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(December 2003)

A Windham Hill Christmas, Vol. 2
Various Artists

First I must offer a disclaimer: I was paid to write the liner notes for A Windham Hill Christmas 2. It was not a task I took on lightly, since I'm not a lover of Christmas carols, those tired chestnuts trotted out ad infinitum in torturously tiresome rote renditions. That's one reason I'd always been a fan of Windham Hill's Winter Solstice series which leaves the tried and true carols behind for more evocative fare. We get dozens of Christmas albums sent to Echoes each year and my eyes glaze over just looking at the track listings with the same "In Dulci Jubilo-Joy To the World-Silent Night-God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen" songs. Those very tunes are the first three tracks on A Windham Hill Christmas 2. Yet, something here is different. A Windham Hill Christmas won me over with their first release last year and this year's edition is even better. Artists like Philip Aaberg, Alex de Grassi and Barbara Higbie find a different spirit in these tired carols, opening up new spaces, exploring the silence between the notes like the calm of freshly fallen snow. There's an air of classical chamber music with a Renaissance tone in many of these renditions, especially from oboist Paul McCandless and pianist Barbara Higbie who also plays harp and fiddle on "Patapan."Guitarists Will Ackerman and David Cullen pair up on a haunting version of "I Wonder As I Wander" that hangs like a glass sculpture suspended in the frozen air. Tracy Silverman and Thea Suits offer a shimmering, modernist spin on "Away in A Manger," while Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning lend a Celtic influence to "The Waits Song." A Windham Hill Christmas 2 is a seasonal CD you can play when the folks are visiting, and even after they leave.

(November 2003)

Patrick O'Hearn
Beautiful World

Patrick O'Hearn has not only been a mainstay of Echoes from the very first day, he's been a defining component of the Echoes sound. Nowhere is that better heard than his latest CD, Beautiful World. Despite that positive title, Patrick O'Hearn's beautiful world isn't all light and sunshine. His work is full of churning undergrowth, shadowed corners and sultry, shrouded days. He's joined once again by longtime cohort, guitarist Peter Maunu. Together they conjure up Ennio Morricone dipped in an ambient bath on tracks like "Magnificent River." The influence of O'Hearn's work with Steve Roach is heard on the electro-rhythms of some tracks, while others take a page from Erik Satie, with their spare, but haunting use of melody. O'Hearn's sonic pallette remains among the most distinctive in modern music and his roots as a bass player anchor these evocative works in an organic firmament. It is a Beautiful World.

more information about Patrick O'Hearn at his website>>

©2003 John Diliberto

(October 2003)

Bridges: The Echoes Living Room Concerts Volume 9

Each month on Echoes, we labor over selecting the month's best new CD, seeking the absolute best. Every month but October that is. That's when we put out our annual Echoes Living Room Concert Disc, which is inevitably the best disc that month because it draws form the best live performances heard on Echoes in the last year or so. Bridges: The Echoes Living Room Concerts Volume 9 is no exception.We called it Bridges because it represents a music that crosses between countries and time, ancient music and modern technology, cultures from Asia and Africa to Native America. There are voices singing in ancient Aramaic and musicians mixing eastern and western modalities. The disc is bookended by the extremes of the Echoes soundscape, beginning with a solo acoustic guitar performance by the legendary Pat Metheny and ending with a classic synthesizer excursion from Redshift. In between is a web of world fusions and electro-acoustic formulations that are distinctly a product of a modern, trans-global landscape. It's modern, even when it's ancient. That's the case with two selections from the heart of Texas. The eight singers of SAVAE, the San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble, sing in Aramaic and Hebrew in their living room, playing instruments from well before the turn of the last millennium. Up the road in Austin, we caught the Mundi Ensemble, a group that plays Medieaval compositions and originals in that mode, but with a distinctly modern, minimalist spin and a hint of Duane Eddy guitar.East-West sounds abound on Bridges. Michael Mandrell and Benjy Wertheimer offer a sublime meditation for acoustic guitar and Indian esraj while Drala forges a global fusion of bansuri flute, tabla drums, guitar and bass. But some fusions go American West to Middle east. That's the case with Autumn's Child who brings the Native American flute of Mark Holland into a global chamber music setting. Several artists articulate forward looking designs. Guitarist Michael Hewett processes his acoustic guitar into an electric chamber music and Norway's Erik Wøllo, in an unreleased work, creates an electronic fantasy for guitar and synthesizer. An Echoes LRC disc wouldn't be complete without some solo guitar and piano. Bridges has both with Michael Gulezian's open-plains slide guitar on "Tumbledweeb." Pianist Barbara Higbie's piano solo cascades in liquid glass fragments on "True Story."Bridges contains the essence of Echoes, distilled into 11 live performances, sequenced into an Echoes soundscape.

