Reviews 05-13-2001

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Igizeh Banco de Gaia album cover


by Banco de Gaia

Visit Banco de Gaia's website

"Ooh, what have we here?" I wondered as I read the liner notes that said that parts of this were recorded in the Great Pyramid and the Temple of Seti 1. Since I am a long time and avid Egyptophile, I couldn't wait to hear what this guy (Toby Marks) had in mind.

I wasn't disappointed. Starting out with the wailing sound of the call to prayer (recorded in Cairo, as many of the street sounds were), I was transported by a fascinating blend of ancient and modern. The first piece (Seti 1) had a bit of a 'pop' feel to it, but not intrusively so. Long, richly textured grooves and samples of sounds from the streets and pyramids of Egypt made for some great listening in this 66-minute long album. I had it packed in my road music case for a 6-hour drive to Dallas, (before I decided to take a plane instead) and any album that goes into the road music case is definitely a keeper.

The Out of My Seat tracks were "Glove Puppet", and "Obsidian", which to my ears, had a techno feel reminiscent of Delirium to it, but more delicately played. Jennifer Folker supplied the vocals in both tracks. "Obsidian's" long build to a wonderfully danceable groove sits right up there with the best of Delirium and Enigma, but with a brighter feel to it. I hope we'll be hearing more from Banco De Gaia-lots more, if this is a typical example.

We go back to Egypt with "Crème Egg", with the irresistible rhythms of the Middle Eastern drumming and vocal samples happily panning back and forth. Surround sound really brings out the elements in this album, where it sounds like you are surrounded by drums. Marks never surrenders to the obvious and hackneyed in his treatment of the musical elements-his use of the samples and music is refreshing and surprisingly vibrant. This isn't paint-by-numbers techno-this is musical art. (I do wonder if he sat that one male singer on a paint mixer,'ll hear what I mean!)  Much as I enjoy Deep Forest, they could learn a thing or three here.

In an article I read somewhere, Toby Marks expressed his disappointment with the acoustic quality of the Great Pyramid's inner Kings Chamber. He had to tweak it in the studio, which didn't bother me a bit. To my ears, the overlying stones gave it an acoustically oppressive quality-far different than the crisply soaring spaces of say, a European cathedral (St. Paul's in London comes to mind...sigh...). And they totally hosed what ambience it had when they (shudder) air-conditioned it. Gotta keep the tourists cool, I guess. None of that really bothers the ambience of "Gizeh", which starts out in the Kings Chamber of the Great Pyramid, complete with the vendor's shouts and noise of the tourists. After this audio overview, the song sneaks into an extended funky Middle Eastern groove that climbs windingly through successive layers of sounds and samples (who snuck that duduk in there?), including a reprise of the Kings Chamber. Wonderful stuff...

Hello! More Middle Eastern Techno-funk- "How Much Reality Can You Take?" Lots more-if this is a sample. One of those 'get me out of my seat' pieces, the bass on this one really rattled the walls. Glad my neighbor wasn't home! Another example of art in action-instead of being trite and forgetful, this wonderful piece is lively and refreshing. I think it was all the wonderful panning audio by-play with the keyboards. Give this one a spin on your headphones or surround system.

He throttles back a little on "B2" with a laid back piece that has the feel of late evening to it. Again, it is sonically high-calorie- lots of wonderfully layered sound-on-sound elements give it a dreamy feel. Chill in the desert.

The longest track on the album, "Fake it till you make it" starts out with what sounds like street sounds- television, kids, and goodness knows what else, and takes a Jean Michelle Jarre turn into a series of static  minor-key synth chords. Uh, oh- is he slipping into techno-pop? Perhaps a little, but not for long- as his elemental style rises above the opening sounds. We are left hanging on an Enigma-like pause just about a quarter of the way into the song, then he gets down to business. A little Egyptian riff on what starts out sounding like a Hammond B3- until he twists its tail-and it's off to the races again. Was my nose just 'honked' musically? A smile-making piece.

