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Phoenix Rising: Press

Mystic Places

Phoenix Rising

Phoenix Rising is the duo Wendy Loomis (piano, synthesizers, percussion) and Monica Williams (assorted flutes). Loomis is the composer and Williams does the arranging. Mystic Places is a virtual tour of the titular reference, a voyage to mystical locales. That these two artists can extract such a variety of moods and flavors from just their modest instruments (granted Williams plays seven types of flutes) is a testament to both their playing talents and their artistic vision.  Tracks include the opening "Atlantis" and its fluid interplay of piano and flute, the Asian-flavored spice of "Golden Buddha," the Native American-tinted "Piseco," the spirited "Jay's Jig," and the North African mood of "Winds of the Desert."

Bill Binkelman - Retailing Insight

FAME Review:  A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange

 

Mystic Places – PHOENIX RISING

(compositions by Wendy Loomis; arrangements by Monica Williams)

In '09, Phoenix Rising issued Ascension, a New Age/classicalist CD limning the sort of work most deserving of the sobriquet of 'meditation music', an intelligent blend of pastoral music and moody reflection that cajoled the listener into a slower regard for life and its moments. However, not everything in it was in largo mode though each track was well imbued with serious songsmithing and expanded borders. Well, it's now 2014, and, as good as that disc was, this one's even better. In fact, the opening Atlantis is stunning, something Oregon, were that glorious ensemble still existent, would be envious of.

As before, Phoenix Rising is just two women, Wendy Loomis (keyboards, percussion) and Monica Williams (winds), but their attention to craft and dimension fills up every measure of the 14 compositions. They need little else, their partnership more than sufficient. As readers of my work over 30 years will attest, I'm not noted for forbearance when it comes to New Age music, but this duet's materials hark back to the birth of the genre from the cradle of pop rock and serious World traditions. Where Paul Winter left off and eventually became largely schlocky, Williams and Loomis remained behind and stole ever more deeply into the heart and soul of the thinking that made those germinal days so striking and appealing. Ah, but the secret is that they understood and thus injected themselves into the task of keeping such heady rapturous forms of expression alive, transcending time considerations, ignoring the so-called 'eras', making music that never ages a day.

What I'm saying is that this is very rare stuff. It's almost scary how damn good it is. I was genuinely thrilled as thunder pealed in the opening to Piseco, Williams' flute owl-gliding in an arbor as Loomis laid down Native percussives, everything becoming ever more revealing as a second flute, this one played by the 11-year old Native American Taylor Alyssa Lai in breathtakingly beautiful accompaniment, wove itself into the three-dimensional tableau. I've hiked the forest being sketched—Lake Cuyamaca and environs in my case, but it doesn't matter which tract the players had in mind—and the short succinct song captures it to a 'T'.

When I listen to work this stratospheric in elementality, I all of a sudden remember what a damn shame it was when the Windham Hill label shut down and especially when William Ackerman's pristine work ceased. Well, with Mystic Places, that pain is well assuaged.

A septet of chamber instrumentals with a strong New Age / modernist classical bent, Ascension is a blend tying long centuries together in a formula that sanctifies tradition while refreshing it. Phoenix Rising is a duo (Wendy Loomis, piano, and Monica Williams, flute) from Oakland whose sound has appealed even to the well-known Ron Dellums, mayor of the city. Almost every cut features a revolving roster of individual guests on tabla, cello, hang drum, guzheng, guitar, vocals and…goat hooves! The opener, Seed, is a cross between oriental and gaelic sounds, the prime melody deriving from an old song written in China somewhere between 1368 and 1644 A.D. Creation features a marvelously shakahuchi-ish flute solo atop tablas early in its development, with a Moody Blues / Oregon (ca Winter's Light) piano elegantly displacing the wind instrument only to have the two come together in a Towner / McCandless fashion. As things progress, every cut reveals beautiful teamwork in composure and arrangements, the end result being a testament to thought and precision. Ascension is music for a darkened room with candles or in a recital room, a place where visual input will be minimized and the listener drawn to the cartography of the songs themselves. The recordings are spacious and pristine, allowing all notes their way while using the studio as a warmly quiescent backdrop. Don't come to the disc with the frenzy of the outside world, you'll miss too much.

