What they are saying about Safe In Your Arms
Article by Michael Diamond in Music and Media Focus
Safe In Your Arms
The name of Scott Cossu is one that long-time fans of new age music will be familiar with. This highly regarded pianist/composer was one of the very first artists on Will Ackerman and Alex De Grassi’s legendary Windham Hill Records label, which Scott recorded on for nineteen years. In fact, Windham Hill piano icon George Winston used to open for Scott in concert in the early years. With some of the songs from Scott’s extensive music catalog being currently out of print, he has chosen to re-record seven of them here, featured along with five exquisite new compositions.
Accompanying Scott’s much-loved signature piano sound are guitar, flutes, and harmonica. The music has a warm mellow vibe that will be enjoyed by Windham Hill fans as well as a wider audience. Scott Cossu is one of the premiere artists being promoted by Heart Dance Records and RS Promotions, headed by award-winning flutist Sherry Finzer.
Scott’s love affair with the piano goes back to his youth, and in our interview he offered a few interesting stories about his musical evolution that I will be happy to share. In Scott’s words: “My dad brought home a small baby grand piano and told my brother, two sisters, and me that we could have a bigger allowance if we studied piano. I was the one who ended up playing. During my youth and college, I was just as interested in classical as I was R&B and rock and roll. I practiced classical for hours all alone at a local church, then on the weekends I was in rock and roll bands. I loved Bach and Pink Floyd.”
He goes on to say: “While in college I was lucky to have a visiting musician as a teacher. His name was Hamza el Din, a famous Nubian Egyptian composer who played an instrument called the oud. He inspired me, and he also took an interest in my music. He recommended that I attend the University of Washington, in the Ethnomusicology Dept. for the study of World Music. I worked towards my Masters degree there and it opened up the whole new world to me. I had teachers from all over the world. It was quite the experience. After graduation I did some recording of my own and then I was asked to join the Windham Hill label, by Will Ackerman, which was a new label for alternative acoustic music. It was a new genre and the New Age sound was just being born. It labeled me as one of the grandfathers of New Age, because I was there from the beginning.” Another label that Scott was once called is a “jazz luminary of the future,” by the prestigious Billboard Magazine. Whether it is jazz, new age, or whatever, Scott humorously refers to his music as “Heavy Mental” or “Cosmic National Geographic.”
It is hard to believe its’ been approximately 30 years since Scott’s Windham Hill days, but he certainly hasn’t rested on his laurels. He has released a number of albums since then and is still going strong to this day. Joining him on this project of re-recording some of his classic songs as well as five new ones is guitarist Van Manakas, who has been collaborating musically with Scott for 3 decades. I once had the pleasure of seeing Van Manakas in concert with legendary jazz bassist Miroslav Vitous back in the 1970’s, and was greatly impressed. Also joining Scott and Van on this new album are alto flutist Ann Lindquist, and newest member John Croarkin who plays bass and concert flutes as well as harmonica.
As the album opens with the title track, the first thing that struck me was the exquisite interplay between these extraordinary musicians. A melody line played in unison by piano, guitar, and flute is something you don’t hear very often. At first I though that perhaps there was a slight bit of echo effect on the piano, but after a moment I realized that it was actually three instruments playing the same notes. There are also times where one instrument will solo and the others support them. This dynamic of togetherness and support is quite appropriate considering that Scott wrote the song for his lovely wife Debi on their 20th wedding anniversary as a thank you for the love and life they have shared together.
And speaking of family, the next song, “Angel Steps,” along with two others on the album, “A Child’s Eyes” and “Fawn,” were, according to Scott: “all written for my young daughter back in the 80’s. They were all released on different recordings during the Windham Hill days. She was such a sweet inspiration to me and she was my first child. She is now in school and studying Chinese Medicine.” The deep heartfelt sentiment that inspired these compositions is tangible, as it is also on “Sunshine Girl” and “Sweet Pea Lullaby,” which Scott wrote for his two adorable three year old granddaughters, whose pictures are seen on the album cover and in the accompanying booklet.