Mysterious elements abound in "Sixty Sixteen", which begins with a series of pure organ tones that will sort the cheap speakers from the expensive ones if you have them cranked. Again this has echoes of Jarre in it-if only in the interplay of the stringed instruments, but who cares- it's great listening anyway. It gradually builds to some great belly-dancing peak, but in an understated way.

All in all, this is a solid, technically well-crafted album, with all tracks outstanding-not a skipper in the bunch. It is one to take on the road or on a workout. If this is a typical example of Banco De Gaia, I am really looking forward to his other releases. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Lorrie Johnson for Ambient Visions


Solar Synthesis Galaxy album cover

Solar Synthesis

by Galaxy


Are we standing outside on a summer evening, or are we listening to space through a radio telescope? The unique combination of earthly and electronic sounds opening this dance-trance album invoke both thoughts of summer nights, and ancient mutterings from the sky. A droning bass undertone creates a foundation of slowly building tension. Better make sure you have the good speakers on, because after that Cylon voice says "Taking off for Higher Frequencies", its off to the disco.

I like electronic dance music, and this album is typical for the genre. Long layered and looped grooves give you plenty of floor and workout time.  My only complaint was that there wasn't any liner notes to speak of, but the disco ball illustrated within its folds spoke volumes. Here is Euro Electronic at its finest, the thundering sound track of all night raves in warehouses from Britain to Poland. 

"Higher Frequency" is the sort of piece that they'd use to warm up the audience with- get out the lasers, let them chug their drinks and get out on the floor. The dance begins in earnest with the second cut, "Golden Crowns", with its edgy late-90s live drumming and techno beeps and squawks. In surround sound, this is a real ear-tickler, especially when the layered looped keyboards kick in. Even on my smaller computer speakers, the reverb gives this track an enormous sound field. The BPM is right for trancing, too.

"Liquid Sky" begins with a moody sound on sound layering that gradually gives way to the trance rhythm, with a long groove that would lend itself well to a good workout.

"Dreamland" heads into the territory of conventional Euro Disco, right down to the rhythms. The layered synths here are evocative of the best Euro Disco from the 80s and early 90s, with its loops and long phrases.

"On The Island" and "Connected" continue the trance-disco pattern, with the live bongos in "Island"  kicking you along relentlessly. Again, surround sound brings out the interesting quirks in the music, with the synths seeming to come at you from all directions. But underneath, it is still classic disco, albeit at a faster beat.

"Freezer" is a quirky standout, with eclectic rhythmic drumming sounding like it escaped from "Stomp". In fact, it wouldn't be too difficult to envision this piece being used in "Stomp" with live players.

Lowen Im Regen, the other standout,  starts out with an ambient drift, but quickly pulls you back into the trance rhythm with stacatto attacks from all directions. Unlike the long udifferentiated grooves of most of the rest of the cuts on this album, "Regen" changes moods, even if it doesn't change its drone key. 

Big Blues is another to listen through phones with, with its quirky ear tickling rhythms chasing round and round to sound-on-sound ambient accompaniement. This one is a little more industrial than the rest, with a crisp German craftsmanship giving the piece an icy precesion.

Finishing the album is "Fragments", a kicky-pop groove. 

All in all, this is a workmanlike album, studiously true to its trance/industrial/techno disco heritage. Long grooves make it good to work out with, steady drones serve well for trancers. No distracting vocals make it good for writing if the rhythms are not a distraction. If you are a DJ, this would be a good addition to your collection.

Reviewed by Lorie Johnson for Ambient Visions


Angels Dreaming Nikkos album cover

Angels Dreaming

by Nikkos


The first image that came to mind when I listened to Angels Dreaming for the first time was that of a sudden spring shower- evident in the tumbling notes of the flute and harp interacting in the first track of this wonderful album. Flute, piano, harp and orchestra have always been favorites of mine, and the fluid phrases of Nikkos' flute are a refreshing reminder that Ambient needn't be all electronics and atmospherics to get its points across.

Born and trained in Italy, and presently living in Japan, Nikkos mixes elements of East and West in his compositions. In "Natsuno Melody", there is a distinctively Japanese element of longing. Yet, in the next piece, the solo "Oriental Stars", there is a bit of a Celtic feel to the melody.

