Reviews 08-20-2001

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Ancient Kitaro ambient album cover

Ancient

by Kitaro

Domo Records website

 

Ah, Kitaro- the soundtrack of my tech school and the early Eighties section of my life. I think I have most of his albums, having started with the tape cassette of Silk Road. (I need to get that on CD.) I also have several of his albums on vinyl, back when CDs were a gleam in Phillips-Sony's eyes. Ah, the bad old days of vinyl&ldots;I don't miss them at all, spoilt audiophile I am!

Kitaro doesn't disappoint, although if you play too many of his albums together, they begin to sound alike, and you get what I call 'Kitaro Fatigue'. This one starts off in a similar vein, with the sweet Japanesque melody, Kitaro's signature glissando synth, and a floating soprano and some sneaky strings rounding out the sound. "Uh, oh," was my first thought.

Don't be fooled, this ain't your usual Kitaro. This is immediately evident after the first cut, where he apparently got most of his 'usual' stuff out of his system. The second cut brings in a live dynamic and the hint of what is to come by blending live orchestral instruments and rain stick sounds with the Kitaro synthesizers.

Ritual Dance, the fourth cut on the album (according to my Media Player) breaks the Kitaro New Age mold completely by bringing in an ancient rhythmic element, in the form of a Middle Eastern sounding Ritual Dance.

The whole album has a cinematic feel to it, but the liner notes do not mention the program that this music goes to. Too bad, I would love to watch it, as the theme is apparently ancient Egypt and India, and I am a major Ancient Egyptian fan . It is obvious that Kitaro has broken from the New Age mold in making this album- the only guest artists mentioned in the liner notes were the vocalist, Slava, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, who supplied the 'sneaky strings'. Everything else is Kitaro having obvious fun, as in the fifth and sixth tracks.

I especially liked the mixture of Indian and Egyptian musical elements and dance pieces in this album. And just when you thought that all you would get was rhythmic music, Kitaro sneaks in with some of his lovely floating mystical sounds, as in "Wave From Ancient" and "Spirit of Harp", and delights you all over again.

"Great Pyramid" rises up, graceful and majestic, and probably the most Kitaro-esque piece on the album. He is backed by the London Philharmonic, but it is his glissando synth that takes the 'lead vocal' in this piece. It was nice, but the Great Pyramid needs a little more 'oomph'.

But he heads promptly back into the uncharted waters of the more darkly rhythmic parts of this album on the next track, "Mysterious Triangle". Again, his signature sound leads the piece, but this time is backed with harder percussion, choral vocals, and an interesting rhythm.

He lets the orchestra have voice in the very Japanese "Itonami", with flute, harp, strings, and block percussion. The synth is there, but this time, adding color, instead of dominating the music.

"Unicorn" returns the Indian instrumentation, particularly the sitar sound, in a very pastoral piece, with flute, harp, and synth rounding it out.

"Crystal Sand" gives us a strangely dark, mysterious, gamelan and shakuhachi  flute combination, with metallophonic and percussive elements in an almost atonal blend. Spooky and mystical at the same time. Even the electric guitar sounds ghostly.

The penultimate piece, "Dholavira" brings back the Indian element, with Kitaro presiding on his sweet signature synth. This one has an almost vocal quality about it.

The final cut, "Beyond", brings back the majestic symphony orchestra, in a reprise of the Nile theme of the second cut. The flute and woodwind take the lead here, and along with the electric guitar, build up to a brassy climax as the end credits roll on an interesting and unusual Kitaro album.

If you're a Kitaro fan, I won't have to tell you to get it, because you'll probably have it already. If you're a lapsed fan, perhaps a little fatigued by some of his sonically similar albums in the past, get it. You won't be disappointed. There's enough sweet glissando Kitaro synth there to please the die-hard fans, and enough symphonic and rhythmic elements to please and delight the non-fans, too.

Reviewed by Lorie Johnson for Ambient Visions

Visit Lorie's Bio page to learn more about her. 

