Moments – Reviews

Kathy Parsons – Mainly Piano

“…So no pressure for the next album, right? Moments is that album, and it lives up to any overly-lofty expectations – and more. Mesmerizing, inspiring, and incredibly beautiful describe the album, but you really need to experience this music for yourself!”

Generous Night, Redeem
Kathy Parsons,

Generous Night, Redeem is another solo piano masterpiece overflowing with soulful emotional expression where every note rings true.”

Generous Night, Redeem
Steve Sheppard, One World Music Radio

Generous Night, Redeem is Marvels best work so far with ease. Each
and every composition has been very carefully composed, but also with an
openness of heart and hands of complete honesty.”

Generous Night, Redeem
Janet Mawdesley, Blue Wolf Reviews

“…a beautiful album full of soul and reflection…”


Winter II – Album Review

Kathy Parsons 


Winter II is the follow-up to Ryan Marvel’s 2013 Winter. Marvel was awarded the “Whisperings Album of the Year” for his incredible 2017 release, Reflecting Forward, and while Winter II might not be as deeply personal as last year’s album, it’s equally heartfelt and stunningly beautiful. The twelve tracks on Winter II include two piano and cello duets (with cellist Heidi Mausbach), a few Christmas standards arranged and played with Ryan’s unique touch, and several lesser-known Christmas pieces that Ryan included to hopefully bring them renewed attention. Although I’m sure Ryan Marvel can rock out with the best of them, it’s the depth of emotion and simple beauty of his music that make his style unique and so affecting. In a nutshell, this is one of the most peaceful and soothing Christmas albums I’ve heard – perfect holiday music for winding down with a glass of wine or a cup of hot cocoa, quiet holiday dinner music, or any time you just want to be wrapped up in the warmth of gentle Christmas music. All but the duets were recorded at Piano Haven Studios in Sedona, AZ and all were mixed and mastered by Joe Bongiorno, a wizard when it comes to beautiful piano recordings. 

Winter II begins with “Ukranian Bell Carol” (aka “Carol of the Bells”), a piece that adapts to an amazing variety of music genres, instrumentation and playing styles. It can be very percussive, but in Ryan’s hands, it is smooth, flowing and elegant – a great arrangement! “Dona Nobis Pacem” comes from the Roman Catholic Latin Mass and translates to “Grant us peace.” A repeated rhythmic pattern runs throughout the piece to support a simple but very expressive melody. I wasn’t familiar with this one, so thank you, Ryan! “Huron Carol” is Canada’s oldest Christmas carol and dates back to 1642. Very dark and haunting, it really should be heard more often – gorgeous! The first piano and cello duet is the Bach-Gounod pairing of the “Prelude in C” with “Ave Maria.” I love the combination of piano and cello, and both artists really soar with this lovely duet! “What Child Is This?” isn’t an uncommon carol, but I never get tired of it – especially in such sensitive hands as Ryan’s! “Gloucestershire Wassail” is another new one for me. Bright and livelier than many of the tracks, it has an infectious, joyful spirit. “All Through the Night” is paired with “Away In a Manger,” a very sweet and gentle lullaby that is so soothing and comforting! “Quem Pastores Laudavere” dates all the way back to the 14th century and has a bell-like quality that feels celebratory but dignified. The second cello and piano duet is the last track, and is a different arrangement of “Ave Maria” that combines the Bach/Gounod version with Franz Schubert’s – a stellar close to a wonderful Christmas album!

Ryan Marvel is an artist who deserves much wider recognition! If you enjoy solo piano that isn’t flashy but overflows with emotion, his music is a must-hear!

Reflecting Forward – Album Review

Kathy Parsons


I listen to an incredible amount of music in the course of writing reviews of new recordings and sheet music, and as much as I enjoy that, every once in awhile, an album comes along that smacks me upside the head and makes me stop and say “WOW!” Ryan Marvel’s Reflecting Forward is that album. I have thoroughly enjoyed Marvel’s previous releases, but this one is so intense and so emotionally powerful that it won’t be an easy task to take it out of my player and move on to something else when the review is finished. That doesn’t happen very often.

The fourteen original piano solos emerged from a personal crisis and the challenges and healing processes that followed. In Marvel’s own words: “The record represents emotions and reflections throughout the year, and what I experienced in trying to heal, cut out the noise, and rely on my own trust and personal growth.  The album, to me, represents pain, anger, realization, healing, peace, love and renewal.  It’s not meant to be a sad album…As I said in the liner notes, renewal is an ongoing process…and we all go through things in our lives that require us to look deep inside of ourselves and re-commit ourselves to family and friends.  It’s personal, it’s human.” All but two of the tracks on the album were recorded at Piano Haven Studios in Sedona by Joe Bongiorno. The other two were recorded at Coupe Studios in Boulder, CO. Bongiorno did the mastering and the piano sound is absolutely perfect.