And can one mix Japanese and Italian sentiments in a song? Apparently so, and wonderfully, as "Old Street" illustrates vividly. The flute and harp interplay here remind me at times of Rampal and Laskine's flute and harp duets I enjoyed back in the stone age of vinyl. Yet the waltz here has a decidedly European feel- this could be an old Italian street somewhere.

The orchestra returns in the rhythmic "Fly" with the flute melody soaring above pizzicato strings and interchanging with piano. This one sounds like it may have escaped from a soundtrack somewhere- or is perhaps looking for one. Yet, when you think you've got it down, he stops and bridges the song with a yearning song like a solo on a mountaintop.

The dreaming and yearning continue with the lovely "Air in the water" duet with piano.  There is a sunny feel to his music, brilliant enough to break through even the heaviest gloom. Even in the yearning points, there is a ray of lightness to his playing.

The only overt appearance of electronics in this album is on the jazzy and nostalgic "Happy days". It swings back and forth from upbeat to reminiscing, interchanging the jazzy elements with the elements of longing, when he pauses and pairs again with the piano. You can almost see the jump-cuts in your mind as you listen to this.

The grand romantic piece of the album is "And somewhere". Here is the suggestion of the roar of the surf in the tympani, and Nikkos pulls you ever higher as his melody climbs into the dreaming clouds. This is one of those songs to daydream to. He doesn't leave you hanging out there, though, the melody returns you gently to earth.

"Barcarola" is another Italian-flavored waltz, starting out in a minor key- and then spinning you out into a sunny spot. This is a musical hide-and-seek, wonderfully executed.  

"West east" is a wonderfully Japanese melody that suddenly goes European in its bridge- but not jarringly so- for a moment one might think that this is a medley, but careful attention reveals the common elements to both parts.

My favorite on this album is "In the paradise", richly textured and filled with all sorts of wonderfully complex nuances. Again, Nikkos changes moods and tempos several times in the piece, but with an overall continuity that makes it an integrated whole. This was the one that twice got me out of my seat to go look at which track was playing when I was previewing it. This one has the feel of Rampal and Laskine to it, and made me wish I could remember the name of that album so I can get it on CD.

The final piece is a reprise of the opening track, a dreamy solo piece called "With the angel".

All in all, Nikkos' "Angels Dreaming" is a lovely addition to any flute-lover's collection. It would be suitable for spa and massage background music, or for writing and daydreaming- especially the first and last tracks. It is technically crisp and clear, and although the round flute sound was a little much for my current cheap computer speakers, (I am planning to replace them with the kickass Klipsch 2.1 Pro set soon) it played quite well on the big Klipschs and on the headset (I did not take this one in the car). I would buy another album by this artist if it were available.

Reviewed by Lorie Johnson for Ambient Visions


Light Beyond Jeff Pearce ambient album cover

The Light Beyond

by Jeff Pearce

Visit Hypnos Records website


Jeff Pearce recorded "The Light Beyond" live on the Starsend radio broadcast, hosted by Chuck van Zyl, after a Gathering concert in Philadelphia during which Jeff introduced the "pickin' and processin'" technique.  He listened to the tapes carefully and after much deliberation, left them exactly as recorded.

Jeff has been on some very worthy and credible journeys over the last eight years.  In reviewing his album titles, the emergence of a new and brighter attitude comes forth.  (Do not count the limited edition only available at the concert.)  To wit: "Tenderness and Fatality," "The Hidden Rift," "Daylight Slowly," "Vestiges," "To the Shores of Heaven" and "The Light Beyond."  Jeff has stated that the progression of the meanings in the titles is purely coincidental.  However, a coincidence is merely God's way of protecting His anonymity!

The progression of Jeff's music moves right along with the titles.  Emerging from the throes of dark and dense minimalism, he has found that the preferred method of sharing the message is through bright, yet still very dense and deep, minimalism.

Such journeys of the heart, soul and spirit are indeed worthy and essential.  Sometimes they are so subtle that even intense observers miss them. 