 

Pyramids Pat Thomi ambient album cover

Pyamids

by Pat Thomi

Visit Pat Thomi's website

 

"Pyramids" is a disc that empirically crosses the borders of many a music genre.  This melting pot of atmospheres, drones, entrancing rhythms and melodic nylon string and electric jazz guitar calls to mind an ill-fated album project titled JazzBient.  This is the current state of the art for a genre bending style that is befitting of a new name.  It is also a showcase displaying jazz roots juxtaposed against the visionary explorations of a very gifted and talented guitarist.

The disc opens in a very slow, mysteriously evolving, sound palette of ambient chord washes that are tinged with hollow, metallic, overtones which readily signifying that you could be floating somewhere above the Nile River.  Honest, this has been a theme that was voiced by many listeners to the sound system without even knowing the title or viewing the artwork on the cover. This almost third person supporting sound bed, which is the title track, then morphs into a melodic overture as the guitar enters the sound field.  This interlude sets the stage for the entrance of the exotic rhythm tracks that propel the music from atmospheric washes, through melodic road maps, and into the JazzBient zone.  Exotic, smooth melodies wrap themselves around the listening area and take flight when the guitar voice changes to an eerily voiced, reverb drenched, electric sitar, completing this leg of Pat's journey amongst the Pyramids.

Atmosphere in abundance awaits you as "Dunes" continues the mesmerizing journey through the land of Pyramids.  The detail of the layers is particularly impressive and soothing to this listeners ears as Pat blends a super mix of instruments and sound sculpting, inside around and under the solo melodic voice of the guitar.  Of interesting note is that the experience truly does take on a much more expansive sound stage through headphones.  A rare treat of sublime nature unto itself in this up-sampling crazed, home theater audio world we live in today. Stereo soundstage lives within the "Pyramids".

"Time" has a reverent quality or air about it that had this listener pondering the possibilities of actually stepping through one of those portals of travel.  Once again I noted the metallic quality of the sound treatments on some of the individual instruments voices which places a visual picture of glistening gold, glittering gems, and gleaming onyx or ebony smack dab on the peripheral borders of the minds eye. Almost ghostlike floaters on the edge of shadows that have danced with a flickering flame. The entire disc is laced with these little sonic goodies of "ear candy" so as you may discern I take great delight in discovering them within each track and delving into the recurring themes they support.  Throughout the musical odyssey of "Pyramids" the listener is presented with an abundance of sonic treats that engage the reflective recesses of the dreams that dwell within ones mind.

The concluding tracks are entitled "Passage" and "Ascension". So with the thoughts I have laid out above you have enough of a glimpse into the inner details of what I hear inside of "Pyramids" to be able to take your own journey to the Pyramids. Take the journey knowing that the path of the final tracks are logical, appropriately titled and every bit as rewarding and engaging as opening tracks are.

There is a cohesive, calculated nature to this release that makes "Pyramids" smooth and ethereal, yet also containing equal parts of ambience and space balanced by a soothing, melodic voice of Pat's guitars.  Before I adjourn allow me to briefly extol the sound quality of Pat's recording, production and playing. Top marks for the sculpting of the sound visions and an extra kudos for the bass groove inside of one particular track, Pat you know the one, the rest of you will just have to listen to find out which one it is. Balanced voicing yet robustly mastered I would venture that "Pyramids" would make almost any sound system sound luxurious.

A fitting end would be to paraphrase a good friends comment when asked what she liked about "Pyramids", mostly due to the fact that every time I looked for the disc in the library it has been in the CD player already.  Being a musician and a huge Susannah Hoff fan she replied: "It let's me walk like an Egyptian in a trance when I read".  Or was that trance like an Egyptian?  What ever; if you are interested in an innovative sound that does not fail to engage the listener time after time in repeated listening sessions then by all means isn't it about time you visited the Pyramids?

The listening sessions were performed in the following systems:

(1) Belles XLM preamplifier, Belles 200 power amplifier with Magneplanar MG1.6QR, & Sunfire True Subwoofer speakers.

