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Yoga in Unexpected Places

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New York City-based vocalist Morley has long employed various modalities of yoga technique and philosophy in her music and lifestyle -- as a hospice worker, for at-risk youth, in her role as a social activist, teacher and yoga instructor, and, of course, as one of the fiercest female musicians around. Her songs become anthems, like "Women of Hope" at TedXWomen, "We Will Change,", which she wrote for TED's Youth Initiative, and one of my favorite songs, "Sever the Ties," which she often performs with a simple shaker and percussion.

That last track was re-recorded for her latest, Yoga Release. Born in collaboration with flautist/producer Joshua Geisler, the seven-track album is a stunning collection of percussion-driven and ambient songs that find a quick home in the yoga studio. After her sea of ohms, the uplifting "Yellow Flowers" is potentially her most inspiring song from any record; the deep pocket woven by bassist Fred Cash is the perfect foundation for a rhythm of tabla and Geisler's captivating bansuri flute.

Her yogic retakes of "Keep Your Gaze Steady" and "Sever the Ties" are brilliant -- Ehren Hanson's tabla performance and a guest vocal by the Persian singer Haale add a haunting quality to the former, while Matt Kilmer's masterful frame drum performance on the latter make this the best version I've heard. Hamid Drake and William Parker round out the album's percussionists, on the crawling, sinewy "First Breath of Creation" and an 11-minute "Om Pema Jungne." Three years ago, we invited Morley to perform two songs on our EarthRise SoundSystem record, and they became the most beloved on The Yoga Sessions. That her first full-length foray into the yoga world would be a success was never in doubt.

Yoga music might not be first to mind when you think of Lady Gaga, Kanye West and Common, but pianist Pete Kuzma straddles many worlds. After having toured with all of the above on keys, as well as serving as Jill Scott's musical director for seven years, his dedication to yoga shines on the recently-released Equilibrium. The nine-track solo debut recording is a brilliant exploration of melodic textures and downtempo beats revolving around Kuzma's gorgeous handling of the ivory (or patches, as the digital age sometimes goes).

The two longest tracks are the best, 11-plus-minute emotional quests: the opening cut, "The Introspecting," with its distal drone and shimmering cello, and his ode to a Turkish sea, "Walk to Marmara," a slowly rolling percussive cut that eventually opens with bright rays of Rhodes. Equilibrium is predominantly a reflective affair: the churning heartbreak apparent during "A Night at the Cathedral," with its sparse percussion and back-of-head organ, a celestial "Celeste," which would find a good home on any Hans Zimmer soundtrack, and Kuzma's splendid solo piano rendering of Bob Marley's classic "Waiting in Vain." This fitting closer to this exquisite album melds with yoga as with life: painfully hopeful and quietly mysterious.