more info and sound clips here>>

(September 2003)

The Sacred Journey of Ku-Kai

On September 11, 2001, Japanese composer Kitaro was grounded in Hawaii for several days while on his way to Japan. The Sacred Journey of Ku-Kai album was begun during those days of isolation, when no planes were flying. As a sound of peace cast into the world, Kitaro began making the traditional pilgrimage to the island of Shikoku which has 88 temples, each with its own temple bells. Kitaro is in the process of recording those bells and sampling them into a new extended series of works, of which the Sacred Journey of Ku-Kai is the first. It's also the best Kitaro album in years.Only occasionally slipping into the over-wrought arrangements that have marred his recent work, Kitaro returns to many of his classic sounds: the Korg synthesizer whoop, electric sitar, and sample-and-hold star patterns. He sets them in new, meditative terrain, highlighted by native and silver flute and the huquin, a Chinese violin.The Sacred Journey of Ku-Kai is an intricately wrought and often exhilarating work. In this month of memories of 9-11, it's the perfect choice for the Echoes CD of the month.

(August 2003)

Tim Story & Hans-Joachim Roedelius

Lunz is a lake in Austria, but it might as well be a lake of the imagination as Tim Story and Hans-Joachim Roedelius create a haunting soundscape of refined elegance and introspective moods that take a subtle shift to the left of reality.Tim Story needs no introduction for Echoes listeners. We coined the term "ambient chamber music" to describe his sensual liquid sound that merges classical influences along with electronic ambiences and a gift for melody that would leave Erik Satie crying.Hans-Joachim Roedelius is one of Tim's mentors. A founding member of the German electronic duo Cluster (then called Kluster) in 1970, he's gone on to release dozens of recordings ranging from pure ambient to classical works. Roedelius and Story have been working together for a few years, and finally they've released an album together called Lunz. Its melodies linger like the aftermath of a dream, both familiar and strange, painted in water-color textures that make each melody shimmer like quicksilver.

(July 2003)

One Alternative

One Alternative has been a fixture on Echoes since we debuted in 1989, and at that point they'd already been around for six years. On their latest CD, they continue to hone their acoustic chamber fusion sound, weaving two acoustic guitars along with oboe/English horn. One Alternative swings on rhythms that phase seamlessly from classical to jazz, draped across the intricate finger-picking of their guitars and Jill Haley's refined, lyrical oboe.

As on past One Alternative albums, Jill Haley and Mark Oppenlander split writing credits, with Jill tending towards more pastoral pieces like "Risa's Dance" while Oppenlander shows his penchant for Beatlesque voicings, on tracks like "Dana." One Alternative shares a lineage with artists like Tingstad & Rumbel, both emerging from a love of the band Oregon. But to my ears, One Alternative has a more lively, rhythmic flexibility that reveals itself in showpieces like Haley's "Zing" and Oppenlander's title piece. In the interest of full disclosure, I should reveal that Echoes producer Jeff Towne was the engineer for this recording.

(June 2003)

Lisa Lynne
Hopes & Dreams

Lisa Lynne returns to form on her new CD, HOPES & DREAMS. After a flirtation with Middle Eastern music on her lovely Maiden's Prayer, the Celtic harpist returns to the Renaissance airs and Celtic themes that have made her one of the most loved of Echoes‚ artists. Hopes & Dreams is full of gentle, chamber folk arrangements with cello, guitar and the bamboo flutes, whistles and recorders of her longtime partner, George Tortorelli. Lynne has been conducting harp workshops at City of Hope, a cancer research and treatment center near Los Angeles, and her work there has clearly influenced the soothing mood and hopeful tone of her music. Tracks like "Earth & Sky" emerge from a sunrise of the imagination, wistful and yearning while "Circle the Sun" is a haunting chamber work, Lynne's harp woven with country-inflected acoustic guitar and swirling almost pedal-steel like electric guitar. Hopes & Dreams isn't an album on the edge. It's an album that smooths the edges.

