Spectrum - An Anthology of Relaxing Instrumental Music

Review by Bill Binkelman

Original review posted at

I first encountered keyboardist Hennie Bekker via the now-defunct NorthSound music kiosks (you remember them, right?). The album was Spring Rain (1997) and I remember thinking to myself "Why haven't I heard of this guy before?" Fast forward to present day and I receive Bekker's career retrospective CD, Spectrum, in the mail and again think to myself "Where has this guy been all these years?" Well, it appears I'm a lot more clueless than I ever thought I was. According to the CD's liner notes, Bekker's discography includes over 50 albums! Talk about missing the boat – I wasn't even on the pier! 

Bekker may be one of the best, and most diverse, new age style keyboard players you've (possibly) never heard of (unless you're savvier than I am). Spectrum illustrates just how broad his musical color palette is and how proficient he is no matter in what style he is composing and performing. Now, I'm not saying you will find flat-out house/techno here or dark ambient noir, but within the genre of keyboard-based new age music, Bekker commands control of an assortment of subgenres.

One of those subgenres is world fusion, with particular emphasis on African influences, which is no surprise since he was born in raised in Zambia. This African sound is first heard on the second track, The Heart of Africa, with its hand drums and percussion and the jaunty effervescence of the melody played out on a variety of keyboards (the assorted jungle sounds help too, of course). Sprinkled throughout the song are also some nice electronic touches so that the fusion in world fusion is underlined. The next track, Bahia Nights, takes you to a Caribbean island with a sultry mood played out on keyboards, sensual flute, pumping reggae-like beats, all carrying an air of moonlit walks on a tropical beach. The sound of waves breaking on yet another beach signal the start of Urban Trance which, despite its title, never ramps up the energy too much, instead capturing a nice blend of chill-out and lounge, courtesy of flowing strings, bass beats, twinkling tones, and a smooth-as-silk melody line. If the previous track evokes lonely stretches of white sand, this one brings to mind a midnight cruise down to Key West in a top-down convertible sports car, a la Miami Vice. On Stormy Sunday, Bekker decides to cut loose and unleash energizing percolating electronica with distinct flavors of Berlin peppered throughout via frenetic sequencer lines married to synth washes and anchored by intense snare rhythms. Showing that he can just as easily craft relaxing, serene new age soundscapes,Tranquility merges bird song with ultra-lush orchestral strings and twinkling keyboards. Always There opens with a clap of thunder and then slowly unfolds as a dramatic guitar/orchestral keyboard/piano number, reminiscent of Yanni during his most flamboyant period – romantic, sweeping, and cinematic. The album closes with a soft quasi-spacemusic selection, Silent Embrace, which uses the same strings and bell tones as on other tracks but in a wholly more subdued way, conveying an image of cruising through the blackness of space. And, lest I forget, the album opens with my favorite song here, the title track to (what else?) Spring Rain. With its cascading harp intro, orchestral strings, gentle but insistent beats, and gorgeous flowing piano lead, the song perfectly captures the image of the titular reference.

The fourteen selections on Spectrum are culled from twelve recordings, so you will get a real taste of Bekker's prodigious and varied talents. While the subtitle of the CD reads An Anthology of Relaxing Instrumental Music, some tracks definitely will get your heart rate up (at least a bit), but I think that variety actually improves the CD. If all the music were in a similar vein, you'd never get the right idea of who Hennie Bekker is from a career standpoint. And what a career it has been, apparently. I'm just glad that, as late to the party as I might be, I didn't miss all the festivities!

Rating: Very Good

- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 10/21/2011