Noted pianist, composer and arranger Ann Sweeten teamed with Windham Hill co-founder Will Ackerman to produce this album. It features gorgeous piano playing supplemented by guest musicians on English horn, cello, violin, saxophone, and flute.

The circumstances under which this album was created merit special note. As she was working on it, Ann received her third cancer scare (leukemia). “Before Today, Beyond Tomorrow” refers to the time before diagnosis, and then to the horizon, beyond the immediate, with hope for the future. In Ann’s own words: “I have never needed a wake-up call in life thru diagnosis or event, as I have always felt so very present and awake, but this third diagnosis has dropped me to my knees, and in a way I can’t explain, the world is different, my life is different, my reactions are different, my patience is greater, my capacity for forgiveness as well. Life itself seems so fragile that I hold it like a wounded bird, so that it may grow well within my care and fly free again, carrying music on its wing.”

Sweeten’s music is lush and expansive. The arrangements are deft; the instruments may either support her piano playing (Track 3: Beyond the Clouds), or the guest instrumentalists may take their turn with melodic leads: the oboe lead in Track 5: Saying Goodbye, the cello and violin leads in Track 6: Philadelphia.

A small instrumental ensemble with piano offers a nearly unlimited range of textures, sounds, and melodic range. Sweeten takes full of advantage of her talented musical guests, but it’s clear when listening that her passions and emotions are the engine driving the music. The depth of heart and soul invested into these songs is pretty mind-blowing, but it wouldn’t be nearly as powerful if the music wasn’t fully supported by top-notch skills and musicianship.

The songs meander through a full range of emotions and senses, some peaceful (Track 8: Lullaby for Blackie Boo) and overflowing passions (Track 7: Vanish). The listener can yield control to Sweeten and her fellow musicians as the album, well-assured that there’s a competent master at the helm of the musical journey.

Exceptional music, light years above and beyond other neo-classic genre productions. Highly recommended.

~review by Elizabeth Hazel

Artist: Ann Sweeten
Orange Band Records, 2019
10 Tracks, 50:42 minutes
CD $15.99/Mp3 $9.49