Veritas Vampirus

RICK SPARKS – Nightfall London (2017 / Rick Sparks Music)

Nightfall London is Rick Sparks’ fourth release, but you needn’t worry too much about the London aspect, as his gently soothing miniatures are just as descriptive of an evening spent quietly as stars emerge over the Smoky Mountains, or a slope of the Rockies, or a glade in the Great Plains, or even your own back patio after a hectic day at the office. Nightfall is indeed, though, anglophilic – inspired by the skies over Big Ben, the London Philharmonic, Sir George Martin, Paul McCartney, and others – but its embrasure of classicalist largos, adagios, fugues, and the more thoughtful modalities broaden everything out to wrap around the entire Earth.

Sparks holds a large affinity for angelic choral work and thus more than once has inserted beautiful synthesizer patches as transcendent as the refrains first crafted by Palestrina, Lassus, and others, later refined into opuses by Harold Budd and, returning to England, the Eno brothers and the early Moody Blues. In many ways, the introductory cut, “Across the River”, is the showcase for everything in the disc, a slow wistful composition brimming over with skyborne cherubim, washes of tone and color, and echoes of earth and the galactic reaches communing in nature’s unhurried rhythms. 

Sparks’ main instrument is piano, and it uninsistently dominates a number of cuts, taking a back seat whenever the composer-player chooses to go with synthesizer patches calling up the electric version of the instrument. And when I say “uninsistent”, I do not mean that the piano recedes to the background but instead that it's clear and resonant without needing to overemphasize itself, far more in the way of Satie, Tim Story, Liz Story’s more considered opuses, that sort of thing, what Budd described in his own work as “simply pretty...and utterly devastating”.

“Highland Rose”, however, departs a tad from the rest of the oeuvre. A love song to Sparks’ wife, it carries distinctive Celtic refrains via a synth flute patch and melody line cleaving to “The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond”. The entire tone of Nightfall London, though, is serenely pacific, blending the cosmic with the terrene, and a vastly superior example of the “anti-frantic alternative” movement, more so than all of Steven Halpern’s way too many releases combined and doubled. You’ll most definitely be smiling as you wend your way through the 10 tracks ofNightfall London…and perhaps through that glass of merlot complementing it. Bon sonic appétit!

One World Music Radio

"Nightfall London must be ranked as one of the best new-age albums I've heard this year." -Steve Sheppard, One World Music Radio. Click above on "One World Music Radio" in white to hear Steve's audio review!

"When I think back, I have had an extensive career in broadcasting and media and I am always amazed when I come across albums that remind me of my past and Nightfall London does just that, in fact the melodies and performance style takes me back to my fledgling years as a broadcaster on local radio in the late 90’s. In those days New World Music was a label at its peak and the sound of New Age melodies floated forever across my turntables. Nightfall London returns me to my new age music roots, but also brings us up-to-date. It captures all that was good back then and releases new energies to the world with a lush sweet production."

"Listen to the opening piece called Across the River; this has to be one of the prettiest beginning pieces I have heard for ages. It has a delicate angelic repose; the piano is ethereal and loving. This is one of those tracks that you could easily watch the nightfall over any place or bridge in the world; the narrative is so redolent of the subject matter and drawn so well."

"The title track is amazing and of course called Nightfall London, the opening bars are a real scene setter, swirling back and forth, and creating musical imagery with every note played. I use to live just down the road from London, it was my place of birth and while things have changed there, this piece of music, creates for me a memory filled palace of emotive moments, of when I was a child and looked at everything, and saw only goodness with an innocent wide eyed wonder."

"After a classic moment of new age musical brilliance with the title track, we’re once again on our musical journey and we come across a composition called Little Angel. The performance here is ultra-delicate; it is as if we are a china doll waking up to find that we are alive in a world so vast an incalculable. Listen to Sparks on piano here, the fluency is amazing and a pleasure to listen to."

"The sound of a distant flute greets our ears on this next track called First Love. This is actually a very clever composition, a steady build and growth of musical mastery can be found here, but somehow Sparks takes on the subject of love, which at times can be both painful and all-consuming, and covers all the bases musically with a consummate ease."

"At the half way juncture, we shift location and find ourselves walking in the Tokyo Rain. The performance style gives us a subtle, but calming motif of an eastern flavour. One day I would like to go to Japan and I may well include this delightful piano piece on my playlist if I do, it would be perfect. A supremely well played arrangement indeed and one that depicts with ease, a warm summer rain drifting down from the skies above, and onto the puddled streets of Tokyo."

"As we now move deeper into the album we come across a charming composition called Beyond the Stars. A personal favourite subject of mine all of my life; I am a firm believer of an abundance of life throughout the universe. This track has a really beautiful flow to its arrangement and really reminds me once again of early new age music, from artists like Terry Oldfield and Stephen Rhodes. One can also find a movement of a slow rotation within this piece, perhaps our journey through and beyond the stars to the many myriad of dimensions that lay in waiting for us."

