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Reviews 10-07-2001

 

Odonata

by Amethystium

Visit Amethystium's website

Visit Neurodisc Records website

Wow. Just...wow. That was my first, and continuing impression of Odonata, the first album from Amethystium. The overall feel of the album is vast, soaring, and always in motion, and ranging in feel from intimate to immense. There is over a full hour of music here to drive, study, or just kick back to.

Every musical genre undergoes an arc of development beginning with the early pioneers in the particular musical style, and a stage in developing the mature sound, and the 'handing off' of the mature techniques and styles to the next stage of development. There are many wonderful musical pioneers and innovators in the Electronic/Gothic/World Fusion/New Age category- like Tangerine Dream, Delirium, Enigma, Deep Forest, Vangelis and Kitaro, to name a few. It is obvious that Amethystium has been a good student of the sonic and emotional styles of these 'elders', because this album both invokes and transcends them all. One can clearly hear the homage to these various musical works in the body of the album, but it also has a unique voice of its own. This is clearly the mature flowering of this genre- a climb to a well-developed high point of sonic excellence. For a first outing, it is awesome. This one is going to stay in your CD players for a while, folks. I'd even venture to say that it might even become a 'desert island' selection.

 The sonic landscape is a very eclectic one: Middle Eastern blends with Celtic, and Sanskrit chants segue over to Gregorian chants. A familiar sample of Tibetan/Nepalese street sounds accents a couple of the cuts (Avalon and Lhasa)- one I recognized from Delirium's Karma: Enchantment. Clearly, there is a lot of creative cross-pollination in World Fusion today. I love it- one sample from an old Tibetan field recording or Gregorian chant can say entirely different things in different musical settings.

Odonata opens with a deep, welling floating bass chime- reminiscent to me of a foggy night- and quickly brings in the rhythms that will propel the listener on their way. The opening "Opaque" is reminiscent of some of the best later albums of Tangerine Dream, including the Sanskrit chanter, and the static chorus. If I didn't know better, I would have thought I was listening to TD- who is a very mature, highly skilled electronic fusion group on their own. It delights me that Amethystium begins at this point- and climbs higher.

Homages and cross pollination and close attention to sonic detail are prevalent throughout the album. "Ilona" has a Celtic feel to it, with chanting monks and a soaring vocal that brings some of Enigma's works to mind, but with a lighter touch. The synth voice, high and clear, reminded me a little of some of Yanni's early efforts.

"Enchantment" became a favorite for me from early on. Starting off with a Middle Eastern flavor, with flute and percussion, it climbs through minor chord progressions and percussion changes, and a Sanskrit chant and rhythmic piano. The musical tension continues to build until about four and a half minutes into the piece, it bursts into a yearning, minor key glissando synth melody that will stay with you long after the music is silent.

"Dreamdance" begins with a floating Native American flute flavor, and quickly bursts into the 'traveling' rhythms that propel much of the album. It is a rich mixture- you will want to listen on both headphones and speakers. Is that chain mail being dropped in a loop in my left ear? Sure sounds like it! It is little details like this that make the album a sonic delight to listen to, and each playing brings a new dimension of audio delights to enjoy.

"Tinuviel" leaves the 'traveling rhythm' behind for some quietly romantic introspection that is reminiscent of Kitaro on his best albums. But it is only a hint of Kitaro, an homage- the music and style is clearly Amethystium's own.

"Avalon" brings the mystique of the ancient land into focus with a deep, mysterious bass opening, segueing into a questioning synth line and a chanting quality to the rhythm. We are all seekers here, it says. We wish to know more. Will the stones and hills give answers? Are those fairy bells we hear? And children's laughter? This is a prime example of a familiar sound sample given a new perspective in a different musical setting.

A lovely chorus brings mystical overtones to "Calantha", continuing the yearning-seeking theme begun in Avalon. Rich arpeggios and a gliding synth voice take us soaring through this piece.

"Odyssey" brings shakuhachi flutes, droning strings, and a solemn dance rhythm into play to continue the yearning mystical feel of the middle section of the album. A male Indian chanter highlights this piece.

The traveling rhythm returns in "Fairyland", opening the final part of the album. "Paean" brings back the soaring Kitaro-esque synth voice to lead the listener deeper into the music and complex rhythms.

"Arcane Voices" is probably the most 'enigmatic' of the pieces, opening with the familiar "Ave/Hosanna" chant of Gregorian monks so popular with both Enigma and others. Clearly a homage, Amethystium reminds us of its musical and stylistic roots, and then takes us higher. Despite the familiar style, it is still as fresh and interesting as ever. 

"Ascension", "Ethereal" and "Lhasa" round off the album, bringing more of the wonderfully layered rhythms and sounds accented a wonderful flute solo on "Ascension". "Ethereal" is quietly introspective with delightful sonic nuances and piano. "Lhasa" finishes the album with Buddhist monks, and the impression of more horizons to explore.

Odonata is a wonderful first outing for Amethystium, and if they continue on the path they are currently on, weaving their own unique sound from the threads provided, I predict that we will have many more musical delights in the future.

Reviewed by Lorie Johnson for Ambient Visions

 

Leap of Faith

by Bill Cornish

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The marvels of Modern Musical Technology now allow just one guy to sound like a whole orchestra, using electronic and sampling synthesizers, drum machines, “atmosphere generation,” and lots of multitracking. San Diego’s Bill Cornish is one of these one-man orchestras, using his keyboard skills to create what sounds like the production of a studio band or at least a well-balanced jazz ensemble. There’s a kind of polished commercial quality to this music, and I could well imagine it as the soundtrack to either a leisure-oriented TV program or an ad for something upscale like wine or fine cars.

Cornish knows his jazz harmonies, and shows them well on cuts like “Shinto” (track 1), and “On the Shores of Cape Breton,” (track 2). No boring three-chord minimalism here. On other tracks, such as “The Falls of  Multnoma” (track 6) he recreates a “folk-jazz” sound, led by a melodic line on the (sampled for keyboard) oboe,  that harkens back to the Windham Hill sound of the ‘80s. It’s got a kind of easygoing California sensibility, though he sometimes throws in some “world” influences from the Middle East.

But that is only mildly spicy, not overpowering. There are no hard edges to this music, no electric guitars or “tribal” percussion; it’s meant to be pleasant and undisturbing. Even the up-tempo title track, “Leap of Faith” (track 12) is a kind of diluted echo of old-time synthesizer rock. Perhaps this album lacks the assertion and aggression of more ambitious one-man synthesizer efforts, but its gentleness, in these troubled times, is also a virtue.

Rating: 4 out of 5 

Reviewed by Hannah M.G. Shapero 10/7/2001

 

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