All of the pieces on Reflecting Forward are excellent, but I’ll mention some of my favorites. The album begins with the title track, a piece that begins with an intense intro that represents the sudden, devastating change that happened earlier this year. The rest of the piece is much softer and more cautious, representing a tentative hope. “Forgotten” was composed about Marvel’s 11-year-old daughter and her dance between being a child and a teen – a difficult time in every young girl’s life. Heartfelt and bittersweet, it truly shows the tenderness of a loving dad. “Conflict” features passages with the piano strings muted and the plucking sound that makes contrasted with the flowing quality of the more “normal” way of playing the piano – very intense and deeply emotional. “Apology” goes really deep and dark, but is also hypnotic and haunting. The piece lightens gradually as hope for forgiveness returns. The repeated pattern on the left hand in “Horizons” represents the steadiness of the horizon while the right hand is more improvisatory and reflects both the uncertainty and the possibility of this past year. “Then, Now” is almost a soliloquy and feels very isolated, introspective and brutally honest. “Stillness” goes even deeper inside, expressing loss and despair, but also finding rays of hope to cling to. “Somber” is very spare with lots of damper pedal utilized to create an effective atmosphere of dark reflection. “Hopeful” is much lighter as the dark clouds start to give way to sunnier skies and moments of joy. “Beginnings” closes this incredible album with cautious optimism and hope amid much change and complexity. 

I don’t use the term “masterpiece” very often, but I really feel that Reflecting Forward qualifies. Ryan Marvel says that creating the music brought him much healing and peace, and I’m sure it will do so for his listeners as well. I give the album my highest recommendation. It is available from, Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby. Again, WOW!

Kathy Parsons


Winter – Album Review

Kathy Parsons
Winter begins with “Three Good Kings,” a medley of “We Three Kings” and “Good King Wenceslas” plus some original touches – a peaceful yet sparkling arrangement! When I was growing up, it seemed like all of the arrangements of “O Holy Night” were very big and dramatic, but that trend has certainly changed over the past few decades. Marvel’s arrangement for solo piano is expressive, but also very soothing. “Walking In the Air” from The Snowman has become one of my favorites. I have heard a lot of great arrangements of this haunting song, but George Winston’s is probably the best-known. Marvel pays homage to Winston in the middle section – a wonderful arrangement! “Arran Boat Song/Holly and the Ivy” is a lovely duet for flute and piano that features Leslie Anne Nielsen on Celtic flute. I’ll be honest here – “O Come O Come Emmanuel” is one of my favorite Christmas songs, but “Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming” is not. Listening to Marvel’s solo piano medley was unusual in that I thought, “Wow, this is really nice!” Good job! “Coventry Carol” is one of the darkest of the traditional Christmas pieces (another favorite of mine!), and this arrangement is a duet for piano and cello (Heidi Mausbach) – absolutely stunning! “Winter,” an original piano solo, beautifully captures the stillness as well as the magic of that time of year. A Colorado native, I’m sure Marvel is an expert on the winter experience! This 8 1/2-minute piece is one of the highlights of this excellent album. A big surprise is “Little Didge Boy,” an arrangement of “The Little Drummer Boy” for piano and didgeridoo (Doug Powell)! Really? Yep – and it works amazingly well along with being lots of fun! “Silent Night” begins as a simple and somber piano solo but later becomes a sweet vocal piece with Marvel’s daughter singing the lyrics. The other titles include a medley of “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “O Sanctissima” (Liz Story’s arrangement), “The First Noel” (with just a little bit of “Jingle Bells”), “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “Auld Lang Syne.”
Winter will be a wonderful addition to your collection of Christmas music that focuses more on reflection than Santa and loud parties. It’s available from Amazon and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!
Kathy Parsons

