Reviews 04-09-2006 

Music Reviews 



Bridging Textures

by Jim Hudak

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Visit Jim's CD Baby website

“Bridging Textures” is pianist/composer Jim Hudak’s fifth album, and his first release of all original material. Co-produced by the founder of Windham Hill Records, Will Ackerman, and backed by an impressive array of musicians that include bassist Michael Manring and violinist Tracy Silverman, this is by far my favorite of Hudak’s recordings to date. In previous reviews of his albums, I suggested that Hudak do a recording of his original music, so this release is a particular delight for me! The musical stylings are varied, with influences from many kinds of music, including new age, jazz, boogie/blues, folk, pop, classical, and even hymns. Hudak’s playing isn’t flashy, but his style comes from the heart with warm sincerity.

The CD opens with “Running Stream,” a piece inspired by hikes on the SF Bay Area’s Mt. Diablo and seeing where streams begin their long run down the mountain. Free, optimistic, and sparkling, this piece features a trio of piano, bass, and percussion - a refreshing start! “Wild Goose” begins with a poignant violin solo. Using the metaphor of a wild goose knowing when to fly and move on, this piece has a beautiful, bittersweet quality. The violin adds gentle washes of color and light percussion in the background enhances the feeling of movement and of looking back. I really like this piece a lot! “Now You Must Choose” is a duet for piano and guitar, with Hudak playing both - how’d he do that??? (Yes, I know!) “You Taught Me” is a gorgeous duet for piano and violin that is poignant and heartfelt. “Out of My Head” features Suzy Thompson on Cajun accordion - a very interesting and lighthearted addition to the piano and bass, and a combination that I don’t think I’ve ever heard before. “I’m With You” is a standards-style piano solo - easy-going and elegant. “Bittersweet Passion” is a duet for piano and sax (Mary Fettig), another unusual combination that works well. “Steppes I” is a wonderful piano solo - my favorite track on this album. A little bit darker than the other pieces, it evolves into a bluesy boogie-woogie tribute to Hudak’s father. Great stuff! “Steppes II” is the same tune with a different approach. A bit jazzier and more improvised in style, bass and percussion add some sparkle to the mix - another really great piece! The CD closes with a short piece called “Song of Achievement,” which Jim wrote when he was twelve. It’s always fun to hear how composers started out!

“Bridging Textures” is quite an artistic leap forward for Jim Hudak, and should bring a new audience to his music.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Kathy Parsons reprinted from Mainly Piano on Ambient Visions



Fever Dreams II


Lost Pieces 4


Possible Planet


Immersion One


Dreamtime Box


by Steve Roach

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I’ve been a supporter and fan of Steve Roach for a long time now. Early on in this Weblog’s history, I wrote about him in one of my earliest entries from 2004. Since then, he has released more than five solo or collaborative albums, and recently I added a number of newer Roach works to my collection, which already takes up a whole bookshelf.

These are releases from 2004 through 2006. In chronological order from 2004 on, the first one in my new batch is FEVER DREAMS II (2004), subtitled “Holding the Space,” the second part of a series of percussion and drone-trance pieces Roach created along with percussionist Byron Metcalf and bassist Patrick O’Hearn. This set of seven tracks is in the “shamanic” mode that Roach and his collaborators have done so well over the years. Most of the pieces have the regular rhythm, marked by both acoustic and electronic instruments, which shamans claim induces altered states of consciousness. Roach also makes much use of electric guitar, something he has been doing steadily since his “Earth Island” series in the early ‘90s. He uses dissonant and microtonal chords to set a rather dark “soundworld,” but here he also plays actual tone-rows, including an ascending scale in one intense and focused passage.  

Usually, Roach doesn’t use that much vocalizing, but FEVER DREAMS II features singing and wailing by Jennifer Grais, a versatile  singer who is also a “horse shaman,” working with equines as a spiritual path. If Native Americans sang the blues without words, they might  sound like Jennifer. And the insistent rhythms in the tracks of FEVER DREAMS II at times mimic the galloping of a horse. The last track, a long piece called “Holding the Space,” is an answer and variation of its counterpart on  the earlier FEVER DREAMS album, the long track “Tantra Mantra.” Both feature trance percussion, overlaid by uneasy chords from Roach’s well-reverbed guitar. 

2004 also brought Roach’s fourth “Lost Pieces” compilation, consisting of work that either appeared as single tracks in group albums or had never appeared before. These “Lost Pieces” now found date from 1999 to 2001, and are mostly in the majestic, vast spacey electronic style which is to me the quintessential Steve Roach sound. There are a couple of electronic-techno-trance pieces, such as track 2, “TranceFusion,” but the best of this lot by far are the two space pieces on tracks 7 and 8. “Slow Rapture,” track 7, cycles slowly round in a gorgeous ellipse focused on two fourth-based chords, while smooth harmonies float above it. Track 8, “Contained & hellip; Sustained,” is another restful astral beauty. Interestingly, it features some of the same big wide-spaced chord progressions you can hear on the undertracks from Roach’s BODY ELECTRIC, which was produced around the same time. This one’s a fine album and evidence of Roach’s consistency over the years. 

