Aspirant Sunrise

Rick Wakeman

President, 1991

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


By no means was Rick Wakeman the father of new-age music; in fact, I would have a hard time questioning the genre’s actual parentage (though an argument could be made for either William Ackerman or Chip Davis, the founders of Windham Hill and American Gramophone, respectively).

What may surprise some people, including those who only know Wakeman as one of the keyboardists in Yes’s long history, is that Wakeman indeed was a practitioner of new-age music. Turning away from the wildly wonderful solos he became known for, there were numerous times in his career where Wakeman practiced control in his playing and songwriting, trying to discover the way that music could be used to affect the mind, heart, and soul in positive manners.

In 1991, Wakeman recorded a trilogy of such albums, which were written and recorded with the intention of seeing the therapeutic effect such music had on people. I don’t know if it’s correct to call Aspirant Sunrise the first of this trilogy, but if one goes on the premise of a day starting at sunrise, I’ll risk incurring Wakeman’s wrath and tackle this one first. (In my defense, Wakeman lists it first in the discography at -- so there.)

Here’s something I never thought I would say about a Rick Wakeman album: this is background music, and it’s my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 supposed to be background music! Normally, saying that an album lost my immediate interest by becoming part of my background noise is not a good thing, but in the case of Aspirant Sunrise, the disc was indeed doing its job. I popped this in on a Monday morning, when everything in the office is its normal pattern of controlled chaos that follows a weekend.

And, then, something happened. While this disc was playing, some of that insanity literally disappeared. In the words of Keanu Reaves, “Whoa.”

Especially poignant, to me, was the track “Peaceful Beginnings,” with its mandolin-like tones among the keyboard lines creating what sounded like a heavenly chorus. This was powerful to me as two acquaintances of mine had lost loved ones to cancer-related illnesses in the span of two weeks, and while I might not have known them personally, their losses affected me. “Peaceful Beginnings” was so powerful that I listened to this one song repeatedly, and I only wish that I had this CD all those years ago when I lost my grandmother.

In this sense, Wakeman was one hundred percent successful with this experiment. Aspirant Sunrise is indeed the kind of disc one would turn to when they needed an escape from the pressures and stresses of everyday life. No, this music does not make those problems go away, but it does indeed provide a calming effect on the individual so that things look a little bit brighter.

I can’t, though, admit that every track shares in this success -- I’m not too crazy about the xylophone effect on “The Dove,” which was a little jarring to me on repeated listens to this disc. However, moments like this are few and far between.

Admittedly, Aspirant Sunrise is not the kind of disc you’re going to put on regular rotation. Indeed, if one didn’t pay attention to the track listing, you might not know when “Musical Dreams” ends and “Distant Thoughts” begins. But maybe, with this disc, that’s not necessarily the point, and such a disc defies a traditional review where yours truly picks songs he likes and songs that need work. No, Aspirant Sunrise, the one notable track being the exception, is less of an “album” per se, and more of a journey that you allow your soul to take. You could put this disc on “random” in the CD player, and it would have the same tranquilizing effect on you.

So, the overall view of Aspirant Sunrise is less track-by-track, and more of a general picture. Viewed that way, Wakeman created quite a beautiful picture that, though you might not look at it daily, calms you because you know it’s there when you need it. Here’s hoping the other two discs in the series are equally as powerful.

Rating: A-

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© 2008 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of President, and is used for informational purposes only.