Reviews 10-23-2005 


Music Reviews 





by Darren Rogers


Darren Rogers’ “Being” is a mostly ambient album “dedicated to all of the people who have lost loved ones.” With titles such as “The Final Moment,” “Fallen Flowers, Broken Hearts,” and “Tears,” it should be apparent that this is not an upbeat, happy album. It could be subtitled “Deep Mourning” or “Loss.” Featuring Darren Rogers on keyboards and Vance Sheaks on guitars and drums, the album has the feelings of big open space and overwhelming grief. In a few places, the sound of someone sobbing pushes the dark mood a bit too far for me, but the album is so well done that that’s a small point. The cold wind sounds in “Winterheart” bring a chill and the feeling of being lost and alone. “Regret” features the voice of Ona Meyer along with guitar, keyboards, and piano. Hauntingly beautiful and painfully sad, this is my favorite track - what an emotional impact it has! The last two minutes of the 6 1/2 piece have more of a pulsating hard rock feeling, conveying tragedy and crisis. “Time Heals,” although still mournfully sad, starts taking us back to a sense of hope and recovery. The title track takes us on a 12 1/2 minute journey of introspection and healing. Many moods are conveyed, and the long stretches of open space-type music allow for reflection. The piece ends with a recitation about how loved ones have touched us and how a part of them will live on within us. “Being” is an extremely powerful album, and Darren Rogers’ purpose of reaching out to those who have suffered terrible loss is to be commended. The emotions conveyed are intense and raw, and will probably provide some people with a musical catharsis. For others, some of the tracks could be depressing.

Reviewed by Kathy Parsons reprinted from Mainly Piano on Ambient Visions.


Guzheng Music

by David Sait

Visit David Sait's website


David Sait has made a name for himself within the Toronto music scene as an excellent improvisational guitarist. But with the releases of his latest CD "Guzheng Music", Sait has moved away from the guitar and instead collected ten tracks employing the guzheng, a traditional Chinese string instrument whose history dates back over 2500 years. It's quite interesting then that by travelling backwards in time in his choice of instrumentation, Sait has been able to move forward in both style and sound, creating a fresh and exciting new work. 

Sait's work with the guzheng is truly stunning, creating beautiful pieces that conjure a variety of images ranging from delicate flowing streams to powerful battles. Tones shift and notes bend, changing forms, sliding from one point to another with a fluidity evocative of crystaline liquids. The guzheng's natural reverberence and echo add a haunting sense of space to the pieces, the feeling of a larger environment within the guzheng itself.

Percussion appears intermittantly as well, but it's used in different ways than we've become accustomed to, more often than not as a means to travel from one location to another, rather than as a steady accompanyment. For the most part the guzheng stands alone, a dramatic and theatrical voice able to tell it's own stories without need for support. 

Throughout the disc, one can't help but be drawn into the magic of the guzheng, masterfully led by Sait's skill and natural ability with the instrument. "Guzheng Music" is a wonderful album filled with discovery and wonder, a beautiful travelogue of music and sounds, which while they have a long and rich history also remain very fresh and distinct in today's musical environment. Who would have thought that something so ancient could sound so vital and new? Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Rik at Pink Things. Reprinted on Ambient Visions


Romantic Energy

by Twelve Girls Band

Visit Domo Records website


This is very new and very different and I found it a delightful experience. This group is from The People’s Republic of China and use traditional Chinese instrumentation to produce some very interesting interpretations of Western music as well as some very interesting Chinese compositions. 

This is their second CD, and I understand it has been a very big success, as well as their sold out live performances across the United States. I put this in the category of World, because their music runs from pop, to classical to New Age and then to Chinese.  Yes, it all works very well on this CD, not clashing in any way or stretching the listener from one form to another.   

The CD I have has 12 tracks, one of which is a live performance.  The recording quality is excellent, even the live performance.  There are some familiar pieces on this CD and there are some very new and wondrous compositions.  Note here that the CD that is offered for sale has a DVD, which I did not receive for review. 

 “Dunhuang”, the opening track, sets the mood and the pace for the rest of the CD.  Dunhuang is a series of caves in China, noted for their artwork.   There are some paintings of musical performances, acrobats and such included with the scriptures, and this piece reminds one of a mass performance of entertainers, very traditional Chinese in style.  Well chosen for the opening.  The feeling of a full orchestra is consistent in each performance.  Mostly all of the tracks are upbeat in their composition and style.  Some are romantic in feel, others demand presence as this piece does. 

