Engaging in pianist/composer Shoshana Michel’s sensitive, insightful and deeply compelling new album Reflection while perusing her bio, a few striking pieces of background information stand out. Considering the rich melodic and rhythmic flow of her current music, it made perfect sense to read that she fell in love with New Age solo piano music in 1990, and was heavily inspired by some of my own heroes of the genre, including David Lanz, Suzanne Ciani and Jim Chappell.
I was delighted to see that their music inspired the classically trained Shoshana – who launched her career playing ragtime at Knott’s Berry Farm - to pen her first piano solo “Heather, Roses and Moonlight.” But I was perplexed by the next line: “feeling that she couldn’t compose, she stopped writing music entirely.” How could someone so obviously gifted and musically intuitive lose their momentum and not compose for so many years? This question truly seems to be the impetus behind the very personal expressions driving the new album towards its transcendence.
Fortunately for all fans of new age solo piano music, Shoshana got her groove back in a unique way that indeed ties into the notion of divine inspiration. She discovered Chabad nigunim, songs of Jewish Eastern European origin, and started arranging these melodies. The positive response she received led her to use them as the foundation of her 2015 debut solo piano album Soul Whispers, which earned an Album of the Year nomination by SoloPiano.com. This success in turn motivated Shoshana to prove herself as a composer, with spectacular and uplifting results. Reflection is her third collection of all originals, following tremendous responses to Dancing on the Wind (2016) and Prelude to a Dream (2017), the latter of which was nominated for Enlightened Piano Radio Album of the Year and One World Music Radio’s Solo Piano Album of the Year.
Similar accolades surely await the pianist’s latest work, a sweeping, delightfully mood-swinging set whose title whose title Reflection indded lets us know that this is an intimate, close to the heart project. More than simply a gathering of 11 lovely tunes, the tracks amble and breezealong a narrative path that helps us understand her unique journey back to finding her voice as a composer - and some of the challenging, heartrending life experiences that have shaped her and her music. Her thoughtful titles are there to take us deeper into the emotional core of each piece and perhaps what was on her mind when she wrote it.
Shoshana launches with the bright, lighthearted declaration that it’s “A New Day Today” and lets us know, via the album’s soulful and hypnotic lead single, that it’s okay to dream and envision “Shooting Stars.” On the next two tracks, she reveals that her introspective discovery of her truest essence (musically and otherwise) involves two key elements: “Finding Bliss” and “Soothing the Tempest Within.” The first is a gentle piece that builds in joyful intensity as it progresses, i.e. as she discovers happiness and it takes hold. The second gets to the real heart of the matter, expressing the struggle with life’s disappointments and frustrations with a burst of intense, chaotic notes, which soothe into a world-wise acceptance as the tune eases on.
Other tunes that reflect the difficult challenges, heartaches and “soul blocks” that must first be overcome before knowing oneself and one’s purpose fully include the somber, melancholic “Bittersweet,” the tense meditation “Time Lapse” and “Labrynth,” which begins with the innocent play of high register notes before slowing down, like life’s momentum sometimes does, to prompt a change in mindset and direction. Another standout tune is “The Moon’s Lament,” is more universal in scope. It’s fashioned as a contemplative, sorrowful expression of mourning for the many natural disasters that have plagued our world and caused loss of life in recent years.
Amidst the many moments of exquisitely shared darkness here, it’s wonderful that Shoshana proves to be an optimist at heart with forward thinking visions like “Forever and a Day” (whose spritely notes tap into a childlike sense of innocence and wonder) and “Through the Eyes of a Child,” the sunny, spirit filled closing track that solidifies that theme and reminds us that life is perhaps best lived, and its painful challenges most successfully survived, when viewing it that way.