One of my favorite tracks was “Purple Mountain,” which is as gorgeous as the scene that inspired it. In Scott’s words: ” ‘Purple Mountain’ is one the pieces that would be considered one of my “Best Of” compositions in the Windham Hill catalog. It was written about Mt. St. Helens, before it erupted. I was inspired to write this piece during a camping trip when I witnessed a beautiful sunrise on the Mt. in purple. It is on one of my earliest recordings and it was a real joy to bring it back.” I liked the yin/yang balance of the piano, guitar, and flute alternating between playing melody lines in unison and then separately, interweaving in and out of each other.
According to Scott, the track entitled “Gwenlaise” is his most requested piece, both musically, for notation, as well as for airplay, and after hearing it I can see why. Although the original version featured Paul Winter Consort cellist Eugene Friesen, some of his parts, particularly on the opening tracks, are played on flute here. Regarding a composition called “Christo’s Theme,” I was intrigued by a story Scott shared in our interview: “Christo is an environmental artist that temporarily wraps bridges, buildings or makes this huge artistic statement involving a large area. He is famous for doing things like the wrapping, in silk, the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris, or yellow umbrellas running across Japan. In the early 80’s he wrapped eleven Islands in floating, pink fabric, in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. I was contracted to write the music for the documentary that was made of the whole project. “Christo’s Theme” was one of those pieces on the video. It was defiantly a cool project to work on.”
There is no doubt that Scott has worked on a great many “cool projects” that have taken him all over the world, including a three month long ethnomusicology research trip to the Andes Mountains of Ecuador where he would hike up into the mountains to record the villagers that played their ancient music. He has also had the opportunity to play with many stellar musicians over the years such as many of the classic Windham Hill artists, jazz instrumentalists from The Pat Metheney Group, chamber orchestras, and more.
Scott’s rich history is also a testament to his incredible versatility as a musician. As I listened to this latest album, I was aware of a variety of influences, and a number of times in particular, his playing brought to mind jazz piano icon Keith Jarrett. Scott is also highly regarded as a composer and the world’s largest printed music publisher, Hal Leonard, put out a piano songbook that included Scott’s music along side of Beethoven, Chopin, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, John Lennon, and other musical luminaries.
With regard to Scott’s abilities as a composer I was often impressed with his sense of dynamics and the balance of sound and space in his music. In addition, the arrangements of his music were not only outstanding but also quite unique, with many subtle surprises to delight the ear of the listener. There were a number of “wow moments” for me over the course of this album and I was constantly impressed with the creativity, imagination, and intelligence of Scott’s compositions. Few artists in this genre have had the longevity and success that Scott Cossu has enjoyed. His adulation is certainly well deserved, and just a bit of the reason why can be heard in the 12 tracks of this magnificent new recording.
Review by Kathy Parsons, Mainly Piano
Scott Cossu: Safe In Your Arms
“Safe In Your Arms is the long-awaited new release by pianist/composer Scott Cossu. One of the founders of the new age music genre (giving it a jazz and world music influence) and one of the first artists to join the Windham Hill roster of artists, Cossu has had a long and varied career. It is interesting to note that early on, George Winston opened for Scott in concert and the two toured and performed together for several years.
The music on Safe In Your Arms is a combination of new compositions and newly re-recorded pieces from older albums that have gone out of print. Joining Cossu and his piano are long-time collaborator guitarist Van Manakas, flute and harmonica wizard John Croarkin, and alto flutist Ann Lindquist. Cossu says in the liner notes: “These new compositions will hopefully take you to a place of tranquility. My goal was to produce a recording of tender lullabies and ballads, which returns to a signature musical style that I loved yesterday, as well as today.” Inspired in part by his two “adorable granddaughters,” heartwarming photos of Scott and the two little girls at the piano grace the cover and liner notes booklet. I should also mention that I started listening to this album in my wake-up alarm. It usually woke me up when the music started, but then I drifted right back off to sleep, so this is VERY soothing and relaxing music!