Phoenix Rising musicians giving back

Phoenix Rising is a San Francisco-based ambient ensemble that creates soundscapes of light and energy.  ”Mystical, lyrical, dramatic at times and always thoughtful and emotionally compelling, the dual musical vision of composer Wendy Loomis (piano) and arranger Monica Williams (flute) drives a deep sense of transcendence and spirituality that can only be captured in metaphoric terms.” ~Iguhuaran, MusicZeitgeist.com
Phoenix Rising is currently in the process of producing a new CD titled Mystic Places’ that will combine acoustic piano, synthesizers, traditional and world flutes, and nature sounds. ‘Mystic Places’ is about taking a journey: to places in the outside world and to places within the human spirit.   
Their previous release, ‘Ascension’, successfully received five separate nominations from the Los Angeles Music Awards and the Hollywood Music and Media Awards in the genres of classical, jazz, and new age. In addition, the songs from ‘Ascension’ can still be heard on hundreds of analog, satellite and cable radio stations nationally and internationally.

“”We received many reports from people that the music from the CD Ascensionnot only helped people to relax and de-stress from the challenges of daily life, but actually was helpful in eliminating physical pain”,” Wendy Loomis commented,  “”so we decided to take this healing aspect of our music a bit further”.  Monica Williams connected with some folks at the National Foundation for Cancer Research. They will be receiving a donation of 200 Mystic Places CDs that will be distributed among donors, cancer patients and survivors.
Monica Williams is a graduate of Eastman School of Music who conducts Flock of Flutes and maintains a full roster of students at Civic Arts in Walnut Creek.  Wendy Loomis is an ASCAP Award-winning composer/pianist who writes for and performs with several ensembles as well as scoring for independent film.  As educators, both Wendy and Monica give extra time to their students to make sure their musical journeys are positive. As performers they often play charities and events for little or no pay.

Monica Williams is a graduate of Eastman School of Music she says that she feels music is about expression,
compassion, expansion of the heart and mind, and about lifting people up.  It is about giving back.

Ascension Phoenix Rising

"One of the more interesting releases so far this year, Ascension from Phoenix Rising (pianist Wendy Loomis and flutist Monica Williams) musically “interprets” the seven chakras using an assortment of acoustic instruments played by both the duo and six different guest artists. Despite this “mixed bag” approach, the CD’s musical theme is manifested by the presence of Loomis (who composed the tracks) and Williams (who arranged them). Other artists on the CD are Jennifer Lim on guzheng, Debra Podjed on tabla, Jessica Styler on hang drum, Suellen Primose on cello, Irina Mikhailova on vocals, and Karen Segal on guitar. You can tell by these diverse global instruments that the album bears some world music influences, but overall this is better described as contemporary acoustic music. Or you could simply say these eight women craft music of warmth and beauty that touches the heart and soul with gentleness and grace. Either way, Ascension is a musical delight to be cherished."

PHOENIX RISING – ASCENSION (CD) Posted by James on January 14th, 2009 The title track for Phoenix Rising’s “Ascension” begins with an emotionally dense composition that plays heavily in a classical style, but does not have any of the stuffiness or must associated with the classical style. Rather, what Phoenix Rising does during this track is weave a rich narrative through the entirety of the track’s 7 minute runtime. For the act, there does not need to be anything vocal present; the intrepid and talented arrangements that act as guideposts for listeners here ensure that a vocal side to Phoenix Rising is not needed at this juncture. For individuals that may have been educated on the virtues of vocal music, purchasing a copy of “Ascension” is vital to increase the appreciation that one can have for music. I know that I am typically not a fan of instrumental music, but what is done with each of the album’s seven cuts is glorious, providing the listener with heady music that will require multiple spins before that time when they can truly get everything that the members of Phoenix Rising have included on “Ascension”. There may only be seven tracks on “Ascension”, but do not let it seem as if Phoenix Rising is just riding out a few themes. Rather, the extended length of the tracks on “Ascension” allow Phoenix Rising to essentially expand on different topics and themes to their logical conclusion, rather than being forced to cram in a brief array of thoughts and feelings into a space that is decidedly too short for it. Furthermore, the tracks on “Ascension” have links between each other, as well to the conception of the album itself. That is to say, the thoughts and emotions touched on during “Creation” constituent an album-wide phenomenon, which means that for full enjoyment, listeners should secret themselves away to a quiet room and fully enjoy what has been committed to disc by the members of Phoenix Rising. When I am looking for a clean and crisp set of compositions, “Ascension” will be the first album that I reach for. I eagerly anticipate the band’s future recordings, if not only to see the new ground the act will touch upon in the years to come. Top Tracks: Nourishment, Insight Rating: 8.8/10

