Uwe Gronau, Midsummer

First, I have to apologize to Uwe Gronau. I have had his two-disc collection, Midsummer, in my review queue and on my iPod for many months now, and it seems that in that time every time I was caught by some catchy blend of New Age and prog-rock/jazz fusion, I’d look over at the iPod and it would be a track from Midsummer. Having enjoyed it for a while, it’s high time I reviewed it. This is a big offering, 35 tracks spread across the two discs, which are  split into a “melodic disc” and a more “atmospheric disc.” To me, disc 1 is something of a guilty pleasure. It’s thick with that un-apologetically upbeat, 80s-infused mix of electro-music and prog. When guest Martin Brom’s guitar starts cutting the air in “Magic Forest,” you’ll get the idea. This is one of those line-straddling discs, and Gronau covers both sides of the border well. His keyboard leads are rich, engaging, and a pleasure to dive into, but they’re just part of the very cool whole. “Royal Road” kicks off with a twangy electro-bass lead that feels like the Dr. Who theme gone all funky; then Gronau drops swirling, Hammond B3-style chords into the mix for a high-octane cocktail. “Secret Meeting (2)” is a favorite on this disc, with its easy Caribbean beat that flares up in a post-rock frenzy. Brom returns to flail away at his axe on “Left Hand,” which starts off well in experimental land but resolves itself into a screaming, soaring jazz fusion piece. Again Gronau’s too-cool organ fills enrich the overall sound in classic style. (Wolfgang Demming also contributes guitar on some the tracks here.)

Disc 2 starts off with quieter solo piano pieces. It’s straightforward New Age work, full of wine-and-candle-ready ballads that make for a very pleasant wind-down listen. “You Know” is a favorite here, its melody clearly waiting for lyrics to fall in place. Gronau accents these pieces with light washes of synthesizer to give a little extra hue. With the title track he begins to bolster the sound with a little more instrumentation; but it keeps its laid-back feel throughout. I like the stealthy feel of “Passage,” where Gronau again lets a little chill jazz inspiration seep in. Gronau touches once more on the ambient/electronic side of things with the glittering sequencer in “Heaven of Falling Stars” and loads up the synths to back up his piano for the emotional closer, “Brave Heart.”

There are a few points where Midsummer plays a little sugary for my tastes, but since Gronau keeps his pieces at roughly pop-song length, those moments pass with nary a shrug. Disc 1 feels more varied than disc 2, but Gronau’s piano on the second disc is unerringly lovely and played with deep emotion. Fans of traditional New Age music will quite enjoy Midsummer, and it’s definitely worth a listen in general.

Available from Uwe Gronau’s web site.

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