Safe In Your Arms begins with the title tune, a sweetly lyrical piece that features piano, guitar, and flute. Graceful and overflowing with tenderness, it’s a lovely start. “Angel Steps” continues in a similar vein, a beautiful trio where the lead is the magical voice of three musical artists playing from the heart. “Fawn” originally appeared on Cossu’s 1984 release, Islands. Gently flowing and jazz-tinged, it’s great to have this piece available again! “Little Sunshine Girl” features some beautiful acoustic guitar by Van Manakas in addition to piano and flute - love it! “Purple Mountain,” a Cossu classic that originally appeared on his 1981 Wind Dance, is as fresh and alive as it was almost 35 years ago. “Gwenlaise” is also classic Cossu and is a piece he often performs in concert. Originally recorded in 1986 with cellist Eugene Friesen, this new arrangement is a gorgeous trio for piano, guitar, and flute. “A Child’s Eyes,” from 1989’s Switchback includes some haunting harmonica by John Croarkin, an artist I had the pleasure of hosting in concert with Scott on two occasions - what a magical pair they are! I think my favorite track (although I like them all!) is the closing “Sanctuary” from Switchback. Piano, flute, and guitar tell the story as a beautifully-flowing unit where no one has the lead yet all three musicians shine and each is absolutely essential for this arrangement to work - it’s a great ending to another great album from Scott Cossu!
Safe In Your Arms will be a treat for Scott Cossu’s longtime fans as well as anyone new to his music. It is available from Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Very strongly recommended!”
Review by Steve Sheppard:
A truly special album
Scott Cossu is back with another album, Safe in your Arms, the title track is sublime, a classic arrangement that includes the acoustic guitar of Van Manakas.
Angel Steps is a short but incredibly sweet piece, it has a lightness of step that is so very pleasurable to enjoy, again Cossu and Manakas are amazing, but now they add some gentle flute provided by Ann Lindquist.
Fawn is as gentle as the creature itself; here Cossu builds a gentle melody in an almost new born way, Lindquist’s flute continues to build on that narrative and the soothing tones of the acoustic guitar add a soft bed of peace to this blissful track.
Little Sunshine Girl is brilliant; the combination of the instrumentation is perfection on this slightly faster paced offering
Purple Mountain is a beautiful ambient composition. The segments of guitar and piano in this arrangement are a treat to be utterly enjoyed.
Sweet Pea Lullaby is a real gem of a piece, the melody is quite emotive, but never loses itself in its repose, it creates a really gentle flower of a piece, that is so tender that even a tear would bruise the petals of this composition.
A deep resonating bass flute opens Gwenlaise, this is just very slightly deeper, as if to enhance the musical narrative further, but as with the previous track it never loses its harmony, in fact it creates a further blissful melody for us all to ease back and chill to.
Starlit Walk is very easy on the ears, with musical arrangements that are so deftly performed.
A Child’s Eyes is next, if you listen carefully you will hear the very delicate, but utterly masterful performance of a mouth organ by one John Croarkin. Here is a piece that really highlights Cossu’s style and passion on Piano.
Akaka Falls is a real picturesque offering of magical proportions, the music plays a virtual backdrop of sonic perfection, this one is a real mixture of new age and a little light Jazz, just at the right time.
We now come across the penultimate track off the album Safe in your Arms by Scott Cossu, the title is Christo’s Theme. This is a piece that you can’t help but fall in love with, there is a really beautiful flow in Cossu style and performance here and the partnership with the brilliant Manakas on guitar is breath-taking.
We come to the final piece from Scott Cossu, it is called Sanctuary. There is nothing like creating a little musical sanctuary to relax in and within this piece you have that perfect opportunity.
Safe in your Arms is one of those delightful releases that will never grow old, this timeless album of classic Cossu, will remain as a go to album in times when you need to enter your musical sanctuary, or you simply wish to surround yourself in a beautiful moment of musical contemplation, this album is truly special.
Review by Bill Binkleman, Zone Music Reporter
Scott Cossu: Safe in Your Arms
While pianist Scott Cossu released his first album in 1980 (Still Moments on the Lost Lake Arts
label), he rose to national recognition in 1984 when he recorded his first Windham Hill release,
Wind Dance. He went on to record five more for the pioneering label and moved on to the
Miramar and Alula labels. Most recently (2012), he released Jazz, Boogie, and Déjà Blues on
Summit Records (I admit to not having heard of that one). However, Cossu, being among the
first artists to sign with Windham Hill, it’s undeniable that a large part of his fan base comes
from those earlier releases.
