Reviews 01-21-2001

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Deja Blues Steve Halpern album cover

Deja Blues

by Steve Halpern

Visit Steve's Website 


Steven Halpern has been turning out a variety of music for 25 years, most of it advertised as "intended for relaxation, meditation, and sound  healing." But during those years he has also experimented with what is now called "world fusion" music, using elements from Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern, African, and Native American music to enhance his compositions. Deja Blues is a "retrospective" of some of Halpern's earlier experiments with this kind of musical mixing. He has taken some material that he recorded with other artists in the late '70s and early '80s, re-mixed it and added more material, then put it back together for 2000. Thus the "Deja Blues" appellation: it's "déjà vu" or perhaps more accurately "deja entendu (already heard)."

All of the music on the album features slow rhythms, almost all the same speed for each track, and there isn't much loudness. The whole album is built around one flute solo, which re-appears again and again in the different tracks. It is a very nice bit of music, but after the sixth or seventh time, it tends to wear out its welcome. Fortunately there is more good material to be had on the album, including quiet pop-style numbers such as in track 3, "Invocation at Eleusis." There are also many tracks featuring the softly wailing blues vocalizations of Melissa Philippe. Track 8, "Marrakesh," which stays more closely within the traditions of Sufi music, is especially appealing with its hypnotic flute solo and Arabic drum rhythms.

But no matter how you slice it, this is still an album of re-mixes. The textures are smooth and pretty, its melodies and rhythms always on the conservative side; after all, music for relaxation cannot be challenging, let alone disturbing. And this conservatism, combined with the numerous re-mixes, adds up to a pleasant, but repetitive album. Depending on your mood as you listen to it, that repetition may either add or subtract from the relaxation the album is intended to deliver.

Reviewed by Hannah M.G. Shapero 1/21/2001 


Lost Caverns of Thera

by Brannan Lane

Visit Brannan's Website


Anyone who has followed my postings to the various news groups and lists will recognize that Lloyd Barde, owner of Backroads Music, home of the Heartbeats catalog, is a friend of mine.  Those who have read my book - or parts thereof - also know that I totally respect his opinions and recommendations.  So when he told me about Brannan Lane, I jumped at the chance to review "Lost Caverns of Thera!"  As usual, Lloyd is right on the money!

Thera is the Greek word for fear.  The caverns are on the island of Thera (also known as Santorini) in the Aegean Sea.   The caverns are recent discoveries and are full of archaeological data and artifacts.  Enough history, this is about the music!

Brannan has created a soundworld that enhances and envelops the mysteries surrounding this journey.  I was drawn into that soundworld immediately as the samples introduced a minimalist space soundscape.  This is indeed, space music and minimalism.  The space is inner space.  The soundscape is ethereal and earthly and it evokes eerie thoughts, feelings and images as we unlock the caverns and mysteries of our own fears.  The synth creates a dirge similar to Bach's organ dirge in "Toccata and Fugue" - not in sound but in texture and purpose.  The melodic drone extends the imagery as the introspective trek continues.  There is no letting up as the caverns and alcoves reveal more unsolved mysteries and unresolved fears.  "Death from Above" is downright dangerous.  DO NOT TAKE THAT JOURNEY ALONE OR IN THE DARK

Of course, experienced deep listeners will want to experience this in their usual way.  If that is alone, so be it but be forewarned!  The only downside to this extravagant journey is that it has to end!  It is both exhilarating and exhausting!  The psychoactive properties of this CD have made me anxious to hear "Troposphere," Brannan's other ambient sojourn.  If it is only half of this journey, I will be pleased!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Rhythm of the World

by Steve Quinzi



Steve Quinzi covers a lot of ground on "Rhythm of the World."  As the title suggests, the CD is rife with world beat rhythms.  Steve surrounds those rhythms with elements of jazz, new age, rock and roll, techno and electronica.  In short, this disc came at me from everywhere.  I must confess that I did not experience an emotional reaction nor did I experience any gut level spiritual twinge.  It struck me, though, that "I LIKE THIS CD!" 

In order to appreciate this album, I had to get down off my ambient minimalism high horse and take it at face value.  This CD is a fun listen!  It does not promote spiritual journeys or emotional release.  The infectious rhythms and riffs do entwine the mind and body.  The music grabbed me and shouted, "LISTEN!  Don't meditate.  Just f*****' listen!"  So I did!

I am pleased that I did.  After two and a half years of looking for messages in the music, I'd forgotten about "music for music."  While I still cherish the messages within music, I thank Steve Quinzi for reminding me that music can be just a pleasant diversion without introspection.