(2)The Holo-System: Musical Fidelity A3 CD player, Musical Fidelity A3 Integrated amplifier with Altec Lansing 510 A speakers.  ( A relatively large system in an extremely small room with only one small holographic listening sweet spot)

(3)Additional listening done with Sennheiser HD 600 and Sony MDR 7509 Headphones and the Musical Fidelity X-Can v2 headphone amp.  The Musical Fidelity A3 CD Player was the direct source for this system.

Reviewed by BEAR  08.20.01

Visit BEAR's bio page to learn more about him.

 

Child of Transference Wendy Stark album cover

Child of Transference

Wendy Stark

Visit New World Music's website

 

There is a refreshing air of finely honed craftsmanship present in this highly cerebral release from Wendy Stark. The melange of sound palettes employs ambient electronics juxtaposed against the acoustic elements of New Age Music to create an accessible space in which to reflect on the soul.

The title prepares the listener for what they will encounter upon entering the wonderland that portrays the desires and sentiments retained in the unconscious from the childhood of the artist.  What I find most startling is the ability of her music to invoke introspective moments of reflection and hope although, not being a multi-linguist, I must confess to not having a clue as to what the lyrics are presenting.  Wendy has the ability to invoke empathy, engaging even the most casual listener with her music by touching you on a deep emotional level.

The mesmeric nature of this journey is presented through a plethora of instrumentation and Wendy's unique vocal abilities.  Her voice is unparagoned as it caresses the aural senses and may be likened to the mythical sirens, seductive, whispering call.  The intoxicating blend of electronic and acoustic instrumentation, which weaves the spell throughout, are all deftly composed and superbly engineered.  I cannot stress enough how well the individual voices of the instruments are mixed.  From the Viola melody working above the electric bass, the blurring line that often vanishes between orchestral massed strings and stellar ambient synth work, to the acoustic guitars and exotic percussion combined with Euro EM drum beats, the mix is seamless.  A sonic masterpiece with depth perspective, width of soundstage and full spectrum bandwidth utilization that envelopes the room.

Child of Transference is one of those discs that gets it all right and reveals the sensitivity and creativity of its artist by offering the listener a truly captivating mystic journey that lets you revel in all that is good in the art of New Age Music.  The production quality and mix of instruments is one of the most musically satisfying marvels I have encountered this year.  A statement for the end of the millennium on the state of the art for Ambient / Neo-classical / EM / New Age music... and all that in one disc.

Reviewed by BEAR  08.20.01

Visit BEAR's bio page to learn more about him.

 

CI 4: Cinema Crown Invisible album cover

CI 4: Cinema

Crown Invisible

 

This is a very aptly titled disc. ďCinematicĒ is an excellent description for the wonderfully deep, rich ambient grooves on this album. Be sure that you listen to it on good speakers, preferably with a subwoofer, or else you will miss the deep bass lines that really make this album shine. Before this album, I had not heard of Crown Invisible, and their music isnít easily available, but if this is an example of their style, they have a great future ahead of them. All of the tracks on this album evolve fully, and the shortest is 6 minutes, so you are in for some longish grooves.

The start-stop percussion on the first cut, V16, with the industrial build within the silence, begins this album. Then that wonderfully deep bass line comes in, and the dreamy tapestry is completed with floating synths and broad colors. There is a floating sensation to this piece that gives it a dreamscape quality.

The second cut, V15 is more industrial sounding at the outset, but the Middle Eastern percussion that drives this cut tempers the harshness of the usual industrial sound. It is darker in tone than the first cut, but still drifts along in a cinematic manner. Scintillating loops make up the middle part of this piece, emphasizing the dreamy demeanor of the music.

Track 3, V12, begins simply enough as a series of rich static synth chords, in the style of Tomita or Vangelis but there is a quick hint that this will build into something more dynamic. It does, in a stately manner, with the rhythmic tension reminiscent of Georgio Moroderís early loops. Very future-retro, if there can be such a thing- with the richness of 21st Century digital instrumentation and late 70s early 80s style. Anyone remember Synergy? There is some echo of their style here, too.

