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Zero One

If you need to up the BPMs of the usual Echoes soundscape, strap yourself in for the second album by Zero One, a.k.a. Kevin Dooley. From his San Bruno, California studio, Zero One orchestrates ambient excursions of a decidedly electronic nature. From the opening "Possibilities," Zero One establishes his sonic terrain with a repeated spoken refrain, "Your life is going to be different now." Zero One recalls Dogon, with his sense of playfulness, using vocal sound snippets as signposts in usually surreal sound designs. Take, for instance, "Two." Subtitled "oogie-eeha," that phrase is a hypnotic refrain, popping up, like a virtual Energizer bunny, in the oddest, yet perfectly timed moments. Zero One uses these effects to delineate his other world of sound, full of trancey beats and shifting textures. Whenever those spoken fragments arrive, it's like a window briefly opened up back into the real world, but Zero One makes sure you won't want to leave the one he created. PROTOTYPE2 is sure to be featured this year on Echoes Techno-Tribal New Year's Eve show.

© John Diliberto 2000


Erik Wollo

Guitar Nova is pretty much all guitar, but the title doesn't quite do justice to the evocative, beautifully played and subtly woven themes Erik Wollo has created. We know Wollo for his sweeping synthesizer orchestrations on albums like Solstice and Images of Light, but even those CDs largely began on the fingers of his guitar synthesizer. On this CD, however, he keeps it acoustic with layers acoustic guitars along with balalaika and kora, creating a sound that seems to ring off the mountainous landscapes of Norway where Wollo lives. He brings a laconic Ry Cooder-like slide guitar to "Rainbows" and a bell-like minimalism to "Hildring." Although acoustic, Wollo's compositions and production style still suggest the same open spaces of his electronic works, but here the melodies are etched in crystalline cold air. We've had this album for a couple of years on Echoes as an import. Now it's widely available in America for the first time on the Spotted Peccary label.

© John Diliberto 2000


R. Carlos Nakai/William Eaton/Will Clipman/Nawang Khechog

R. Carlos Nakai has a knack of elevating the musicians around him to a new level. But in the case of this collaboration, they are already on the summit with him. Speaking of summits, this is the second pairing of the Native American flutist Nakai and Tibetan flutist Nawang Khechog. "In a Distant Place" articulates a world between cultures. Nakai and Khechog's flutes intertwine and morph through each other in these lyrical pieces, embraced by the string orchestrations of William Eaton. He weaves a blend of his hybrid guitars including harp guitar, lyre and spiral clef guitar. Don't ask. Just listen to the lattice work he provides for Nawang and R.C. Rounding out the group is longtime Nakai collaborator, Will Clipman, playing ethno-grooves and percussion colors.

© John Diliberto 2000

Preston Reed

Preston Reed used to be mentioned in the same breath as Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges, and deservedly so. He's fallen a bit out of view in recent years, but this new CD reveals what all the excitement was about. In fact, HANDWRITTEN NOTES makes a good argument for being "the" solo guitar album of the new millennium thus far. Preston uses many of the same two-handed techniques employed by Michael Hedges. He taps on the fretboard with both hands, giving him a pianistic range. It also gives him a wider dynamic scope and a percussive edge when he needs it. But while his technique will leave any acoustic guitar player staring slack-jawed, Preston also writes some gorgeous songs to take advantage of this extended range. "Shinkansen", named for the Japanese bullet trains, lives up to its title with rapid fire delivery, but he also turns symphonic on "Crossing Open Water" with some breathtaking dynamic shifts, coloristic effects and a gorgeous theme. This album should re-establish Preston Reed as one of our pre-eminent string benders. If you get one acoustic guitar album this year, Handwritten Notes is the one.

© John Diliberto 2000

The Echoes Living Room Concerts Volume 6

This CD features:

  • Jeff Pearce
  • Suzanne Teng
  • Mizuyo Komiya
  • William Coulter/Barry Phillips
  • Michael Brook/Djivan Gasparyan
  • Mark Hunton
  • Michael Mandrell
  • Rasa
  • Jocelyn Montgomery
  • Coyote Oldman
  • Tim Story/Roedelius
  • Preston Reed
  • William Watson
Click here for details, and ordering information.


