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  • Jonathan Widran

AMBIENTE SOLSTICE, Short Stories

Ambiente Solstice is the artist moniker of JJ Rey, derived from the multi-talented composer, multi-instrumentalist and visionary artists’ fondness for ambient music and his favorite time of the year, when he is most creatively engaged in composing ambient pieces. The transition between fall and winter solstices holds a particularly special beauty for him.


Long before he began gracing us with some of this decades’ most engaging, inspiring and spiritually uplifting new age/ambient albums (including Comet’s Dust and Out of The Void on Wayfarer Records), he was a sax playing kid growing up listening to classic rock (Grand Funk, Led Zeppelin), heavy metal (Motley Crue) and tons of jazz, from Spyro Gyra and Pat Metheny to Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and big band music.


Rey's musical sensibilities were later shaped by volunteering with several worship musical ministries in both mega churches and smaller, more intimate congregations, at first playing sax and later mastering piano and synth. He credits his later discovery of the Hearts of Space radio show for fueling his passion to create the music he’s been recording and releasing since his 2021 debut Abandoned Peace.


Warm and intimate, lyrical, and soothing yet sonically intricate and dynamic, Ambiente Solstice’s latest collection Short Stories is unlike any previous work. Drawing on the atmospheric grace of  the music that’s fueled his recent success as well as his lifelong passion for jazz, he aims to introduce the concept of “ambient jazz,” inspired by lofi music, blending the groove of straight-ahead jazz with the chill vibes perfect, as he says, for any activity. “Whether you’re relaxing in your bedroom with headphones on or immersed in your favorite pastime,” he adds, “this fusion of genres creates a brand new musical experience.


For those new to the Ambiente Solstice experience and connecting with him for the first time via Short Stories, the album’s co-producer, Wayfarer Records staff producer Rich Kraniak describes the fascinating 11-track musical journey this way: “If I was identifying that, I’d call it ‘experimental age.’ So far, it’s encompassing unique sounds used almost exclusively in New Age, but revolving around traditional club jazz stylings from 90 years ago. The blend pushes into something created over more than 100 years – futuristic yet deep in origin jazz roots. Verges on its own genre.”    


The other major difference between Ambiente Solstice’s other works and Short Stories is the powerful spirit of collaboration throughout, with greats from the worlds of jazz, new age, ambient music, film soundtracks and the Nashville session scene adding their unique sonic magic to the production that elevates the songs from beautifully composed pieces to epic, sonically rich and diverse productions.  Interestingly for a project that seems like a concept album the composer had no original intention to collaborate with anyone. As he explains, “The magic started when I was introduced to bassist Sean O’Bryan Smith, who was looking for ambient artists to work with. I sent a track called ‘Her Beautiful Imperfections’ and boom! Instant musical chemistry. When he moved into his current role as Wayfarer Records staff producer and bass player in residence, he pitched the idea of bringing in artists from his little black book.”



That serendipitous connection gives wing to all sorts of hypnotic, infectious magnificent, from the gently soulful dreaminess of the opener “In the Key of Rain” (featuring labelmate Billy Denk and Grammy nominated trumpeter/flugelhorn player Jeff Oster) and elegant, dramatically atmospheric title track (featuring space ambient music legend Dave Luxton and the hypnotic bass of Michael Manring) to the lush, moody, atmosphere driven space opera “Nightfall” (featuring pianist Jeff Franzel).


As a jazz enthusiast, Rey was very excited to welcome one of his sax heroes, multiple Grammy nominee Gerald Albright, to add his sultry, soulful grit to the sweeping jazzy chill energy of “Falling Away,” which also features famed soundtrack guitarist Carl Rydlund. Other notables include famed jazz bassist Vail Johnson (on the seductively exotic and adventurous  “ Alluring, and Grammy winning guitarist Jim “Kimo” West on the sweet swirling, easy grooving jazz dream “Starlit Eyes.” Other gems include the laid back “Sunday Afternoons” (featuring the infectious organ melody of Tommy Ogle and resonating guitar of Joe Cook) and “Enraptured,” a spirited melodic, synth driven gem featuring the magnificent colors of “in house” contributiors Denk and O’Bryan Smith.  

 

As a man of faith, Rey sees the hand of God behind the creative process of bringing Short Stories to life. “In the end,  and most importantly, it has been a divine orchestration on how this experience has unfolded,” he says. “I could not have pulled this off on my own if I had not been put in front of Davd Luxton, Sean O'Bryan Smith, and Michael ‘Eleon’' Rogers, who directed me originally to Heart Dance Records.  My favorite part of this process was getting the artist tracks back once they were done.  For example, on ‘Falling Away,’ it took Gerald Albright one pass through from beat one to the end.  Upon listening to the raw track, and in between his phrasing, I could hear his fingers pressing down on the keys and as he took breathes in between licks.  The whole track was uninterrupted.  Simply amazing!!  Just hearing the professional artistry that unfolded for each song was beautifully done.  Again, God was the architect of this project that began decades ago.”

 

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