Free As a Bird is the much-anticipated follow-up to Omar's 2002 release, Opal Fire. Exotic, sensual, and brimming with life, it was worth the wait! Richly arranged and orchestrated by David Dial and Gregg Karukas, real instruments replace some of the keyboards from the earlier release, and the interaction of great musicians such as violinist Charlie Bisharat (one of my all-time favorites!), Ramon Stagnaro on guitar, Gregg Karukas on keyboards and percussion, and Pedro Eustache on flute makes the music even more exciting. It is impossible to not think of Yanni's best work when listening to Omar. International flavors and a strong, optimistic spirit ignite the upbeat pieces, and the quieter songs are full of heart and passion. Quite simply, this is a GREAT album!
Free As A Bird
|1. Free as a Bird 5:05|
|2. Passage into Midnight 4:21|
|3. A Day With You 5:08|
|4. Falling Through the Rain 4:49|
|5. Beauty Unveiled 4:25|
|6. Dancing with the Wind 4:51|
|7. Surrender 6:41|
|8. Riding the Current 3:59|
|9. Never Let Go 3:33|
|10. Trust Unspoken 3:59|
|11. Flight of Mystery 5:05|
Free As a Bird is the much-anticipated follow-up to Omar’s 2002 release, Opal Fire. Exotic, sensual, and brimming with life, it was worth the wait! Richly arranged and orchestrated by David Dial and Gregg Karukas, real instruments replace some of the keyboards from the earlier release, and the interaction of great musicians such as violinist Charlie Bisharat (one of my all-time favorites!), Ramon Stagnaro on guitar, Gregg Karukas on keyboards and percussion, and Pedro Eustache on flute makes the music even more exciting. It is impossible to not think of Yanni’s best work when listening to Omar. International flavors and a strong, optimistic spirit ignite the upbeat pieces, and the quieter songs are full of heart and passion. Quite simply, this is a GREAT album!
There are no weak tracks on Free As A Bird. My favorites tend to be those that feature Charlie Bisharat, but since he is on seven of the eleven tracks, that’s most of the album! “Free” sparkles with joy and, well, freedom. “Passage Into Midnight” begins with a bittersweet melody that is introspective and questioning, but as the piece evolves, it picks up a Latin flavor and rhythm. “A Day With You” is a sweet love song. “Surrender” is a standout. Elegant and melancholy, the piano, violin, and guitar fill the haunting melody with emotion. In a word – WOW! “Riding the Current” is jazzier and practically dances out of the CD player – another favorite. “Flight Of Mystery” closes the album with a swirling ensemble piece that allows all of the musicians to soar.
Free As A Bird is sure to be on my Top 10 for 2004 and should bring Omar the recognition he so richly deserves. Very highly recommended!
Of the diverse variety of music in the retail category of New Age, none is more popular with record consumers than contemporary instrumental. For decades such popular adult pop icons as Mannheim Steamroller, Yanni, Jim Brickman, George Winston and John Tesh have dominated the Billboard New Age sales charts.
Poised to break into the elite upper echelon of artists with mainstream consumer appeal is Omar with his latest offering, Free as a Bird. Filled with engaging melodies, diverse rhythms, romance and sensual appeal, this set of compositions by classically-trained pianist Omar is laden with rich influences from his travels world wide and his exposure to music by Yanni, John Tesh, Kitaro and Jarre. Eminently pleasing and enjoyable to experience, Free As a Bird takes the listener to such musically diverse regions as European gypsy minarets of the Middle East, Spanish nightspots of Ottmar Liebert, the Greek Acropolis of Vangelis and Yanni, as well as the homelands of Tesh.
Joining Omar are several headliners in their own rights. For years, Charlie Bisharat has been a mainstay on John Tesh’s recordings and tours, as well as a soloist. Bisharat appears here as the soulful and passionate violinist. Gregg Karukas, known to millions of listeners of jazz recordings and smooth jazz radio, lends his considerable keyboard talents as well as drum and percussion programming to this finely crafted ensemble outing.
For added flavor and texture David Dial plays romantic synthesizers, Ramon Stagnaro picks an evocative Spanish guitar and Pedro Eustache floats on flute. A guest spot by the Rippingtons Eric Marienthal and his saxophone top off the album.
From the sparkling piano, crystalline keyboards and soaring violin of the opening track “Free as a Bird” to the hauntingly mystic closing band “Flight of Mystery”, Omar has produced one of the most pleasure-filled and enjoyable instrumental collections of the year. Offering a rich and sumptuous array of memorable and romantic melodies, worldly textures and exotic percussion and rhythms, this set bears repeated listening for hours of carefree satisfaction.