Harold Budd

Harold Budd doesn't like to call his music ambient, even though his album PLATEAUX OF MIRROR was #2 in Brian Eno's Ambient Music Series in the1970s. And his new album, thankfully, will do little to remove that tag. THE ROOM is a return to form for Budd, recalling the suspended piano tones of PLATEAUX as well as the icy atmospheres of his late 1980 album, THE WHITE ARCADES. In fact, the album is based on a piece called "The Room" from THE WHITE ARCADES recording. Budd explores the most sublime melancholy on THE ROOM, with piano melodies hanging like moss gardens over ghostly organ drones and reverbs. Every melody is fecund with shadows, hidden glances and hazy memories. Many musicians have adopted Budd's sound and most of them pale in comparison once the master starts ruminating.

© John Diliberto 2000


Stephan Micus

I still remember the first Stephan Micus album, ARCHAIC CONCERTS, in 1976. With its rababs, angklungs and shakuhachis, that album was like a relic from an ancient civilization, only the civilization was all in Stephan Micus's head. The German musician has released several albums since then, each one exploring a world that draws on ancient forms and sounds without being directly related to them. His latest is THE GARDEN OF MIRRORS and it may be his most soulful album yet. On some tracks, he layers his voice 20 times making him sound like a Georgian choir. On others he creates orchestras of the imagination with percussion, steel drums, bowed sinding, shakuhachi flutes, ney flutes and tin whistles. Both melodic and textural, ambient and acoustic, THE GARDEN OF MIRRORS continues Stephan Micus's tradition of creating new and exotic interior landscapes.

© John Diliberto 2000


Sounds from the Ground

This isn't a quintessential Echoes album since it tends to be a bit heavier on the dance beats than the usual Echoes soundscape, but it's one of the best ambient albums of the year. Sounds from the Ground is a British electronic duo. Recalling William Orbit's Strange Cargo, Sounds from the Ground outline their abstract journey's with melodies etched in stained glass. Minimalism meets dub on the tropical cycles of "Bodega Bay," while "Drugstore" marches to a groove of doom, a piece of resigned heroism. "Rye," one of the tracks we are playing on Echoes, traverses a dark, voodoo trance vamp laced with Terry Riley-like organ cycles. Rhythmically propulsive without being overbearing, SFTG creates a space you want to stay in for a while.

© John Diliberto 2000


Axiom of Choice
Niya Yesh

Their name is unwieldy and its reference obscure, but the music of Axiom of Choice is an elegantly woven fusion of Persian melodies, Indian atmospheres and exotic vocals that heads directly to the primal soul. Their previous album is several years old now, but one track from it, "Valeh", still resonates with listeners. That's the moodier, more atmospheric side they explore on "Niya Yesh." On this CD, Axiom of Choice mixes Ramin Torkian's quarter-tone flamenco/Persian guitar style with ambiences from India, percussion from the middle east and the darkly alluring voice of Mamek Khadem from Iran. Singing in Persian and with wordless vocals, her voice laces many of these songs with a dark mystery. She's surrounded by tambouras, cellos, frame drums, kamancheh (spike fiddle), Buddhist chants and ney flutes creating a global chamber music sound. Vas's Greg Ellis co-produced the album and plays percussion. Axiom of Choice shares a lineage with Vas and Dead Can Dance and a future in the global music bazaar.

© John Diliberto 2000



In the Garden of Souls

Vas returns with their third CD of vocal exotica and throbbing rhythms. Singer Azam Ali intones more hymns and invocations in her language of the imagination, soaring with a purity that few attain. You can hear the influence of Abbess Hildegard von Bingen's gothic chants on several pieces. She's surrounded by her own hammered dulcimer, Cameron Stone's cello and Greg Ellis's sensual percussion.

© John Diliberto 2000



Rasa is cellist Hans Christian, a longtime Echoes favorite, and singer Kim Waters. They've combined for a breathtaking, contemplative album of Indian chants and hymns, arranged for synthesizers, percussion and a textural maze of cello, sarangi, nyckleharpe and more. It's all topped off by the voice of Kim Waters. Her tone is serene and ethereal, an angelic voice that wraps around these melodies like a warm and inviting blanket.

