Reviews 04-15-2001

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Golden Portal Xumantra ambient album cover

The Golden Portal

by Xumantra

Visit Xumantra's website

Seven tracks of pure acoustic ambience awaits your beckoned call in an introspective, mesmerizing, journey through free form realms in a thoroughly engaging amalgam of sonic intensity within the "The Golden Portal".  Marco Dolce is Xumantra and has composed, performed, and produced this delightfully rich acoustic journey, which unto itself is a rare find, in this E.M. dominated category of music.

The very first time I pressed play I immediately knew that "TGP" was something very special. The musical "propeller head" in me awoke, immediately dissecting the vast wealth of harmonic structures, richly woven timbres, and sustained tones that seemed to pack the room with a warm and rounded sonic signature for my listening pleasure. As amazing as it may sound every harmonic texture one may hear is produced by acoustic instruments.  The back of the CD states "This music employs no synthesizers, samples, loops, or machine-generated sequences of any kind.  All sounds were created in real time with loving and conscious intent".

One of the perks of being a radio show programmer is that you receive descriptive "one sheets" with most releases these days.  The two that arrived with "TGP" are entitled "Program Notes" and "Production Notes".  Once again this calls out to the days of old when copious liner notes were the rule and not the exception.  I believe there is a facsimile of the "Production Notes" on the Website wherein Marco lists and describes how each instrument sounds and is played.  It is most helpful in assisting those interested in picking out the Gongs, Double Kalimba, Slit Drum, Tambura,Archtop Guitar, Fretless Banjo, Ngoma Drum, Conga Drum, Ganta, and Tingsha by associating the description with the sounds while listening.  For those less adventurous the Program Notes describes the instrumentation employed for each track and the sonic part they play.  Cool enough that I would suggest contacting Marco and asking for a copy.

So once inside "The Golden Portal" what do we hear?  Almost as if by magic the room filling, exotic, resonance of the artists heart and soul are presented as you witness the sublime exchange between his instruments and his art.  "Code Talker" places you within the realm of multiple tongues passing hidden messages that swirl around the provocative, trance inducing, framework of the rhythmic slit drums bass part.  The melodic call and answer of the inverted singing bowls is simply mesmerizing.  The light-hearted relief of the fretless banjo during the blues groove of "Cosmic Turtle Dance" conjures up long lost images of a tie-dyed tortoise merrily rambling about a funky journey during altered states.  The altruistic themes of "Streams of My Beloved" are graced by the western influence of an extended guitar improvisation as it weaves in and about the drone of the singing bowls and Indian Tambura.  The balance of the disc then begins a meditative state as the journey's tempo gradually slows and one encounters an air of ritualistic and organic mysticism allowing the bodies pulse to enter the cruising zone.  Tracks four through seven are especially soothing when set for an infinitely repeating loop.

Quality atmospheres await your ears should you decide to enter "The Golden Portal" and enjoy the serenity and calm of the meditative states induced by Xumantra.

Reviewed by BEAR  03.18.01 

The Sound: 

The sound space and sonic timbre of "TGP" is absolutely stunning in almost every respect.  The attention to detail in recording the individual acoustic instruments and their signature ambient resonance's, simply put, are a must hear to be believed.  There is an honest clarity that never crosses the line into brittleness or harsh tones.  The entire frequency spectrum is as honest and soothing as the music itself.  It is very obvious that great care and hours of listening were spent during the production of "TGP".  The only real clue to discerning that this is a multi-tracked acoustic performance is the complete absence of sound stage depth and naturally occurring instrument placement.  However the care taken with the engineered placement and the allocation of space around each instrument is done with artistic vision and is wholly believable in the sense that it creates an ensemble effect.  An acoustically pure Ambient Vision indeed.

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)  Additional listening done with Sennheiser HD 600 and Sony MDR 7509 Headphones and the Musical Fidelity X-Can v2 headphone amp.