Bill Binkelman

Wind and Wire


Pianist Ryan Marvel lends his touch to some “marvelous” arrangements of traditional holiday carols, both secular and spiritual, on the aptly titled Winter. Marvel is a gifted artist and an imaginative arranger, something immediately apparent on the opening track, “Three Good Kings” on which “We Three Kings” is lightly brushed with subtle (and occasionally, not so subtle) jazz influences – not enough to make the tune unrecognizable, but with new wrinkles nonetheless. While not every carol/song is treated to this amount of improvisational embellishment, Marvel’s goal seems to be painting each selection with just enough extra flourish to distinguish his music from cookie-cutter carols. In every case, the arrangement never detracts from the beauty of the original and, actually, it sometimes enhances it, such as on his lovely rendition of “O, Holy Night.” One carol that stands out for brazen originality and features the most imaginative arrangement is “Little Didge Boy” which, of course, is “Little Drummer Boy” and yes, it features didgeridoo (played by Doug Powell). Now, I admit hearing the growling and barking of a didge set against the melody of “Little Drummer Boy” can take some getting used to, but it’s more than a “novelty” take on this classic, as Marvel also jazzes up the heart of the song as well on piano. 

Marvel shines brightest when he takes a quiet approach to an interpretation which allows his nuanced style of soft playing to come to the forefront. “Walking in the Air” carries a hint of melancholy. In the middle of the song, Marvel (per the liner notes) pays homage to George Winston’s ostinato motif. The haunting melody perfectly captures the image of a twilight walk through falling snow – at least for me it does. Marvel’s sole original composition is “Winter,” a somber piece that clocks in at 8+ minutes that sheds its minimalism part way through and turns to a more classical-oriented style.

Besides Powell’s didgeridoo, Heidi Mausbach plays cello on an evocative version of “Coventry Carol” while flutist Leslie Anne Harrison’s lilting flute transports the listener to Ireland on the medley track “Aran Boat Song/Holly and the Ivy.” The transition from the sorrowful “Aran Boat Song” to the lively “Holly and the Ivy” is seamless – much to my surprise.

Marvel’s last three selections are a wonderful trio of classics. First is a superb rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” that captures both the magic of the carol as well as its sadness. “Silent Night” receives an appropriately respectful treatment and is quite minimal at times and always sincerely reverent. Appropriately, the last song, “Auld LangSy ne” sends us into the New Year. Once again, Marvel plugs into the heart of the song, playing the tune in a particularly plaintive yet also optimistic fashion.

Winter is a winner, pure and simple. It’s an album meant to be enjoyed with loved ones during the quiet times of the holiday. Bravo, Ryan Marvel, bravo.


Possibilities – Album Review

Kathy Parsons


Possibilities is the second release from pianist/composer Ryan Marvel and his first album of all-original compositions. A classically-trained pianist from Durango, CO, Marvel started exploring composition and arranging at a very young age. He released his first solo album in 2005, Left Hand, Right Hand, which is a collection of classical pieces, original arrangements, and a couple of original works for piano. Possibilities was nominated for “2010 Album of the Year” awards by both Whisperings Solo Piano Radio and Marvel characterizes the album as “a musical journey of personal reflection,” and the fourteen tracks all ring very true. The piano solos were composed from 1994-2010 and include pieces composed for a daughter’s birth, to grieve the loss of a grandmother, a love of wolves, lost love, and a choreographed dance. In addition to being a pianist/composer, Ryan Marvel is Director of Music and Choirs at Foothills Unitarian Church in Fort Collins, CO, an independent arranger and he has a full private teaching studio. 
Possibilities begins with “Five Years,” a prelude of sorts in its brevity and introductory feeling. It flows right into the title track, an energetic yet somewhat tentative piece that seems to express excitement at getting moving while holding back just a bit. “The Gift” is the earliest composition on the album, written in 1994 – very beautiful and heartfelt! “Dance” is a collection of themes and  musical ideas that flow together much like the “dance” of life does – fascinating! “Tender, These Thoughts” is a favorite. Stunning in its openness and honesty, it expresses soul-baring  emotion with a minimum number of notes. “Wolf” does a wonderful job of describing the wild beauty of these animals while also expressing their struggle to survive in the natural world. “Lost Love” again expresses so much with so little. Poignant beyond words, feelings of loss and pain flow from the heart of the composer to the heart of the listener – also a favorite. “Lanie’s Theme” is the song Marvel heard when he first held his daughter – so delicate, fragile, and overflowing with love. The closing track, “For Rose,” was improvised in Marvel’s home studio shortly after his grandmother’s passing. Rather than intentionally composing a piece in her honor, this was “a grandson letting healing musical thoughts escape.” No mastering was done on this track, so it is as Marvel created it. The emotional expression in this wonderful piece is pure, and I’m sure much healing took place in its creation. 
I missed out on Possibilities when it first came out, so reviewing it six years later has been a real treat! The album is available from, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very highly recommended!
Kathy Parsons