The second cut “Ruten” is just as dynamic as the opening piece, allowing some of the instruments to come to the front and allowing the listener to hear the excellent skills of the players.  Each musician in this band is classically trained in their instrumentation, and it shows in their ability to provide traditional music or wonderful improvisation to the arrangements.  There is almost a Celtic feel sometimes to this piece, but it is expertly blended with the traditional sounds of the band. 

“River Shule” falls back into a classical style of Chinese melody.  It wanders like the river does in Gansu Province, where Dunhuang is also located.  A very flowing piece, very romantic, as the title of the CD suggests.  One almost gets the feel of a gondola on a Venice canal.  “Yangguan” is another composition inspired by Gansu Province, and this piece again connects to that traditional Chinese location. 

“Romantic Energy”, the title track, is another arrangement with an almost Celtic flavor, but still maintains the Oriental feel.  This piece sways and dances while we explore the talents of the individual artists who are again being allowed to show their skills with the traditional Chinese instrumentation. 

“El Condor Pasa” is the work by Simon and Garfunkel.  And it is charmingly interpreted here in a blending that delights the ear.  This is one of those “you have to hear this” pieces to understand how it “translates into the Chinese” effortlessly, and skillfully.  And it twists with just a touch of “pop” that is cleverly done. “Tang Court Ensemble” is a very traditional work, again interpreted by the band so it plays well for the Western ear.  

“From the Beginning Until Now” is a lovely composition that sounded vaguely familiar, but I believe it was written to do so.  A lovely piece that spills over with romance and continues the flavor of the title of the CD. “Whispering Earth” is a very hauntingly beautiful composition, and includes some vocals to hold that illusion.   Very traditional Chinese in feel, yet it manages to break that restraint and provides a place somewhere between the East and the West. 

"Flower” works into pop again, with a kick of jazz, and presents us with yet another side of the band.  Again, the artists are allowed to show off their skills in a new medium and it is very nicely done.  “Carnival” returns us to the “Chinese meets the Celts” style of music, again very nicely executed.  Some real “get up and dance” feel to this piece. The final track is the live rendition of “Freedom” from their 2004 CD.  It has lots of audience participation that does not distract from the work.  But it does show that the audience knows their band and its work.  This is a lovely composition, and it will have you clapping as well.  A nice closing piece to this CD. 

Overall, I am impressed with this group.  This is a great first impression for the new listener to this kind of performance.  The band is tight, knows how to please the listener as well as show off their excellent skills.  The compositions are well chosen, and the CD is a good production piece. If you enjoy upbeat music, and would like something with a slight Chinese twist, this is a lovely work to add to your collection.  While it does run towards the “pop” side, it has elements that could be classified as “New Age”.  I will tell you, in my book the only way I classify it is “totally enjoyable”! 

Reviewed by Margaret Foster for Ambient Visions


It's You Who Made
My Head Spin

by Weird State Inbetween



Weird State Inbetween is a collaborative project between Anne Sulikowski of Building Castles Out of Matchsticks and Scott Johnson of the Lonely Flight. "It's You Who Made My Head Spin" is a recording by the duo (with guest D.P. of Offensive Orange) taken from a live performance at the AMBiENT PiNG in March of this year. 

The disc explores a dark and claustrophobic environment filled with metallic scrapes, sampled voices, piercing tones and deep pads. It's a kaleidoscope of sounds coming from all directions, sometimes with a rhythm or melody, sometimes with nothing distinct that you can identify or trace. It can be unsettling at times, anxious at others, sometimes frightening even. Alternatively it can be soothing, calming, almost loving in it's embrace, but only briefly, only long enough to remind you that you're not alone.

Vocal loops, melodic touchstones, they all combine to ease the transition from the real world into this wierd state in between. And as you listen it becomes abundantly clear that everything around you is very very very beautiful. You just have to know what to look for...

Anne and Scott (and guest D.P.) played a wonderful set that evening, and we're lucky to have this reminder of how wonderful they can be together. These wierd states expand between and beyond, and we're better off for it.

Reviewed by Rik at Pink Things. Reprinted on Ambient Visions


Hall of Sound

by Vince Littleton

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Vince Littleton is a drummer, and this CD features mostly rhythms and percussion.  His background is playing with some well know names like Dr. John, John Lee Hooker and J.G.B. to mention a few.  He has also collaborated on movie soundtracks and video games.  And he teaches drumming. 