Mai Eri Sugai album cover


by Eri Sugai

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The human voice is capable of so much more than speech.  When used by a well trained vocalist, it can become a compliment to well written music. Or it can become as a musical instrument itself, a focal point for the music written. 

Examples of this are familiar to those who know Enya, who's voice accompanies some beautiful Celtic music, or Maire Brennan, another Celtic Vocalist and Lisa Gerrard, of Dead Can Dance.  

We also have surpassed the need for the words to be understood.  While Enya and Maire Brennan sing in the language of the Celts or Gallic, Lisa Gerrard's vocals are reminiscent of Aramaic.

Pacific Moon Records presents us with the vocals of Eri Sugai on the CD "Mai".  We are immediately taken to the gardens of Japan, and her voice is the focal point, the harmony and the musical instrument by which we are transported.  The music is a combination of Japanese folk and is blended with western harmonies derived from church music.  Eri Sugai was strongly affected by church music early in her career, and it gives an almost spiritual tone to her vocalizations.  This can best be realized in her track "Konjaku Monogatari".  Though definitely Japanese in flavor, it has the serenity of a spiritual moment in a stained glass lit church.

Eri Sugai has strong vocals which are best experienced in her tracks "Honen Bushi", "Mai" and "A Song of Birth", she shows how well the voice can be incorporated as a musical instrument and is able to stand on its own when well developed and experienced.  I am reminded on some tracks of the style of music most associated with Japanese Animation, pop, but never main stream.   We have no need to understand the lyrics, the feeling is in the music, not in the words.

Her harmonies are excellent.  The music is well chosen to show off her vocal abilities. Recording quality is well done, and Pacific Moon Recordings shows again the fine quality of material they have previously offered continues with this release.  Again, the CD contains their signature incense sticks, which I think just adds to the quality of all their releases.

Eri Sugai deserves a place as a premier vocalist, in the same caliber as Enya or Maire Brennan.  She stands on her own with her particular style and "Mai" is a wonderful introduction to her and her particular style of music.

Reviewed by Margaret Foster for Ambient Visions


Bali Dua Jalan Jalan album cover

Bali dua 

by Jalan Jalan

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Jalan, in Indonesian, means "to walk".  Doubling the word makes it a verb. The CD "Bali dua" takes us for a walk through Bali.  

Jalan Jalan is comprised of Yasufumi Yamashita, Yoichi Shimada, Rikiya Yamashita and Eijiro Shimada.  Together they have traveled Bali and have written what can only be described as a musical vision of the Island. 

The sounds are combinations of samplings, DAT and MD recorders and incorporate the Gamelan (the Bali orchestra, those unique brass "bell" and "chimes" that we all associate with the Island of Bali). 

Each track takes a unique aspect of the island and gives a musical rendition of the artists vision.  "Kaja" is the direction of the mountains, where the God and Goddess lives, "Tirta" flows towards the Ocean where "Kelod" lives.  It combines the sounds of water, vocals, and a flowing background that can be associated with light, adds the Gamelan, and gives a very regal, spiritual sound to the entire track.

Each track has its own tempo, associated with the aspect of the island it represents. "Step" is the many roads that are on Bali, but not roads as we would associate with.  The tempo is moving, but not rushed.  You get the feeling of walking the island, but not with any kind of predetermined destination.  

Echoes of the forest are in some tracks, along with the warm sunlight, the smell of the flowers and the ever present ocean.  Each track is a delight, a remembrance, and echo of the Island of Bali.  Well recorded, each track is mixed so you are not lost in either the sound samplings nor the brass.  The vocals, when present, are more like a gentle touch and are never drowned out nor overbearing.  

A wonderful introduction to the group Jalan Jalan, and to their vision of the exotic Island of Bali, "Bali dua" is another wonderful presentation of Pacific Moon Records.  The package also includes their signature sticks of incense, and some wonderful graphics.

Reviewed by Margaret Foster for Ambient Visions


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