"Now it does seem rather strange for me, I’m sitting here in shorts and a short sleeve shirt, in temperatures of near on a 100f, and listening to In the Bleak Midwinter. The funny thing is it is one of a couple of carols that I do find most appealing. Once again Sparks does not only do the original song justice, he adds to its initial construction, by bringing an angelic choir and orchestration into the mix, I will have to remember this one for my Christmas playlists."

"We are now drawing to the end of the release, and we find a lovely track called Hearts as One waiting for us in the corner of the room, to the left of the log fire, this is charming. I mention the fire, only for the purpose of the romantic vision that it draws in my mind’s eye, as I could see myself laying with my beautiful wife upon a fur rug, snuggled up as our hearts beat as one to this stunningly heartfelt composition. A more romantic and all loving piece you would not find elsewhere."

"Our penultimate offering is called Highland Rose and it also gifts us a little moment of Celtic magic as well. The piano of Sparks manifests a painting of the highlands with ease, and whilst the tune plays and the melody wraps itself around our senses, we can drift off to a place so remote, but blissfully beautiful to behold. This is the skill of a master composer, listen as the orchestration kicks in, it’s subtle, but draws a compelling and graphic narrative."

"The end of the road has been reached with Rick Sparks and we are gifted just one more song to take with us along on our way, this one is called Evening Prayer. A gentle piece is created before our willing ears, and what a clever and respectful way to leave the album. Listen carefully to the calming and healing manifestation of chords and notes here, it is really exquisite and the addition of the ethereal choir only added to the magnificence of the overall composition."

"Nightfall London has indeed brought me full circle and I thank Rick Sparks for his efforts on this album, it has been created with love and intention and a delicacy of care and attention. Nightfall London must be ranked as one of the best New Age albums I have heard this year, its production and quality, along with its stylish and creative and self-assured performances, will bring a smile and a warmth to all who listen to this release, you just have to make Nightfall London part of your musical collection."  -Steve Sheppard, One World Music Radio

Wisconsin Bookwatch

Nightfall London
Rick Sparks
www.ricksparksmusic.net
Privately Published
$9.99 CD / $7.99 download cdbaby.com

"Nightfall London is a beautiful new age album designed to aid relaxation with its tranquil piano music, gently arranged with synthesizer to add layers and depth. Some electronic keyboards and individual string instruments, flutes, chimes, and choirs enrich this restful, revitalizing collection, highly recommended especially when winding down after a long day."

"The tracks are "Across the River" (5:25), "Nightfall London" (4:58), "Little Angel" (3:08), "First Love" (4:28), "Tokyo Rain" (4:29), "Beyond the Stars" (4:03), "In the Bleak Midwinter" (4:19), "Hearts As One" (4:29), "Highland Rose" (4:58), and "Evening Prayer" (5:28)."

MainlyPiano.com

Nightfall London
Rick Sparks
2017 / Rick Sparks
47 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
5 stars! 
A longtime fan of all things British, Sparks was inspired by the beautiful photo that became the album cover showing London at dusk with Big Ben standing regally yet gracefully near the Thames. Sparks explains: “The music of Nightfall London was inspired by the strings of the London Philharmonic, the ethereal voices of an English choir and the somber beauty of twilight over Big Ben. Even more specifically, the enduring legacy of Sir George Martin was a constant inspiration to me in my arrangements, especially the string parts.”

Nightfall London begins with “Across the River,” a gentle piece that could be about the Thames, but could also be a metaphor for the “crossing” that occurs at the end of our lives. It opens with a full string intro before becoming a piano solo that is occasionally accompanied by ethereal choral voices (no lyrics) and/ or strings - a lovely start! The title track also begins with a string prelude, but instead of piano, the primary instrument in this piece is a bell-like keyboard voice that is haunting, but very peaceful. Choral voices again enhance the beauty of the music and give it an even more spiritual feeling.
“Little Angel” was inspired by the headstone on an infant’s grave in an old mountain cemetery in Tennessee. Sad, but also expressing hope and acceptance, it’s a very poignant and touching piece. “First Love” expresses the wonder and magic of that very special time in our lives when we first really connect with someone. Piano, flute and strings convey tenderness and the sweet emotions of that experience.
“In the Bleak Midwinter” is the only cover song this time, and this arrangement is for piano, choir and strings. “Hearts As One” is a love song, pure and simple. “Evening Prayer” closes the album with “an evening prayer of peace and gratitude to the Almighty for blessing my life with the priceless gift of music and the love of friends and family.” Amen.

Nightfall London is a great way to unwind with piano-based music that overflows with hope, faith, and peace. It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Midwest Record

"I've never thought of London as an especially quiet city, particularly since 'En-ga-land swings like a pendulum do,' but a picture of Big Ben at dusk inspired the quiet piano work here."

"A smart mostly solo set that finds Sparks' London much more pastoral that I would, but you can't argue with things that work. Kick-back music perfectly tailored for sonic getaways, this is quite solid restful work for when it's time to stopper down."

"No noodling here, contemporary instrumental fans have a winner here. Check it out."

MainlyPiano.com

"Matilda’s Flowers is a collection of ten gentle instrumentals assembled as a tribute to pianist/composer Rick Sparks’ grandmother. Included are seven original compositions, a wonderful cover of Sting’s Fields of Gold, and arrangements of two favorite hymns. Most of the songs have digital orchestrations in addition to the piano, and the music is intended to take the listener to a place of peace and quiet renewal."