It’s Rare, but Here It Is Some of my favorite music is produced by a light ensemble of acoustic instruments performing lighthearted themes. Some piano, a bit of flute, some gentle strings and a touch of percussion really gets me. I got my wish when I listened to Phoenix Rising, a new group out of Oakland, California. The group consists of pianist Wendy Loomis, flautist Monica Williams and a revolving cast of guest artists that stir the pot resulting in a flavorful album of contemporary tunes that are quite soothing. Primarily, this is an album of musical energy. As we know from eighth grade Science, energy can neither be created, nor destroyed, but it does abide. It exists everywhere in the universe and deep in the spirit. There is a center of energy that rises from the inner self to the conscious mind and exits as a force that even today, is still unknown. It is this flowing energy that Phoenix Rising attempts to channel for the mortal to use and enjoy. And frankly, they have done an admirable job of it. It is seven sweet melodies fabricated around seven chakras perhaps influenced by the Feminine Divine. From around 3000 B.C. China came the sound of an instrument called a Se that evolved through the centuries into the thirteen-stringed Guzheng. This sweet, sad zither-like instrument is prominent in the opening cut Seed. Played by guest artist Jennifer Lim it is a beautiful tune full of deep emotion. It is a beginning, a first step and a song of anticipation. Creation starts our rather ominously and a little bit dark, but sometimes creation goes that way until you invent light. Once the firmament is established, everything else begins to take place, from the warming of the planet to photosynthesis. In this case, Monica's flute takes its place high in the sky while Wendy's piano theme grows lithely toward the light. This is one of my favorites on the album. Nourishment starts out appropriately enough with what sounds like a Tibetan Singing bowl. When I first listened to this album, I thought I had heard the sound before based on this song. It reminded me somewhat of the band Angels of Venice, another light ensemble group that seems to have vanished from the face of the earth. The piano theme is terrific in this one and has a cinematic-like feel to it, giving sustenance to the spirit. There are four more tracks on the album, Heartstrings, Unspoken, and Insight that are all quite enjoyable but it is the ending cut Ascension that is the best of the best. Ascension is the finding of the prize, the attainment. Many philosophies are merely a search and seldom a final realization and this song is the soundscape for this journey. The music is haunting at times giving it an otherworldly feel, but this is the place where we perhaps go when we reach a certain plane, somewhere between thought and light. From out of nowhere (okay, Oakland) Ascension is one of the most entertaining albums I have come across this year. The energy on this album is not focused light like a laser beam, but radiated widely as if from a benign sun. Williams and Loomis have produced an excellent album that warms and provides a musical power that is readily absorbed by any willing spirit. I highly recommend this album.

A press release that Delvian Records sent out with 'Whispers' described this 2005 release as "a film score awaiting a film." All too often, labels get so caught up in their own hype that they make statements in press releases that are far removed from reality. But in the case of Whispers, the phrase "a film score awaiting a film" does have some validity; there are times when this 54-minute CD -- like a lot of new age releases -- really does sound like it could be used as a soundtrack for some type of European art film. But 'Whispers' isn't new age in the strict sense; actually, the music that acoustic pianist/composer Wendy Loomis and flutist Monica Williams (who comprise the Bay Area duo Phoenix Rising) provide on this disc is essentially acoustic post-bop jazz that has been influenced by European classical and chamber music as well as some of the more substantial new age recordings. 'Whispers' can, at times, be slightly avant-garde, but for the most part, Loomis and Williams are lyrical and fairly accessible -- and the type of jazz improvisers who have had the greatest influence on this duo are folks like Keith Jarrett and Ahmad Jamal, not radically avant-garde free jazz agitators. Despite being an American duo and having a lot of American influences, Phoenix Rising often projects a European quality; again, it isn't hard to imagine parts of this album being used in an artsy film from Spain, Italy, Belgium, or France. Although a bit uneven, 'Whispers' has more ups than downs and indicates that Phoenix Rising is worth keeping an eye on." Alex Henderson - All Music Guide

"I first heard Phoenix Rising at Listen & Be Heard Poetry Café last month, and I was impressed. Wendy Loomis is the composer/pianist and Monica Williams plays flute. They are delightful performers and extraordinarily talented. I was instantly and completely enthralled by the mythic quality of their music. Their debut CD, 'Whispers', is inspiring. Though the music transcends classification, you’ll find it listed as New Classical/Jazz. It definitely has a classical influence, as I swear I can hear George Gershwin in Wendy’s piano playing. But then the haunting melodies of Monica’s flutes are reminiscent of Native American spiritual music. Stir that combination with jazz and just a sprinkling of spoken word, and you’ve got the delicious blend of Whispers cooked up by Phoenix Rising..."