When Omar Akram is composing at the piano, he has a unique criteria for determining whether a song is worthy of developing further. During those initial bursts of inspiration, instead of recording what he's just played, he lets the melody go and moves on to something else. Later, if it starts jangling over and over in his mind, he knows he's onto something special. With the release of his fourth collection on Real Music, three words perfectly reflect this intuitive, heartfelt process: Echoes of Love.
Driven by his ongoing desire to bring beauty and love to the world--and a renewed perspective on life as a first time expectant father—the New York born, Los Angeles based composer expresses his musical heart freely, and often times, exotically, on the 12 tracks he co-wrote with keyboardist and album producer Gregg Karukas, a popular contemporary jazz recording artist in his own right.
While Akram's hypnotic piano magic is always front and center, a specially chosen batch of renowned L.A. musicians add remarkable touches of groove and global music influences to the Echoes mix: violinist Charlie Bisharat (who has worked with everyone from Strunz & Farah and Shadowfax to Kelly Clarkson and Linkin Park), guitarist Ramon Stagnaro (Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli, Celine Dion), Mark Hollingsworth (flute, Persian ney and wind effects) and Brian Kilgore (ethnic percussion).
True to the universal spirit of all of his recordings, Akram's music has traveled to and made fans in many unexpected places over the past few years. Fans everywhere from Romania and Germany to South America have created a total of more than 50 homemade YouTube videos pairing homemade images with tracks from his entire Real Music catalog, which includes Secret Journey and the first two albums he released under his first name Omar, Opal Fire (2002) and Free As a Bird (2004)—all of which hit the Top 15 on Billboard's New Age chart. "Passage Into Midnight" from Free As a Bird has received five million views, and overall these clips have generated over seven million and counting. One of Akram's most prominent fans is Brazilian author Paulo Coelho ("The Alchemist"), whose use of "Dancing With The Wind" as the music on his Myspace page earned Akram thousands of new fans.
"The social media boom that's happened since my last album Secret Journey came out has been incredible, and it has taken my music across the world in ways I could never have fathomed, one 'share' at a time," says Akram, who grew up the son of a United Nations Diplomat living everywhere from the Washington, DC area and France to Prague, Cuba and his ancestral home of Afghanistan. "I think in this day and age, that many 'hits' reminds me that if I am putting out music of passion and high quality, that will translate to the excitement of fans who can take it to the next level."
"I grew up traveling everywhere so a lot of my songs and the production textures stem from being exposed to many different types of music and cultures," he adds. "The YouTube success is also meaningful because writing music is all about breaking down and transcending cultural barriers. Having been in so many different countries, I have come to realize that we need to embrace aspects of each culture that make them unique and special. Even though one tune may lean Middle Eastern and another may tap into flamenco influences, I really don't see any distinction on an emotional and spiritual level."
Akram sweeps the listener into the rich experience of Echoes of Love with the seductive and sweeping title track, whose lush piano melody, ambience and gentle percussion are complemented by Hollingsworth organic flute harmonies and Bisharat's swaying violin. The sensual invitation to "Take My Hand" begins with Akram's sweet, easy rolling piano before gliding into a tender piano-violin duet with Stagnaro's beautiful guitar harmonies. "Lovely Day" starts mystically, with flute and exotic sampled male and female voices, then soars with a mix of those voices, piano and violin. Akram came up with the title of "Miracle" on the day he found out that his wife was expecting their first child; like the innocence of a sleeping baby, the tune is graceful and gentle, as Bisharat's elegant violin rises over the soft guitar and piano melody and harmony lines. The same piano-violin-guitar dynamic infuses the powerful, Latin flavored "Finally Home," only the soft and lush gives way to fiery and jamming, complete with dramatic soundscapes.
After the playful, easy loping violin and piano jaunt "Draw Me Close," Akram and his band continue to share the sense of "Free Spirit" that drives the whole album, building emotional intensity with Hollingsworth's dynamic flute playing off the piano and acoustic guitar melodies and counterpoints. Although Akram intends the theme of Echoes of Love to apply to a spirit of unity and cultural connection, his graceful references to interpersonal love on the unabashedly romantic "My Hope Is You" are inspiring and undeniable. Although the pianist feels that "looking around the world, things are upside down and challenging" these days, there are always things to "Rejoice" about—as he finds on this joyful splash of new age-pop fusion featuring a dancing violin and piano duet.
A world in turmoil will always have many people who "Cry For Love" (a dreamy, plaintive prayer for better days) as they look to the "Open Skies" for hope and healing. With its swirl of dusty and cool piano and guitar and dramatic flamenco flourishes, "Open Skies" is an adventurous romp that rolls like a film score to a dramatic Western. Akram's final echo is a tribute to his wife Merry that marks his first ever-recorded solo piano composition. The perfect coda for the album, Akram wrote the tune spontaneously one morning in the Downtown Los Angeles rehearsal studio while waiting for a camera crew from "The Voice of America" to arrive.
Growing up a true citizen of the world, Omar Akram recalls, "I was always fascinated by musical instruments as a child, so when I was six, I began taking piano lessons from a member of the Prague Symphony Orchestra, who was one of the top music teachers in the Czech Republic." Attending many symphonies and ballets, his natural early influences were classical -- first Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, and later, the "Russian School" of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky and Shostakovich. Living in Cuba at age 14, he had the opportunity to chat with none other than Fidel Castro at a diplomatic reception. Akram's resulting curiosity for Cuban culture led him to local clubs where he talked the musicians into letting him sit in and play Cuban music with them—an experience which resulted in a lifelong love for Latin rhythms and Latin-styled acoustic guitar sounds.
Returning to the U.S., Akram was introduced to the international electronic music of Jean Michel Jarre (France), Kitaro (Japan) and Vangelis (Greece) "which got me into synthesizers and electronic music. That shifted everything and I knew I wanted to try that type of music so I started composing." A few years later, he began focusing on solo piano when he heard the music of George Winston and David Lanz which helped launch the genre of new age music. Other influences that played key roles in Akram's musical development include Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Prince. Settling in L.A. in 1993, he began performing everything from solo piano gigs to bars with Top 40 bands, but his wanderlust never ceased; he traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and also jaunted frequently to England and France.
Though Akram composed original music throughout the 90s and the early 2000s, he didn't think seriously about a recording career until he met Dr. Mike Vasilomanolakis, who encouraged him to share his music and later became the pianist's executive producer. Since signing with Real Music, Akram has performed numerous concerts over the years, including many for charitable causes. At the International Book Expo in Chicago, esteemed authors Deepak Chopra and Carolyn Myss saw Omar perform and became fans of his music. For the next two years, Myss invited the pianist to return to Chicago every month to perform at her seminars in front of audiences of 500-to-700.
"From the time I became a fan of contemporary instrumental music and started recording till now, I have sought to make music that celebrates the sounds and feelings I have encountered on my many world travels. The entire experience of making the album, working with guys like Gregg, Charlie and Ramon again, was full of great joy. I know it's been a few years since the last album, and I'm grateful for the many longtime and new fans who are giving me the opportunity to share these Echoes of Love."