Jeff's most noteworthy journey has been his journey to define the boundaries of the ambient guitar.  With apologies to his peers and predecessors, HE HAS DONE SO!  This CD should be required listening and studying for students, old and new, of the minimalist guitar!  Even the most experienced guitarists could only dream of achieving this plateau!  Track three, "A Farther Shore," is the most appropriately titled composition EVER!  BAR NONE!  There are not enough superlatives in Webster's to define the feelings received from intense listening.  Nor are there enough superlatives to describe the feelings that Jeff puts into his music.

When he reads this, Jeff will be embarrassed.  He is a very humble man with a great sense of humor and a quick wit.  It is very important that he realizes that these simple words come directly from the heart and soul of one of his most ardent fans.  (It is definitely by design that "An Isle," by Jeff Pearce, is the first track of CD #1 on the companion set to "Tracks Across the Universe.") 

Thank you, Jeff, for this wonderful CD!  

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


Tales From the Incantina Richard Bone album cover

Tales from the Incantina

by Richard Bone

Visit Richard's website


"Tales From Incantina" is Richard Bone's paean to the ancient civilization of the Toltecs.  It is, in his words, "a musical impression of those mystic people in quiet communion with their imperious gods."

This CD is quiet and somber minimalism as we have come to expect from Richard.  He has laid down a quiet acoustic piano amid his customary electronic dirges and drones.  The effect is haunting, ethereal, chilling and other worldly.

As I listened I imagined the Toltecs paying homage to the "elegant idols."  The return on the homage was plentiful.  As I got deeper into my meditation, I became a Toltec.  I was given "a light everlasting, a night of eternal stars and a dreamtime of immeasurable wonder."  While these rewards existed only inside my vivid imagination, they are forever entrenched in my heart and soul.  I need only put this CD back on the changer, close my eyes and listen again (and again and again and again) to be fulfilled anew.

As a bonus (to me) the CD include the delightful "Inevitable Zen."  Richard contributed this track to the CD set for my book.  It has been a favorite piece since last August!

Reviewed by Jim Brenholts


India Spirit Varoious Artists album cover

India Spirit

by Various Artists

Visit New Earth Records' website


This collection of music with a common theme of India came to me from New Earth Records  without much of an explanation.  But I put the CD on and allowed it to speak for itself.  And I was impressed enough to write this review.

This collection contains artists who are well known within the Ambient field as well as others who are not. James Asher, Al Gromer Khan, Deuter and Osho are just a few of the better know artists that are in this collection.  The common theme is India.

From the opening of James Asher's soft and seductive "Red Desert" to the strings and vigor of Prem Joshua's "New Kafi", the flavor of India is fresh and alive.  James Asher has a second track called "Further East" with percussion and rhythms that will make you dance in your chair.

Chinmaya Dunster and Vidroha Jami offer us "Wandering Way", a string piece with a catchy tune and lots of the flavor of a soft Indian night.  

Music from the World of Osho offers a piece called "Namaste", another soft Indian piece that has wonderful guitar work as well as traditional Indian instruments.  

Al Gromer Khan's piece is "Agori Dance", a rather darker piece, more like a tiger walking in the forest at night.  Very silky and very rhythm based, it flows like a  dark river.

Ustad Usman Khan's offering of "Raga Hansadhwani" is much more traditional, a Raga piece that gives you the full flavor of this style of Indian music at its finest.  A true traditional Raga, with all the melding and blending and rhythm this music is famous for.

Hariprasad Chaurasia gives us a more subtle piece called "Indian Folklore" which is very traditional sounding yet has very gently inflected jazz tones.  A nice original mix and well done.

Namaste has a vocal driven cut called "Gayatri Mantra" with wonderful harmonies and vivid tones.  Again, traditional in flavor and gives another perspective on Indian music.

Finally, Deuter performs "Sunlight Dancing", a short but bright piece of flute and drums with an electronic background that does not distract but rather fills in the piece.

World music is a small pocket of Ambient music.  This CD gives you a taste of the music of India as presented by both the traditional artists and also those who are not so traditional but still find the heart of India in their music.  A good collection for those who enjoy the sounds of India and a good introduction to New Earth Records.

Reviewed by Margaret Foster for Ambient Visions


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