Russel Walder’s debut on Real Music is a wonderful surprise from many angles. Half of the very successful team of Ira Stein and Russel Walder, the piano/oboe duo had two hits on Windham Hill in the 80’s and a release on Narada’s Sonia Gaia label in 1990. They then parted ways, and pianist Ira Stein formed his trio. I hadn’t seen anything more about Russel Walder until this new release, Pure Joy. Oboe as the principal instrument sounded like it could be kind of awful, but it is instead rather awesome! All of the nine tracks are ensemble works that include piano, keyboards, guitar, vocals, and strings, but Walder’s oboe sings with and soars above them all in a marvelous mix. The pastel yellow cover art with a guy literally jumping for joy made me think that this might be a really fluffy album, but it is anything but fluff. With a multitude of influences, Pure Joy is expressed as the joy that comes from deep within and lasts — not a momentary burst of exhilaration. Drawing on faith, love, grace, and a sea of emotion, Walder paints his portrait of joy with tinges of sadness and melancholy, as joy never remains as an absolute. To weep tears of joy, one must experience tears of pain and sorrow, and Walder’s music conveys both with a profound depth of emotion. This is a great album, and I highly recommend it!