© John Diliberto 2000


Jeff Pearce
To the Shores of Heaven

There aren't many artists working with the sonic purity of Jeff Pearce. After five solo albums, he's still recording with just electric guitar, albeit an electric guitar run through a lot of electronic processing, loops and over-dubs. Even the percussion on the quietly tribal "Doubt on Dark Waters" is from a guitar. On "To the Shores of Heaven" Jeff continues his quietly ecstatic sound, full of shimmering guitar textures and delicately plucked melodies refracted through loops and delays. Jeff gets an orchestra of sound from his guitar, with layered swells, gentle pizzicatos and soaring sustains. On pieces like "Sudden Light" he reaches the kind of of majestic contemplation that hasn't been heard since Robert Fripp's early Frippertronics. Fripp is an obvious touchstone for Jeff, but he doesn't have the need to flash his virtuosity, letting the compositions and mood dictate his sound. "To the Shores of Heaven" finds Jeff Pearce still pointed in the right direction.

© John Diliberto 2000


Joanne Shenandoah
Peacemaker's Journey

When Joanne Shenandoah's first album came out, Echoes' host John Diliberto dubbed her the "Native American Enya". But this Iroquois singer has evolved beyond that, and this may be her most impressive album yet. Produced by Tom Wasinger, he surrounds her with subtle instrumentation, gentle percussion, lilting guitar accents, subtle synthesziers, outlining a landscape against which Joanne casts her songs of the Iroquois peoples. Joanne's voice is a silken smooth instrument that draws you into her songs, even if you don't understand the language.

© John Diliberto 2000


Love Spirals Downward

Love Spirals Downward shares a psychedelic code with the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and a musical code with groups like the Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance. Guitarist Ryan Lum creates a lush, ambient style of rock that surrounds the swirling arabesque of Suzanne Perry's wordless vocals. Like Elizabeth Frazer and Lisa Gerrard, Perry usually sings in a dialect of the imagination, yet one that it serenely intimate and seductive. This anthology takes some of their best tracks from the albums, Ever, Idylls,Ardor and Flux as well as a few pieces from obscure collections. Suzanne Perry calls out like an angel in a land of ruin on the lacy reverb of "Kykeon" and "Madras." Her lyrics are a textural puzzle, suggesting meaning and hidden intent like a hieroglyphic of the soul. Ryan Lum's layered, overtone-laden guitars echo her incantations. Moving back through time, this album starts with the electronica grooves of their last album Flux into the ethereal atmospheres of their 1992 album, Idylls. It ends with the heroic "Mediterrenea," from an old Projekt records collection. If you don't have any LSD albums, this is the place to start.

© John Diliberto 2000


Jalan Jalan

In Japan and China, they have a knack for churning modern instrumental music out as if it were off an assembly line. Artists are anonymous. Covers are generic, and usually, so is the music. A Japanese label called Pacific Moon seems to be breaking from that trend with a series of compelling albums, by artists who actually have identities, at least, they appear to. One of them is Jalan Jalan. On this CD, they use the sounds of Balinese gamelan, although the slow pacing and mellow tones are more akin to Javanese gamelan. Using the kind of understated minimalist sensibility that marks Brian Eno's ambient recordings, they weave gamelan sounds and scales amidst haunting, often simple keyboard melodies and atmospheres. It seems simple and even cliched at first, but every time I listen to this disc, or hear it on Echoes, I'm seduced by its subtle arrangements and the kind of melodies that, like Pachelbel's canon, seem like they could go on forever.

© John Diliberto 2000


Steve Roach
Light Fantastic

Steve Roach has spent most of the last decade pursuing a music that merged technology and primitivism, sending the sounds of didgeridoos, harmonicas and ocarinas, sticks, stones and bones into a landscape of effects-processing and synthesizer atmospheres. Using technology he brought us into a primeval sound. On his latest CD, Light Fantastic, Steve Roach returns to his synthesizers creating a music born from his techno-tribal rhythms but morphed into a Blade Runner urban landscape. Grooves shape-shift in a techno-zombie dance as modulating chords descend like cloud banks roiling out of a desert horizon. This isn't the Steve Roach of sequencer dervishes like Empetus, but neither is it the organic techno-tribal grooves of albums like Origins. Steve Roach takes a side-long glance at contemporary techno/ambient music, but finds his own vocabulary within it.