In 2005, Roach finished and released one of his most unusual albums to date, the eerie POSSIBLE PLANET. Here he switches instrumentation from his usual ultra-smooth synthesizers, percussion, and slow-played electric guitar to a set of neo-retro “analog” synthesizers. These were designed to retrieve that “old-fashioned” pop sound of the ‘70s and ‘80s but in the hands of Roach, they put forth long, weird tranceworlds of drone-ambient. He punctuates these long drone pieces with electronic versions of rattles, shells, and insect noises. These sound truly alien, as if someone had put a tiny microphone in an anthill to listen to them talking to each other. The third drone-piece is full of insectoid buzzing, which has a shimmer of recognizable chords to it, though it is no less spooky than the earlier non-tonal passages. You get the feeling that the “possible planet” that Roach is evoking is not Earth.  

This year, 2006, has already seen one new production from Roach. This is a long-form sound-environment called IMMERSION:ONE. Over the years he has done many of this type of album, which is meant to be background music, a kind of soft “sonic incense” which fills the room while you are doing other things. Some of these have been THE DREAM CIRCLE from 1994 and SLOW HEAT (1998). IMMERSION:ONE tends toward a wistful and melancholy mood, the kind of sound that might echo through a temple to the lost glories of the past.  

I’ve saved the best of this batch for last: 2005’s NEW LIFE DREAMING. This album arose from Steve’s re-encounter with his older music from the 1988 DREAMTIME RETURN, which he was updating for re-release. In doing so, he came up with new music inspired by the mood and instrumentation of the old.

NEW LIFE DREAMING has no Australian aborigines chanting, no didgeridoo, and no rattles or electronic wind instruments, but it does have sound contributions from Roach’s now-familiar collaborators Byron Metcalf and Jennifer Grais. The chords in track 1, “Perfect Dream,” are unusually major and cheerful for Roach, while track 2, “Where I Live,” is filled with birdsong and desert sunlight, a portrait of his Arizona home. (Thank God he doesn’t live in a big traffic-filled city!) The next two tracks are even better. Track 3, “The Ancients’ Way,” builds on Roach’s heroic wide-spaced “American modern symphony” chords, and about halfway through, includes a softly tapped rhythm sequence by Byron Metcalf. This is just a wonderful, perfect Roach piece. The next piece, “Deep Sky Time,” is all-electronic, in which scintillating sequences sparkle over a deep drone. It’s a cosmological sound, evoking the brilliance and twinkle of the stars on a clear desert night. The last cut is a moving, gentle lullaby sung wordlessly by Jennifer Grais, while a muffled piano (played by Projekt label’s Sam Rosenthal) accompanies Roach’s melody on the floating, sustained guitar. It’s a sweet ending to one of Roach’s best albums of the decade so far.   

If you would like to listen to or even acquire some of this music for yourself, samples and CD’s are all available at the Steve Roach website which I mentioned at the beginning of this text.

Reviewed by Hannah M. G. Shapero for  Ambient Visions



Cave of the Jaguar

by David Crews

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David Crews’ Cave of the Jaguar is a journey for the listener through the inner realms of the spirit via the ebbs and flows of the drifting music that moves the journey forward from track to track on this release. As David states in the album notes on his website this CD represents the base storyline of his shamanic dream that he had while vision questing in the deep deserts of Utah and New Mexico.   

The music at times is rhythmic and dramatic pulling you into the unfolding story and at times it allows the listener to drift in otherworldly synth washes in reflection of where they have been. The music also alternates between the light and airy feeling of floating to the dark realms of deep ambient that surrounds you but does not oppress you with so many shadows that you lose your way on the introspective journey.  

David states on his website that his earliest influence in the realm of “space music” was Tangerine Dream circa Phaedra which he was exposed to while working at a radio station. When TD began to move away from their original vision this influence in his life was taken over by Steve Roach and the music that Steve has created over the past quarter of a century. The music that comprises Cave of the Jaguar indeed bears the marks of these influences and yet the style is distinctly David’s as well it should be.  

I confess that in my past listening habits I have been more than a little partial to the tribal music of Steve Roach and Byron Metcalf so it comes as no surprise that two of my favorite songs on this CD are the opening track called Moving Above It and of course the song called Ritual. Moving Above It with its repetitive rhythm always present in the background creates the perfect canvas for the sythns to weave the storyline that begins the journey inward and away from ordinary consciousness. While this track is not as airy and drifting as later pieces it is a perfect piece to begin this kind of introspective journey with and certainly one that bears repeated listenings. At seven minutes it allows time for the listener to enter into the spirit of the journey and prepare themselves for the more open and spacey pieces that follow.   