The promotional material suggests he is similar in sound to Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum or Peter Gabriel’s Passion.  Well, maybe.  But to be honest, he has a sound that is all his own, suggestive of primal rhythms, yes, very tribal, encompassing elements of various world traditions.  Then there are the movie soundtrack bits, but we will get to that. 

He is accompanied on several tracks by the drumming skills of Paulo Baldi, Charles Neal, and Brett Paschal and more.  The musical instrumentation includes percussion, synthesizers and piano, flutes, tuba and bass. There are ten tracks on this CD, no playing times are given, and I believe it runs about an hour. 

The opening track The Drones opens with a storm, and provides a “drone” background against which drumming and cymbals and other effects play.  Good solid beat, breaking for a momentary rest and then picking up right where it left off.  A good start, moderate yet well defined. 

Track two African Voices picks up the beat, does work on African rhythms and is a really good composition.  Strong, forceful, and keeping in style of African rhythms.  Nice effects add to the production and it makes you want to get up and move. 

This track leads into track three: Nature Boy.  This starts out with a beat that reminds me of an elephant meandering over the plains.  Again, more tribal in rhythms, a slower pace than the previous piece, but a good strong composition. Cow bells and interesting inserts of sound make this an appealing track. 

The Oracle gives us more tribal beats with some vocals and more interesting sound devices to add to the drumming.  More of a Middle Eastern flavor comes across in this composition.  Another “gentle” beat, but still beckoning the listener to move their feet. 

Track five Lujon (Henry Mancini) opens with piano and breaks into a Conga interpretation of this piece.  This breaks the “tribal drumming” styles of music that we have been presented with up to this point, and offers melody on piano and synthesizer to give the effect of a band.  Animal sounds give this a definite “Island” feel, but the break from the first four tracks is a bit out of place here.  And where the next track returns to the tribal influences and refocuses on the drumming, this piece seems even more out of place.  I liked it, the arrangement is good, but it doesn’t seem to fit here. 

Track six Balafon Brett returns to the drumming and tribal influences.  The flutes and balafon (African Xylaphone) are fascinating additions, and while offering some structure, the focus is not lost on the drums.  Again, a good, strong composition, making you want to move in time to the rhythms. 

Futurians begins almost as “space music” leaving behind the structured rhythms we have heard up to now, and hints at Indian sitars.  It follows into very Indian rhythms, and we find ourselves transformed from Africa to India.  Again, nice drumming, nice rhythms, and a nice composition softer than the previous pieces.   

Korean Love Curse seemed to start off tinkling a bit, but I miss the drumming.  Instead there is bamboo rattling, some sound effects of storms and such.  But the vocalizations take over center stage and it is more a drama piece - Korean Opera than a drumming piece.  This presents us with another track that seemed to be out of place.  Drumming comes in later in the piece.  The flavor of the drumming up to now was African and Middle Eastern; you can even include the Indian influences as melding into the framework the artist set up in the opening tracks of this CD.  But this piece is Korean Opera.  The composition ends with some stronger drumming, but it was lost on me after sitting through the opera. 

We return to the strong tribal influences in A Night in Fez.  We go back to the drumming, but now we have included very heavy sound effects, like animal noises and vocals which become distracting and overpowering.   The drumming becomes lost. This is a very short piece, and appears to be a lead in to the next piece. 

Xpollinate opens with some very basic hand drumming and never picks up from there.  It is overlaid with heavy sound effects, then the drumming breaks, and we are left with “rain” which brings us to the end of another short track. 

This CD started out strong.  I loved the drumming, the tribal rhythms were good, with the beat being slow enough to get up and move without burning you out.  The disk takes a turn in the middle however, returns to the focus for one track and then wanders off again.   

I found myself losing interest once the mood of the CD changed.  I was encouraged to continue with the return to the focus on the Balafon piece, but the mood changed again, and again I lost interest.  I stuck it out, but was disappointed that the CD went in so many different directions without a common thread.   

It may be nice to present the listener with a good overview of your abilities, but the variations were so far apart, from tribal influences, to show music, to more tribal, to a montage of sound effects and then it peters out with a rain. 

I would like to hear more drumming from this artist.  Mr. Littleton presents us with some wonderful rhythms.  And because Mr. Littleton does have talent in the “sound track” area, a CD of nothing but this style of music would be interesting as well.  But this CD felt like it was running some place, got lost and then ended up being interesting but unfulfilling.

Reviewed by Margaret Foster for Ambient Visions


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