New Age newcomer Sonaljit Mukherjee charts a charmingly familiar course on his debut release, Dreaming the Afterlife. Fronted by elegant, sweeping piano and soaring flute, this 45-minute excursion will head straight to the heart of fans of David Arkenstone or Jim Brickman. The sound here is big and full and often swells in that romantic sort of way–if you put a video to this you’ll need lots of aerial shots, zooming low over pastoral landscapes, or maybe waves crashing on rocks. The opening title track packs enough exuberance to set your heart racing. The flute work is beautiful and soulful. “Nodi Ontoheen (River Endless)” adds acoustic guitar and a slight Celtic lilt into the mix to bring up memories of early Nightnoise. Mukherjee offers several solo-piano versions of his songs, which somewhat shortens the span of the album, but his playing and the simple clarity of the instrument make up for the repetition. Plus, you need to bear in mind that he is a self-taught keyboard player. His smooth runs and patient phrasing would suggest anything but. All that being said, for my tastes, there are places where Dreaming the Afterlife gets a little too overly dramatic, too full of New Age puffery. “Waiting for Love” will probably strike many as a very lovely song. For me, both the solo version and its fuller counterpart soon turn into a sort of soap-opera theme song from the 70s–something the orchestrated version amplifies. The solo version revels in big, sweeping, Van Cliburn-style runs up and down the keyboard. It’s just too saccharine for me. Another example is the full version of “The Road to Limelight,” which I quite like. It’s a moody, pensive piece where the piano oozes sweet melancholy over rushing rasps of low-end strings. It’s engaging…right up until the final two minutes where the artist opts to drown it in an overdose of pomp. Narratively, I get it. It builds to this. But there’s just too much ta da going on for me.
Overall, Dreaming the Afterlife is a promising debut that will definitely find a home with listeners who like this sort of full, symphonic New Age. The playing is beautiful and the production is crisp. I think, going forward, we can expect very good things from Sonaljit.
Available from the artist’s web site.