Red Diamonds Album Review on Journeyscapes

Californian native and resident Gina Leneé is a classically trained pianist and composer who’s released a handful of albums since the early 2000’s. Her latest album, Red Diamonds, marks her first time working with Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman, which was recorded at his Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont. Comprised of ten compositions showcasing Leneé on piano, the album variably features guest performances throughout which includes Ackerman on guitar, Charlie Bisharat on violin, Eugene Friesen on cello, Jill Haley on English horn, Jeff Haynes on percussion, Jeff Oster on flugelhorn, Marc Shulman on electric guitar, Premik Russell Tubbs on electronic wind instrument and saxophone, Tom Eaton on fretless bass, guitar and vocals, and Noah Wilding on vocals.

“A Thousand Days Without You” opens in a graceful, unhurried manner with subtle English horn melding into the backdrop along the way. “Soulmates” continues in this gentle piano mode seemingly tip-toeing about, as accompanying violin further lends an added touch of gracefulness that perfectly illustrates a couple’s dance. Initially beginning more slowly, “Carry Me Away” eventually picks up a livelier pace with underlying percussion and a repeating piano riff throughout. Electronic woodwind and breezy wordless vocals further lend the piece a somewhat Celtic feel that likewise paints a scenery of open meadows and sunny skies. An especially lovely composition, it seems to tell of story of waiting to be whisked away by a lover whom one wishes will soon arrive. My absolute favorite piece herein is “The Moment”, clocking in at nine minutes as the album’s lengthiest track. This hauntingly sensual number treads along more ambient-jazz terrain, aided in part by drifty flugelhorn which helps to convey a deeper level of intrigue. Softly echoing percussion, subtle brushes of wordless vocals, sparse guitar notes and the mysterious melody of electronic woodwind perfectly round-out this piece, which serves as a shining example of many subtle yet perfectly placed musical elements coming together to create a truly outstanding composition. The title track, “Red Diamonds”, moves along in a somewhat galloping manner with its focal melody warmly accompanied by percussion and violin. The album’s most subtle piece, “Art of Life” is another highlight defined by a notably elegant melody graced by cello and airy vocals. And finally, “Forever” concludes the album as its most sentimental piece, led by a tender melody that’s once again accompanied by English horn.

Overall gently restrained and mostly low-key throughout, Red Diamonds elegantly sparkles and shines without the need for too much ornamental flash. Rather, many perfectly understated musical elements and subtle textures combine on this beautiful collection of pieces for a personal listening experience that is truly reflective, romantic and intimate!

~ Candice Michelle

Enjoy Magazine

Earlier this year, Gina Leneé returned to the bench, placed her fingers on the keys, and in front of an audience, did what came naturally. The pianist and composer had taken something of a break from performing – though not from her music – and for the first time since 2012, she returned to the stage to play her original work.

The January 15 performance, which benefitted the Art of Life Cancer Foundation, was the first concert (of that size) for Leneé since 2012, when she performed her album “Under the Same Sky” at Fresno’s Tower Theatre. Since then, she has taken a hiatus from performances, preferring to focus on family, though since her youngest child has left the nest, Leneé is returning to the stage to speak a language too familiar. Her music, she says, “is my way to express myself when words aren’t enough.” 

“I grew up in a very musical family,” she says. Her father played guitar at church, her mother sang, and her brother is a multi-instrumentalist. Leneé may never have learned to read music – which she somewhat regrets – but she is able to play by ear. It’s something of a disadvantage when sitting down to play with other musicians who do read music, she says, but “If I listen to it, I can play it.” 

Leneé is not a classically trained pianist, excepting those first few years of lessons as a child, but her musical affinity allows her to transform her moods directly into song. She calls her music genre “fluid,” ranging from traumatic to passionate and cinematic, but all directly connected to specific moods, something which can’t necessarily be translated by the notes on a music sheet.

Though she’s recently taken a break, music has been a full-time pursuit for Leneé “for, oh gosh, maybe 15 years.” She has written and released five albums, but things really began to “take off” for Leneé in 2010.

“I decided to combine the two things that are so close to my heart, really at the core of who I am – helping others and my music,” explains Leneé. With a background in nonprofit fundraising, Leneé has worked with hospitals and organizations like California’s Wish Upon a Star, promoting their cause through music.

“I have a heart of a servant to make the community a better place, and the hands of a musician, a pianist.”

Like two notes harmonizing into a chord, Leneé took those two passions and brought them together, performing various concerts to benefit different nonprofits. Not only would she donate ticket proceeds to that particular organization, “but I want to be able to magnify their voice in the community about what they do.” 

Leneé’s 2012 Tower Theatre performance was a fundraiser for Break the Barrier, but the benefit concert was much more than a straightforward piano performance. Knowing there would likely be audience members with hearing impairment, Leneé created a multisensory project “to express the story behind every song through lyrical dance.” She collaborated with Visalia Dance Company Altered Modalities to create original choreography to complement her music, so “even with auditory challenges, people could see the story come to life.” 

Leneé returned to the studio in January, where she was working on a new album and single, the latter which she wrote for the Art of Life Cancer Foundation. “It speaks to new beginnings. Every day is new,” says Leneé, whose mother and two aunts also had breast cancer. 

Beyond the personal connection, Leneé is excited to support Art of Life because of the foundations method of working with patients. “It’s bringing the arts into healing,” she explains. “They encourage their cancer patients to really connect and discover the healing properties of art during their journey.” 

The City of Fresno has donated three acres of space in Woodward Park, which the foundation will use to create an Art of Life garden, “a place to reflect, a quiet place,” and Leneé plans to perform at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Leneé’s next concert is Friday, April 1 at the Valley Music Center, where she will perform traditional hymns. Donations will benefit the Woodward Park Baptist Church youth group’s mission trip to Mexico. At 6pm on Saturday, April 2, Leneé will perform original music and covers at The Palms Restaurant in Fresno, (559) 438-0500. Tickets begin at $25, which can be purchased at www.eventbrite.com or at The Palms restaurant. As for her music, which she’s continually writing, she hopes “it touches people, and I hope it helps them reflect on their life.”

Enjoy Magazine, South Valley Living  |  February 26, 2016