Do you remember the first time you heard music on a compact disc? What a transition it was going from the snap, crackle and pop of the vinyl “soundtrack” to the high technology of the crystal clear compact disc. It was like having your ailing eyes corrected back to 20/20 vision. This would accurately describe the transition from the Omar’s strong debut Opal Fire to the impeccable Free as a Bird. There is certainly no sophomore jinx present here. In fact, Omar has presented strong evidence to suggest that he has not just improved on his personal goals but in reality has become a major player within the Contemporary Instrumental genre.
Much like David Lanz’s 2001 release Finding Paradise, Omar has tweaked his melodic knobs and he has geared toward a New Age-Smooth Jazz merger creating music that is immediately accessible. Yet at the same time he retains that certain mystical quality that he possesses making his music always interesting. My first reaction was to place a lot of credit on the shoulders of producer Greg Karukas who coincidentally was the co producer of the previously mentioned Finding Paradise. Upon further examination, I noticed that Omar is credited for producing five of the eleven tracks. Of course, it does not hurt to have the world class violinist Charlie Bisharat, well known for his work with John Tesh, Yanni and Bradley Joseph. He brings a tremendous human warmth and emotion to the album. That said, it is a great group effort but always with Omar at the helm.
Now that I have rambled on long enough about the production and cast members what about the music I hear you asking? It is nothing short of breathtaking. At the beginning of the year I raved about the new Jim Wilson album Sanctuary and stated emphatically that the album was the lead candidate for my album of the year despite reviewing it in January. While that may still be the case at this given time, Free As A Bird is giving Wilson a run for his money. Ask me again at the end of the year. Either way these two albums will be lead candidates for such honors.
Most of the album runs at a mid tempo pace, with Bisharat appearing on no less than seven tracks. We even have jazz saxophonist Eric Marienthal appearing on “Trust Unspoken”. By the very nature of the instrumentation used, there are heavy jazz influences presenting a very musky and moody attitude. It is not as melodically sensible as the others are. Nevertheless it is a wonderful distraction. Countered with the guitar work of Ramon Stagnaro, the song is a delightful exploration into accessible jazz.
Speaking of Ramon, the man works magic on the opening title track countered with Charlie’s tearful violin endeavors. And of course Omar’s piano work is nothing short of charismatic, setting the tone and pace of the entire album that simply can do no wrong. The song brings on the vivid images of a graceful bird freely defying gravity while floating effortlessly in the winds of our atmosphere.
How about the eclectic “Falling Through The Rain”? It includes the flute work of Pedro Eustache along with Omar’s repeated chord progression bringing to mind David Lanz’s collaborations with Paul Speer back in the ’80s. Even more eclectic is the Middle Eastern-based “Beauty Unveiled” that pulsates with exoticism and passion featuring Alex Galas on the bouzouki. Comparisons to Yanni are simply unavoidable here, but considering his success this is the ultimate compliment. Such comparisons continue with the uplifting “Dancing With The Wind” as well as “Riding The Current”.
Parallels are not just derived courtesy of the more upbeat music. The utterly serene and romantic “Surrender” makes you want to live out the title and submit to the powerful emotion expressed here. Once again Bisharat and Stagnaro are impeccable on violin and guitar respectively. Clocking in close to seven minutes I could have taken even more. And it is here that Omar is clearly confident in his abilities as he gives up the spotlight to his session players. Meanwhile, reflective moments continue via the mellow madness of “Never Let Go”
So have I mentioned nearly every song? Yes, the album is that outstanding. There is not one weak link to be found. Clearly, the human factor plays a huge role in the success of this project as the label has spared no expense from art work to production to make the music real (pun fully intended). Despite all the support this is still all about the memorable melodies of Omar. If this artist is able to continue the trend set here there is no doubting that Omar will become a major icon in the world of Contemporary Instrumental music. It is this kind of impeccable music that continues to give me hope in the survival of this genre.
Composer/Pianist Omar thanks piano legend David Lanz in his liner notes, and like Lanz has done recently, takes a radio friendly smooth jazz sojourn on many of the tracks here. Every other track alternates between soaring, self-produced atmospheric and exotic pieces and more in the pocket rhythmic tunes produced by smooth jazz keyboardist Gregg Karukas (who has also produced Lanz). Working with top outside musicians (from violinist Charlie Bisharat to saxman Eric Marienthal), Omar creates a wonderfully diverse collection, which allows him to remain firmly at center stage.
On the title track, his sensual musings are given dreamy and elegant harmonic support from Bisharat, while other pieces involve interaction with strings and percussion (“Passage Into Midnight”) or gentle, electronic grooves...Omar's nod to the Orient is the sensuous and atmospheric “Beauty Unveiled,” which begins in an ambient trance state with intermingling sitar and flute before the pianist enters and begins a more upbeat adventure.
For all the lush production values, it's Omar's piano, beautiful in its elegance and rich in its quiet rhythmic power, that proves the most unforgettable element.