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Sunyata Robert Rich album cover


by Robert Rich

Visit the Hypnos website



I think that for a musician like Robert Rich, it's maybe a good thing to look back at the past. Just to be able to say that this is where he came from, and that the path that he explored was indeed the right one. Not ever having heard Sunyata prior to its current reissue on Hypnos, I'm struck by the thought that for a piece of drift or sleep music which was written twenty years ago, this still holds up remarkably well. One piece of course turned up on the Extreme release Trances and Drones back in 1992, but with Sunyata come the other two tracks. You get to hear a very young nineteen year old Robert Rich performing on analog synthesizers no doubt buzzing with ideas regarding where he wanted to take his audience. The ideas are all here, long deep drones lulling the listener into an intense sleep (I'll vouch for that many times over), improvised pieces of great depth and darkness, dark minimalist musical structures which seem to keep evolving and reinventing themselves for what seems like an eternity. Having said that, some people have said that for them nothing is happening at any time, but the point I raise time and time again is how do you listen or better still how do you not listen, especially for someone who is not into exploring this type of music.

That glurpy aqueous sound which he is now well known for is, as usual, evident on the longest track Oat Spirits, which gets downright dark at times. I've listened to this a lot since it arrived, and I have to say that this is not a 'pretty' Robert Rich release by any means, compared to some of the Hearts Of Space recordings. In fact for me it contains some of his darkest moments to date, yet at the same time it's an exceptional piece of work . There is something about it that keeps me wanting to hear it again and again, a dark organic substance of sorts which feeds the soul. Then again, that has always been what it is about Rich's work which appeals to this listener, the ability to not only go beyond certain states, but also to give back some sort of musical 'elixir'. At a time when so much of what we hear on the radio is so utterly vacuous ( and ironically downright successful) this comes as a welcome change for those like me who want much more out of what we are listening to. I often say life is too short to listen to uninteresting music. Robert Rich has certainly developed his own unique sounds into a more subtle and graceful palette with the passing of years and the availability of new technologies, but as I said earlier on, this stands up remarkably well. And as usual the production on this is first rate. I'm looking forward to the seven hour release I keep hearing about. Now THAT should test my audience.

Reviewed by Hans Stoeve from the Power Spot website (used with permission)


Serpent Mound Rusty Crutcher album cover

Serpent Mound

by Rusty Crutcher

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"Serpent Mound" is a slice of Native American minimalism from Rusty Crutcher.  Rusty highlights the benefits of blending Native American sensitivity with modern technology.  He builds upon three major themes - an acoustic piano dirge, a synthesizer drone and Lakota flute melodies - to explore the spirituality of the Adena.  (The Adena people of Ohio created the serpent mound.  It is "the largest surviving raised earth mound in North America.")

The exploration of the spirituality of others allows us, the listeners, to explore our own inner selves.  The solemnity of the dirge and drone suggests that we are to explore the darker or more sullen sides of our psyches.  The music maintains the even flow of minimalism, allowing for uninterrupted meditation or for relaxing background ambience.

While I was listening, my screen saver popped up with J. S. Bach's "Toccata and Fugue."  (I am always amazed at how often that piece plays into today's minimalism.)  the effect was quite chilling and unsettling.  I sat back and let the mood and the music take over.  I just wandered around inside myself for a while.  I came back quite refreshed, having again confronted some demons and found them to be less than I had perceived.

"Serpent Mound" does much to validate the inclusion Native American sensitivity and sensibility in modern ambience.  My own listening experience validates, again, my contention that many classical have places there as well!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Salvage Another Fine Day album cover


by Another Fine Day

Visit Six Degree's Website



Another Fine Day is the pseudonym under which Tom Green creates his solo projects.  He has, as a writer and producer, collaborated with such diverse performers as The Orb and Baka Beyond.  "Salvage," his latest solo effort, recalls those collaborations and then some.

Tom blends ethnic (African thumb piano), traditional (violin) and electronic instruments to create a sound that is similar to Baka Beyond and Afro Celt Sound System and unique in its own right.  His jazzy overtones, tribal minimalism and experimental electronic sounds create the uniqueness.  The electronics are, for me, the threads that bind this enchanting CD to the ambient vision.

"Lost in Space" features a piano dirge surrounded by electronic and experimental effects and samples.  It is a great track of minimalist space music.  It is also NOT the highlight of the album!  That would have to be Tom's instrumental transcription of "Scarborough Fair."  His interpretation of that folk-rock classic is the lead track.  The ethnic and electronic treatment of the Simon and Garfunkel mainstay grabbed my attention and said, "Whoa, Dude!  Pay attention to this one!"  "Irish in China" stands out as an 'East meets West' delicacy.

All in all, "Salvage" has something for everyone.  Tom's virtuosity with the diverse styles and instruments makes this a winner, grabber and keeper!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Thinking of You Kitaro album cover

Thinking of You

by Kitaro

Visit Domo Records Website

"Thinking of You" is a romantic set of new age symphonic synthesizer pieces from the "man of love" - Kitaro.  It would be east to simply categorize this as formulaic and maudlin new age muzak.  At many levels of listening, it is just that.  However, Kitaro is so sincere and unpretentious that the formula works well for him and his listeners.  The pastoral beauty of his arrangements and soundscapes surrounds deep listeners and embraces them.  This is a journey from the heart and soul of this great performer.  It goes straight to the hearts and souls of listeners making the effort to go beyond the surface.  Kitaro belongs in the same league as Constance Demby.  Both of these superb artists embody all that is good and honorable in the holistic new age lifestyle and attitude!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


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