Well, good news, folks. Scott Cossu is back (well, he never left, so I speak in a metaphoric sense)
and he has resurrected some of his past Windham Hill favorites (newly recorded, not just
remastered), as well as composing some new songs in the same style on Safe in Your Arms, as
softly cheerful and “feel good” an album as you are likely to hear in a long time. He is joined by
his “…long time musical partner, guitarist Van Manakas” (from the liner notes). It will not take
the listener long before they “get” what Scott means when he writes that “We have worked
together 30 years, and the pieces have evolved over these years to a well-polished maturity.”
Also featured on the album are Ann Lindquist (alto flute) and John Croarkin (bass and concert
flutes and harmonica).
One of the things that stands out immediately, and I do mean within about 30 seconds into the
first track, is how locked in Cossu and Manakas are. While there are passages where one plays
accompaniment to the other, they are just as likely to play the exact same notes simultaneously,
which makes for an especially pleasing sound, as well as a distinct one. That opening track is the
title song and it’s almost heartbreakingly lovely, with just the right balance of romance and
wistfulness. Right off the bat, it’s also discernible how carefully crafted the production,
engineering and mixing/mastering is (Cossu produced and he and Croarkin mixed, with the latter
mastering the disc).
Here is where it’s going to be difficult for me to describe the biggest aspect that I find particularly
alluring with Safe in Your Arms because I am not sure how to put it into words. There is a
nostalgic feel to this recording. It takes me back to the 1980s and a lot of the jazz I listened to
back then, such as Return to Forever and other similar jazz ensembles where the jazz element
was more subdued, yet still present. The melodies themselves also have the same “time travel
effect” on me, as do the actual instruments (the trip of piano, guitar, and flute in particular). I
could be dead wrong in how I am categorizing the sound that Cossu and company produce on
this wonderful album and others may read what I have written and think “What?” For whatever
reason, this recording strikes an extremely pleasing chord in my mind and heart.
The element I keep coming back to time and time again is when Cossu and Manakas play “side
by side.” This style is so unique these days that I can’t help but smile as I listen to it. In addition,
the jazzy side of this music flows so softly with enough soloing and individual embellishing of
the main melody to be called jazz but it doesn’t grab your attention in a distracting way. It just
kind of carries you along like a leaf floating on the surface of a gently rolling stream.
I would be in quite a bind if I had to single out specific tracks as being highlights, as each one of
the twelve on the album is a jewel. Some of the songs start out introspective and slowly inject
some “pepper” into the mix, but even then, nothing rises above the level of “energetic
relaxation.” Each guest artist shines on every one of their appearances and Cossu is quite
gentlemanly in allowing them to step into the spotlight at times, going so far as to sometimes
take his piano deep into the background.
Listening to Safe in Your Arms is like sitting on the worn wooden porch of a lifelong friend and
both of you reminiscing about days gone by while also extolling the beauty and wonder that the
present brings you as well. In the same way the company of your close friend brings you a
unique brand of comfort, so too do Cossu and company elicit the same comfort level through
their masterful musicianship, their superb simpatico, and their wonderful way with these
charming yet simple melodies. Safe in Your Arms is just one great album to get to know and
enjoy through many playing.
Review by Dick Metcalf, aka Rotcod Zzaj, Improvijazzation Nation
Scott Cossu – SAFE IN YOUR ARMS:
…and there’s no doubt that’s exactly how you’ll feel as you listen to Scott’s enchanting piano work on this release… songs like “Purple Mountain“, with Scott’s playing friends – guitarist Van Manakas, and alto flutists Ann Lindquist and John Croarkin – joining him in the swirling joy they create. The deep flute intro to the 4:36 “Gwenlaise” and the transitions to other instruments and mood is a perfect example of just how timeless (and flawless) a piece of music can be. One thing you’ll carry away from this listening experience is how unique it is… no one else has Scott’s playing style, and those he’s chosen to play with on this great album understand that (intimately enough) to compliment his work to the fullest. It is the 5:29 closer, “Sanctuary“, that gets my vote for personal favorite of the dozen songs offered up… you’ll be awash in the protection it offers from the mundane and day-to-day. I give Scott and his friends a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.98 for this fine music. –Rotcod Zzaj
February 15, 2016
Review by RJ Lannan, Zone Music Reporter
Can you play my song again, daddy?