"Matilda is remembered as a strong but gentle woman 'who loved flowers, her family and her Lord Jesus,' and these pieces express those qualities so well. The album begins with the title track, a warm and affectionate piano solo that reflects the sweet innocence of the cover artwork. The painting by Ludwig Knaus (1829-1910) is of a young girl picking an armload of flowers in a field - and the piece is a favorite!"

"Memories of Her makes me think of Kevin Kern’s tender melodies - always a treat! The piano plays at a leisurely tempo with string washes adding pastel tonal colors."

"I love Sparks’ arrangement of Fields of Gold! It begins with the sound of heavy rainfall and thunder, giving way to flute, keyboard and strings - gorgeous and soul-satisfying! Nothing But the Blood is the first of the two hymns. Various keyboard sounds and voices keep the heartfelt melody simple and very effective."

"Mountain Laurel is another favorite. A piano solo for most of the first half of the piece, strings and wordless vocals are added to the second half. I love the graceful simplicity of the melody and the contented feeling of the piece."

"Old Tennessee is a nostalgic look back to a less complicated time - also a favorite. Tildy’s Waltz is a charming solo piano waltz that alternates between major and minor modes, giving the piece a bittersweet taste - my favorite piece on the album!"

"Nearer My God To Thee is said to have been played by the ship’s orchestra as the Titanic sank in 1912, the year of Matilda’s wedding. Sparks has arranged it as a lovely piano solo that brings the album to a close."

"Matilda’s Flowers is an excellent second release from Rick Sparks! It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!" -Kathy Parsons, September 19, 2016

Creations Magazine

"Mr. Sparks subtitled this work, Quiet piano to replenish your spirit. It’s a fitting subtitle."

"Opening with a Gordon Lightfoot cover (Beautiful), which Sparks makes all his own, the album progresses with other excellent covers and original compositions. His clean and sure piano is augmented to great effect by synthesized strings and vocals, always in tasteful balance to his star-turn piano playing."

"The title song, Endless, inspired, as was the album in its entirety, by the star-filled night sky, is exquisite. The Wexford Carol is another standout."

"Highly recommended."

Wind and Wire

EXCERPTS FROM BILL BINKELMAN'S REVIEW:

"I find myself amazed at how professional and accomplished some artists' first or second releases can sound these days. It's almost as if these recording musicians come out of the gate as seasoned pros! Such is the case with Rick Sparks."

"Sparks' use of keyboard textures and embellishments, to accent his mellow and warm piano lead melodies, is way ahead of many of his contemporaries."

"Star-shimmering synths kick off the first track, a cover of Gordon Lightfoot's Beautiful... what a fantastic opening track - it had me hooked on the first playing!"

"Endless is, to me, one of the top albums of 2014... gorgeous graphics, flawless production and virtuoso performance."

Music and Media Focus

EXCERPTS FROM MICHAEL DIAMOND'S REVIEW:

"Rick's goal is to create music that 'feeds the soul,' and he has certainly done that on Endless, an album full of grace, beauty and spiritual inspiration."

"(There's a) sense of longing and mystery in the album's evocative title track, which I found quite moving."

"Lovely and delicate piano melodies, washes of dreamy ethereal synthesizer and accents of acoustic guitar."

MainlyPiano.com

EXCERPTS FROM KATHY PARSONS' REVIEW:

"It's a beauty from the stunning cover artwork to every note of music."

"All of the songs are wonderful, but I hope Sparks will grace us with more of his originals next time!"

"I love the title track, a gentle and soothing piece that suggests vast open spaces and infinite peace - this is a must-hear!"

"Rick Sparks' new career as a recording artist is off to a great start! If you are looking for some quiet, heartfelt piano music, be sure to check this one out! Recommended!"

Improvijazzation Nation

"From the cover art and the liners, it’s clear that Rick was thinking of (or maybe looking at) the sky when he composed this… some simple, yet wonderful, sonic experiences that remind us of how timeless music can be. All you have to listen to is the first few bars of the opener, Beautiful, to be convinced of his mastery in music."

"I’m highly impressed with his gentle, yet emotionally filling, touch on the keyboards, and the sonics he’s woven together with tunes like the majestic Wexford Carol will fill you with the kind of joy that only high talent in music can bring. It was the wonderful weave of voices on Loch Lomond that made it my favorite of the ten tunes Rick offered up for your listening pleasure… the pacing on this one is just fantastic, like you’ve never heard it before."

"I give Rick a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an EQ (energy quotient) rating of 4.98. Get more information about this great artist at Rick’s website." -Dick Metcalf, Improvijazzation Nation

New Age Music Reviews

EXCERPTS FROM DANA WRIGHT'S REVIEW:

"The blend of original works, cover songs and historic favorites make this album a wonderful listen."

"Loch Lomond is pure magic. The ethereal nature of this piece was a shiver of delight."

"If you want a respite from the world this holiday season, have a sit-down with Endless. It is a joy to the world."