MICHAEL KOLLWITZ & WALTON MENDELSON, The Stick EWI Project: In the Moonlight
In my enthusiastic write-up review of Michael Kollwitz’s Billboard charting early 2019 release Serenity III: More Peaceful Music on the Chapman Stick® – the third in a successful annual series of relaxation collections that began in 2017 – I used terms like “mystically melodic,” “soul transporting” and “cool and calm euphoria” to describe the vibe and his approach to his unique stringed instrument.
I urged fans not simply to listen and enjoy but to research its creator, Emmett Chapman, and the Stick’s remarkable ability to combine elements of guitar, bass, bass, keyboards and percussion into a single instrument that is played more like a piano than guitar. I also remarked that Kollwitz’s relationship with the inventor is equally fascinating.
My encouragement to research as you listen continues with the early 2020 release of The Stick EWI Project: In the Moonlight, Kollwitz’s deeply soulful and richly textured dual album with Electronic Woodwind Instrument master Walton Mendelson. Also developed in the 70s and prominently featured in the early days of the genre that evolved into the smooth jazz radio format, the EWI is played somewhat like a clarinet. Interfaced with the synthesizer, produces the sounds of violins, woodwinds and brass instruments.
The backstory of this project is a simple collaboration of creative minds. In 2018, Mendelson – a veteran saxophonist and flutist who began playing EWI professionally in 1989 – met Kollwitz at a local venue where their first impromptu jam earned them a standing ovation from the audience. Even before its official release, In the Moonlight, the result of that initial magical pairing, won a Silver Medal designation in the instrumental category of the Global Music Awards.
While the overall vibe of the 12-track collection is as lyrical and gently meditative as much of the material in Kollwitz’s Serenity series, the opportunity to weave his hypnotic string melodies around Mendelson’s varying tones allows for a more sonically intriguing and much deeper and heartfelt emotional expressions.
From the lush dreamy atmospheric opener “Pleasant Dreams” – where Mendelson alternates between saxophone and clarinet and Kollwitz creates fascinating “crying” wah effects – through the passionate and increasingly intense romance “Lasting Love,” the first ten tracks of the project offer stunning mood modulations that invoking joy and whimsy, melancholy and somber reflection and the spectrum of emotions in between.
The thoughtful titles often hint at the flavor of the soul seductions – i.e. the breathy sweetness of “Whispering,” the carefree, easily rhythmic cool of “Summer River Day,” the musical equivalent of sparkling sunlight and shadows on the water on “Spinnaker’s Bay” and the soft spoken reflections of “Missing You.”
The final two tracks on “In the Moonlight” seem cut of a different stylistic cloth, wrapping the set with some unique flourishes. “French Windshield” finds Kollwitz in his hypno-meditative mode before getting a bit snappier in his playing as he is egged on by Mendelson’s modulation of the EWI that makes it sound like a spirited accordion, not simply playing melodic lines but riffing a bit and making everything a bit jazzy. The two take that exotic romantic flow to greater heights on the lighthearted, playfully rolling closer “Panama Heat,” a realm where the balmy rhythms created by Kollwitz’s strings dance in the splashes of sunlight generated by the EWI’s super sensuous violin tone.