I have a number of New Age pianist Scott Cossu’s albums. After all, he is a substantial cornerstone in the foundation of the genre. I have the recording Islands that came out in ’84 on cassette and I transferred it to CD so I could keep on playing it before I wore it out. But I believe the disc is showing wear. Even as a newcomer he had success with his music. The album She Describes Infinity hit the charts in 1987, something this kind of music does not do very often. He has just released a new collection of heart-driven tunes called Safe in Your Arms. Just after a few bars, I could tell this was a labor of love. Family will do that to you and frankly, there is no stronger, nor more persuasive muse then the smile of a little girl. Cossu has hovered around many genres over the years, but his jazz influenced contemporary music stands tall. Scott is accompanied on the recording by the talents of Ann Lindquist on alto flute, John Croarkin on flute and harmonicas and Van Manakas on piano.
In my mind the title track Safe in Your Arms opens the album like looking at a faded photograph album. The colors may have paled over the years, but the memories are still strong and vibrant. The piano and flute take turns telling the story of how the promises were kept even though they might not have been spoken aloud.
Imagine a waltz written for tiny feet and swaying tempo. Angel Steps is picture of a giant of a father looking down at the baby girl clinging to his fingers and rocking on his big, black shoes. He sees a heart that is lighter than downy feathers and a giggle that is all music.
I live at the base of the Smokey Mountains, so any song about mountains gets me. Scott’s rendition of Purple Mountain is no exception. His song came on the player on a rainy day. The clouds promised more than rain and the thunder resonated with purpose. But just as the day was set to retire, the sun broke through the cloudy gray sky and the landscape took on colors of mauve and gold. Yes, they were purple mountains before me and the song played on, the only comfort at the moment.
Gwenlaise is my favorite on the album. It is one of his earlier works and it came out around 1986 on Windham Hill Records. There is something about the tone of the music of that era that makes me nostalgic for the then burgeoning genre. No one could accurately describe the music back then, but everyone knew how it made them feel. Calm, peaceful, and whole.
You leave Hilo and drive over the “singing bridge” and head up the Hamakua Coast. Just about ten miles mauka, that is, on the mountain side, you go down past the banyan trees, push through the trees ferns and go down the well-worn path and there you…at Akaka Falls. Behold a spectacular waterfall that glistens in the sunlight making rainbows in the mist. Scott’s piano and the flute make the journey a magical one as the music invites to you explore one of Hawaii’s greatest treasures. Don’t forget to look up for the tree orchids that hide everywhere. The Big Island of Hawaii is so full of wondrous niches to explore, you’ll never run out of awe for them.
Scott’s albums always seem to offer a little musical guidance, so from his 1990 CD Switchback, Sanctuary, the final tune on Safe in Yours Arms is a fitting conclusion. It is a place we look for all our lives and we find it in the most unusual places. I find it among the notes of the piano, guitar and flute of this flowing melody. It says to me, “Take your rest pilgrim, for tomorrow is another day.”
Scott Cossu’s recording is a musical form of gratitude for a life blessed with family, friends and opportunities that made his world bigger and better. With every note, however, he pays it forward.
Review by Serge Kozlovsky
Wake up and be enlightened in this world
It waits for you so long
This music captures you from the first chords. The piano of Scott Cossu is very tuneful and, at the same time, powerful. All arrangements were recorded with perfectionism and elegance. Compositions of the album “Safe in Your Arms” are penetrated with a great optimism and they lift your spirit.