© John Diliberto 2000


Aguas da Amazonia

A brilliant collaboration between composer Philip Glass and Uakti (pronounced wok-a-chee) who make Glass's minimalist cycles sound more organic and melodic than they have in years. Uakti is a Brazilian group headed up by Marco Antonio Guimaraes. Like the late-composer, Harry Partch, Guimaraes designs his own instruments, making tuned percussion out of PVC pipes, marimbas out of glass plates, and stringed instruments out of gourds. Uakti's music reflects the innocence of these instruments. Philip Glass composed this music for a ballet, and it's clear he had Uakti's unique instrumentation in mind. It's the sound of a lost and exotic world on another planet, thousands of years in the past, or 20 minutes into the future.

© John Diliberto 2000


Stars to Share

Samite is a Ugandan exile who fled the country after his brother was murdered during the dark days of Idi Amin's reign. He's been in the States for more than a decade and during that time, he's released a pair of quietly sublime albums on the Shanachie label and one on Xenophile. For Stars to Share, Samite made a return trip to Uganda and brought back a music of healing and restoration. Singing in his native Lugandan tongue, Samite's hymn-like melodies are surrounded by Windham Hill atmospherists. He plays his kalimba in melodic cross-rhythms with Michael Manring's electric bass on "Having A Good Time." An unusually restrained Patti Cathcart (from Tuck & Patti) provides a sultry response to Samite's healing pleas on "Bring Back the Music" while the title track is a heart-rending dirge with some gripping ethereal vocals by Happy Rhodes. Will Ackerman ripples gentle guitar arpeggios on the haunting ballad, "Old Man's Wisdom." Ackerman is also the uncredited producer of this album, giving Samite's music the kind of settings it deserves. There are many ways to respond to strife musically. You can make music that's violent and angry, that amplifies your frustration and despair, or you can make music that seeks a way out of despair. On this powerful album, Samite takes the latter route.

© John Diliberto 2000


Arvo Pärt

Alina is a perfect moment, a feather brush stroke of an album that luxuriates in open spaces. It's actually comprised of only two early Arvo Pärt works. "Spiegel im Spiegel" is a slowly evolving Escher-like melody that keeps folding back on itself in subtle variations. There are three versions here, two for piano and violin and one for piano and cello. Each of them could go on forever. "Für Alina" is pure ambient music. Recalling Brian Eno's, Music for Airports, its fragile melody seems to hang in the air, gently blown, never resolving. Arvo Pärt brings us, once again, into the spiritual depths of his Estonian soul.

© John Diliberto 2000


Various Artists
A Celtic Christmas: Peace on Earth

The Celtic craze finally seems to be trailing off, but don't let that make you look past the latest in the Celtic Christmas series from Windham Hill. This year, they've given the reigns over to Michael O'Domhnaill , the founder of The Bothy Band and Nightnoise. The stylistic center of the disc revolves around Michael and other Nightnoise members and that's a good thing. Michael is steeped in true Celtic traditions, but he's also a modernist so he surrounds these tunes with a lush, chamber music sound. Some of the best tunes include the traditional Irish carol, "The Flight into Egypt" as well as a haunting original, "No Room at the Inn." Nightnoise singer Triona Ni Dhomhnaill duets with her sister Maighread on the quavering harmonies of "Barbara Allen," while Micheal O'Domhnaill joins fiddler Paddy Glackin on "The Green Fields of Amerikay." Guitarist William Coulter , who did such an incredible job on our Sonic Seasonings concert last year, duets with guitarist Benjamin Verdery on "Flow Gently Sweet Afton" and Nightnoise flutist Brian Dunning joins Jeff Johnson on "Down the Chimney." There's something about that Celtic lilt, the sound of low whistles, cranky Uilleann pipes and Turlough O'Carolan tunes that instantly conjure up the warmth, quiet, and mysticism of Christmas. And it's all on A Celtic Christmas: Peace on Earth.

© John Diliberto 2000

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