Personnel: Omar Akram (piano); Ramón Stagnaro (guitar); Charlie Bisharat (violin); Mark Hollingsworth (flute, ney, wind); Gregg Karukas (piano, keyboards, bass programming, drum programming, percussion programming); Melad Youssofi (tabla).
Audio Mixer: Gregg Karukas.
Recording information: Nightowl Studios.
Photographer: Ken Weil.
Arranger: Gregg Karukas.
As testament to the beauty that Omar Akram has brought to contemporary instrumental music (via an easily rhythmic, gently exotic vibe that crosses over effortlessly between world music and new age), fans across the world have created over 50 homemade YouTube videos using personal images to illustrate tracks from his Real Music catalog -- which starts with 2002's Opal Fire, recorded under his first name. The packaging gives away some of the inspiration of the romantic journey on Echoes of Love: he was recently married and wrote many of the songs in the months before he became a first-time father. The 12 intimate yet often sweeping tracks clearly reflect a joyful honeymoon period full of romping adventures and quiet reflections on the beauty of it all. That's the key to everything with this intensely melodic composer and performer: beauty. Akram expresses his emotions as a co-writer with keyboardist and album producer (and longtime collaborator) Gregg Karukas. He keeps the piano front and center, but surrounds himself with an ensemble that enhances his core sound with flute, synth atmospheres, hypnotic percussion, chanting, acoustic guitar, and violin. Guests on the journey include Charlie Bisharat, Ramón Stagnaro, Mark Hollingsworth, and Brian Kilgore. Highlights include seductive and sensual pieces like the title track and "Take My Hand" (featuring a gentle piano violin duet with Bisharat over Stagnaro's lovely acoustic guitar harmonies). Two titles that capture the feeling of the whole set are "Free Spirit," which builds emotion via interaction between Akram, Stagnaro, and Hollingsworth's dynamic flute, and the film score lush "My Hope Is You," a showcase for Akram and Bisharat that is sweeping new age piano magic at its finest. Akram makes a soft commentary on a world in turmoil by calling another prayer-like tune "Cry for Love." He closes with "Merry," a tune written for his wife that marks his first ever recorded solo piano composition. It marks a beautiful ending to a charming, heartfelt musical experience. ~ Jonathan Widran