Ritual which is further along in the CD again adds a beat but more along the lines of the beat you might find during shamanic rituals and features a rattle and other less electronic sounding instruments to offer the listener a sonic landscape more consistent with sitting around a fire in the desert a meditating on the dancing flames while moving inward. The synths are there as always providing the atmosphere to the rattle and the beat and always pointing the listener to deeper inner realms.  

Cave of the Jaguar is a fine effort by David Crews to put into music the feelings that he experienced during his shamanic dream questing in the deserts of Utah and New Mexico. This CD falls between drifting space and tribal oriented music with equal dashes of both during the 52 minute journey that this CD takes you on. There was a certain cinematic feel to a couple of the songs most notably A Place Within which reminded me of the music from the movie The Abyss when Ed Harris had reached the aliens below and was moved by the communications he had been having with his wife while falling into the abyss on his one way journey. Light and positive and very much a song that takes you to a place inside. All in all this is a CD that would make a great addition to your ambient library of music and one that I would recommend.

Reviewed by Michael Foster for Ambient Visions



Cinematic Life

by Eliott James

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Electronic rock is Mr. James' forte, and this CD presents some of the best electronic rock I’ve heard since the Alan Parsons Project.  This is an all instrumental composition, with a total playing time of about an hour.

The fusion is rock, jazz and most definitely all electronic.  This is smooth beat, and in some instances very dramatic, invoking a feeling of Cinematic grandness, hence the title. 

The compositions are for electronic keyboard and guitar.  There is some flashy guitar, some soft rock base, percussion that causes your feet to tap in time and a gentle jazzy sway to the feel of the music.

The titles sometimes evoke a feeling to the music, but the music speaks for itself.  The lead off say it is very jazzy with a great backbeat.  The CD progresses forward from there, never stopping to look back till the end.

second chance presents electronic guitar with electronic backfill and complimentary keyboard to give us a good composition and again, creating the grand feeling of cinema.  Could be a theme song for a movie.

I like the electronic bits this music has to offer.  Some distorted guitar in the track in the deep gives a touch of surrealism to the composition.  The scale running up and down gives a feeling of movement to the music and I came away with a feeling of a Dali ocean painting in motion, very graceful, in a distinct sort of way.

Powerful guitar starts midnight desert run giving a very rock feel to the piece, but it holds on to the electronic feeling and presents us again with another soundscape that beckons you to move in time to the music.  Reminiscent of something moving quickly through the night, the guitar lays out the landscape while the beat paves the road beneath the feet.  Nicely suggestive soundscape, and well thought out and put together.

This is electronic ambient for the most part.  A bit more energetic than most ambient, but a refreshing change from the norm, and Mr. James proves you can put some more energy in to ambient and still keep within the confines of the genre.

deep forest rain begins as traditional space music, working with a single electronic layer, adding additional layers of sound in the form of rain and birds, more electronic and finally an acoustic guitar that forces your focus on the delightful melody.  This has a medieval or classic folk feel to it, but the electronic backfill present it as a more modern piece.  The piece, while it could have been busy, is restrained and the backfill does not overpower the guitar work.  Again, nicely enhanced and skillfully constructed.

A short keyboard piece, starry night is a brief look at a topic suggested by the title and achieved in its brief run through an emotional response evoked by the soft, sultry music.  It does place you in a position of looking at a starry night.

The beat picks up and reverts back to rock with (day on the) fast track.  This is “behind the wheel driving music”, pumping a lot of energy through a suggestive title, some keyboard electronica and some bouncing beat and melody.  Yes, there is a melody here, and it tickles at your mind as you feel the beat on this one.  This one is worth turning up to appreciate.

We come back to acoustic guitar in dolly.  There is a suggestion of a grand entrance by grand dame, very cinematic.  This one is a little repetitive however and could have been a bit shorter and possibly combined with the next piece dolly (part 2) and worked up into a total composition.  This set disappointed a bit.

Oh, the deep base and jazz beat on this track is so streets at 2am that I was looking for a bar around the corner.  I love the electronic keyboard on this and felt this could end up as a backdrop to any Film Noir you may want to put this into.  This piece ends on a piano note, like the sun coming up, and is very delightful.

say it reprises at the end of this CD, and we come back to where we began.  We are brought back to the beginning of our trip, and we settle in to reflect on the ride. 

Overall a nice presentation, and while a few bits disappointed, the overall picture is exciting and very energetic.  A nice work by Eliott James and hopefully he will explore this genre further with another CD. mafoster

Reviewed by Margaret Foster for Ambient Visions