Incredible freshness is felt in the music of Scott Cossu. Refined guitar of Van Manakas along with gentle Alto flute of Ann Lindquist and masterfully played Bass, Concert flutes and a little harmonica of John Croarkin create a unique ambience of friendliness and openness to this
The music of the album “Safe in Your Arms” reminds me of the golden days of legendary Windham Hill Records and this is not by accident. Scott Cossu is a renowned artist, he was in the forefront of the New Age music movement when it began just over thirty years ago. He was one of the first Windham Hill artists to join founder Will Ackerman and Alex de Grassi on their new label and had success from the start.
Now Scott returns with terrific collection of new compositions, along with new versions of cherished tunes that he had recorded during the nineteen years the artist was on the Windham Hill Record label. I would like to note that meditativeness is inherent in the music of Scott
Cossu. It takes you to a place where all sounds die away and only silence is present. It brings a big joy into your heart. You will return with healed soul, clear mind and you will be sure that this world can bring you only the better.
Listen to this unique album and fill your soul with love and light. Just
feel as this Universe wants to enlighten you…
Review by Chris Lunn, Ancient Victorys News
Safe In Your Arms
Cossu has been working on and shopping this recording for over a year and it has paid off. He has successfully hooked up with Heart Dance Records and begun touring with this very well produced CD that brings back the success and focus of the Windham Hill Records days. In fact, he has taken some of those songs and reworked them for this new recording as well as putting in a host of new originals. Joining him is his musical partner for decades, Van Manakas, on guitar; the flautists are Ann Lindquist, who goes back decades for Northwest music, and John Croarkin. The music is a direct line to the warm new-age music of the 70s with even more depth in the composing lines and bordering on jazz ballads in a few places.
The title cut, “Safe in Your Arms,” is warm and builds to the piano lines, and then the flute enters with unison and countering runs. Later, the guitar surfaces and adds texture. Throughout, the texture and voicings of all instruments make a unified delivery. It is hard to distinguish the instruments individually in some of the lines. “Angel Steps” is a ballad that wants lyrics. The guitar and flutes are involved at the beginning. Warm unison work occurs with the guitar. The building and work in modulation gives a special feel to this tune.
“Fawn” is one of my favorites, taken slow with delicate single notes. This is a lot like some of the music heard behind nature films. There are little trills then back to the theme. The flutes duet in the main theme. Would have liked the flute mixed a bit heavier here. I liked the kind of pulse that works into the latter part of the song. “Little Sunshine Girl” has a likeable crispness in the notes with simple touches from the guitar. Very lovely piece. “Purple Mountain” is lyrical with the guitar and piano interlaced. They flow and still contrast. This is a conversation as the notes tumble lightly out.
“Sweet Pea Lullaby” begins with a quiet, warm piano, then in comes the flute. The writing creates almost a chiming effect here and on other tunes. At times, the music can sound like a vibraphone. Admired the low work of the guitar and the weaving minimal use of flute. “Gwenlaise” has a lovely low-end flute and light low-end piano. The flute and piano use simultaneous note lines to superb effect. Very strong movement, and yet quietly moves with the flute.
“Starlit Walk” is a melodic stroll with high voicings on piano and guitar. Again, this is conversational playing, lovely modulations. The guitar makes a nice release. “A Child’s Eyes” is quiet and warm. “Akaka Falls” has a definite jazz ballad-like quality and begs for lyrics. The closer, “Sanctuary,” is very jazz-like in the chord structure, intro and ending. You just expect them to keep going from the almost jazz comp into a jazz solo. Lovely flute. Superb work, well arranged, and definitely for those loving the new-age work that signified a Windham Hill artist. You get to see how Cossu has grown as a composer/arranger. Perfect listening, meditating music that I have used in my Pilates and Stretch and Stability classes at the Y.
The packaging has a four-panel fold-over with the right side a slide-in for the pictures and notes and the right panel a slide-in for the CD. Lots of pictures with super color and conveying the warmth and positive mood of the recording. Love the children at the piano. Song list and times are on the back of the CD packaging and on the insert, but unfortunately no titles or times on the CD itself, making it hard for reviewers and DJs. Type is clear and clean, and the binding has clear black and white for easy retrieval.