electric guitar. What a nice riff! We continue our travels until we reach the “Western Outpost”. The violin gives the impression that this is a place time forgot, the last evidence of civilization before the wilderness. It is a cozy song. I wouldn’t mind staying at the outpost for a day or two.

The EWI violin
Next out is the nicely named “If It Ain’t Baroque Don’t Fix It”. I’m sure Kollwitz can take on any genre or era in music history, and the Baroque is no exception. The violin sounds nice too. On “Lasting Love” we hear a high pitched EWI. It is different and lovely at the same time.

Near the end, Kollwitz & Mendelson have another jewel for us. “French Windshield” is a song drenched in melancholy. It communicates the feeling you get when driving in the French countryside on a rainy winter’s day. The song would have been perfect in an artsy, black & white movie. The EWI harmonica is phenomenal!

This musical journey ends in Central America. “Panama Heat” is a fast and delightful piece. If there is any doubt left that the Stick and the EWI are meant to be, this hot piece will make it evaporate. Notice when both instruments play at the same time; It is a breathtakingly beautiful duet.

In conclusion: When reviewing an album like this, it is easy to focus on the uniqueness of the instruments used. But that is not the complete story. Underneath it all is an album filled with rock-solid material. “In The Moonlight” is destined to become one of 2020’s first New Age music hits, while “Pleasant Dreams”, “Summer River Day” and “Panama Heat” give the album plenty of replay value.

Halfway into the second listen I had all but forgotten about the “project”, or experimental, nature of this release. I didn’t listen to the Stick or the EWI, but to inspired music by talented artists – capturing the essence of moonlight.

Score: 95/100 – See our scoring policy

For more information and music samples, visit stickewiproject.com

The album is available for pre-order on Bandcamp