Track 4, V8, is the spaciest of the group, with a floating dark drone beginning the piece, but quickly giving into rhythmic and interesting percussion with industrial elements. Can space music have a beat? This cut succeeds in doing exactly that- floating and galloping at the same time. Again, there is the Moroder-esque feel to this, almost a homage. Anybody remember his Cat People soundtrack? The images brought up here are that red-and black desert with all those panthers in that tree. Nice little sneak-in of the electric guitar. The piece moves from Moroder to something reminiscent of Enigma, especially with the laid-back rock beat, with an excellent groove.  This is the longest track on the album, at 8:00.

Track 5, V7, is stately and refined, with a cathedral-esque dignity all its own. It begins with a fairly static procession, and then appears to fade out. Donít be fooled- it bursts back in dynamically, with brilliant, chiming loops and powerfully uplifting tones. The mix of this album has a great spaciousness to it, and would play well in open air on bigger speakers, with you parked in the sweet spot soaking it all in.

The final track, V17 is an elegant piano piece, a little New Age sounding, but with darker undertones. The whole feel is peaceful, in an oddly industrial sort of way.

I really enjoyed this album. Listening to music as long as I have, I cannot help comparing newer artistsí styles to older and more established ones. But Crown Invisible, although their style pays homage to the various artists I mentioned, has a style all their own, and I hope to hear more from them. If there were a subcategory of ambient with some industrial elements in it, that is where this particular album would go. But the industrial elements were not distracting or overly dissonant, they simply served to remind me that I was listening to thoroughly 21st Century music. And enjoying it immensely.

Recommended, if you can find it!

Reviewed by Lorie Johnson for Ambient Visions

Visit Lorie's Bio page to learn more about her.

 

Kadotume Bonfield Ebel album cover

Kadotume

bonfield & ebel

 

Guitarist Bonfield and violinist Ebel step firmly onto new ground as a chance meeting, or simple twist of fate, produces a knock out debut for this synergistic pairing.  Their serendipitous collaboration creates a style that has already invoked the coining of new descriptive phrases like "back porch classical", "chamber folk", and "high brow roots vibe".  Bonfield & ebel are "players players" that live to play and play to live.  They have the uncanny, innate, ability to act as guides on a visionary journey wherein one sees and hears majestic mountain views, the soaring flight of hawks, and frisky pouncing felines that inspired some of the tracks found within Kadotume.

Kadotume is the password to captivating fretwork, delicately woven melodies, and intricate passages of extremely dexterous non-standard tunings that waft serenely about your environment.  Also of noted interest is the recorded sound of Bonfield's exquisitely rich and beautifully voiced guitar.  Having been fortunate enough in having been seated in the presence of this instrument I can state, most emphatically, that what you hear on this disc is what you hear live.  The rhythmic pace and huge, full bodied, sound on "Ella's Labor Day Blues" a sort of Chamber Boogie is a must listen song.

Ebel's 5-string violin is the melodic honey that sweetens the pot and reinforces the enchanting melodies of Bonfield's chordal rhythms like finely spun gossamer tapestry.  Investigate the fiery power as Ebel steps out on "Dazed and Confuzed".  The synergistic call and answer passages melding with passionate, unspoken, communication between instruments and players enables the  "Joie de vivre" of their live experience to make the remarkable transfer to disc.

Other personal favorite tracks are "Sunday Morning", "Cat's Pause", "Zander's Folly", "Something Pretty for You" and the title track "Kadotume".  The joy and wonder of art are most evident in one listen to the adventurous escapades of bonfield & ebel.  Kadotume is a worthwhile addition to any collection.

Whether weaving their spell playing for live audiences or getting acquainted on a home stereo bonfield & ebel don't make fans out of listeners... they make friends.  Let this disc go round and round in your home and be captivated by what I would term "New Friend Music".

'Nuff Said!

Reviewed by BEAR  08.20.01

Visit BEAR's bio page to learn more about him.

 

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