©2003 John Diliberto

(May 2003)

ADAGIO: A Windham Hill Collection

There have been some tragically bad adaptations of classical music over the years. ADAGIO is not one of them. Longtime Windham Hill producer Dawn Atkinson has gathered a host of familiar names from the Windham Hill roster past and present and deployed them across an array of largely familiar classical adagios. But instead of sweetening them up or making them "contemporary," each musician has found a deeper nuance in the music. Philip Aaberg explores a meditative space in Barber's "Adagio for Strings" while Patrick O'Hearn casts Rodrigo's "Adagio from Fantasy for a Gentleman" in a shroud of keyboard shadows. Tracy Silverman's delayed pizzicato violin sound plucks through Bach's "Arioso" accompanied by Thea Suits on flute, and guitarist Steve Erquiaga unfolds the haunting melody of a Grieg nocturne on his acoustic guitar. There are a couple of clunkers here, notably Phillipe Saisse's smooth jazz take on Bach's "Air on a G String" and Paul Schwartz's hopelessly corny synthesized rendition of Handel's "Sarabande." This handful of lapses is more than forgiven by Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning's Celtic chamber arrangement of a Handel sonata and Mike Marshall and Edgar Meyer's bluegrass breakdown on a Bach prelude. ADAGIO is one of those perfect Echoes transition albums, moving from acoustic to electric, ambient to classical.

©2003 John Diliberto

AfroCelts - Seed

(April 2003)


They used to be Afro Celt Sound System, but with their fourth CD they've dropped the Sound System end of their name, and a bit of the techno and dub tradition from which it initially sprang. This is an even more organic AfroCelts but hardly acoustic, as electronic sequences, pads and grooves still inform much of their music.

Afro Celts continue to stretch their sound, bringing in Canadian Nouveau Flamenco guitarist Jesse Cook on some tracks, dub-punk pioneer Jah Wobble and Irish fiddler Eileen Ivers. They interweave with the kora of Afro Celt charter member N'Faly Kouyate, Irish sean nos singer Iarla O'Lionaird, uilleann piper Emer Mayock and the Irish whistles and frame drums of James McNally.SEED is a bit more melodically oriented than previous albums, but the groove remains the unifying force between Simon Emmerson's electronica sequences, Johnny Kalsey's riveting Middle Eastern drums and McNally's bodhran. Clearly the best Echoes CD of 2003 so far.

©2003 John Diliberto

Peter Kater

(March 2003)

Peter Kater
Red Moon

Pianist Peter Kater celebrates his 20th anniversary of recording by updating the sound of his greatest successes, his collaborations with Native flutist R. Carlos Nakai. Albums like Natives, Migration and Honor the Sky created a new style of Native chamber music.

On his latest CD, Kater not only works with Nakai, but several other Native luminaries, including 2002 Grammy Award winner Mary Youngblood, as well as Ara Tokatlian from Arco Iris and Paul McCandless from Oregon. But the biggest change is the electronica grooves created by Paul Avgerinos. On top of these rhythms, Kater orchestrates hypnotic tracks like "Deep Waters" with intertwined flute and penny whistle from Nakai and McCandless over a cycling guitar pattern and trance rhythm. "Never Ending Journey" is an anthemic build with a raging solo from Ara Tokatlian.

Kater places the attention on the arrangements and the soloists, rather than his piano, which serves as another part of his orchestration. Red Moon has a darker, slighter edgier sound from Kater's other CDs, creating a more enveloping, headphone-listening sound.

©2003 John Diliberto

(February 2003)


Fantasy music is in the air these days and Amethystium tunes into that spirit on his new CD, APHELION. Amethystium is Norwegian keyboardist Oystein Ramfjord, who takes his performance name from the gem amethyst. APHELION is his second CD and with titles like "Garden of Sakuntala," "Gates of Morpheus" and "Elvensong," you know he's working in a land of fairy tales and myths.He swirls electronica designs with old analog sounds and contemporary loops, forging a lush, imaginary orchestra. It's the soundtrack you wish you'd heard in Lord of the Rings. Gothic chants mix with Indian tabla drums, choirs from heaven vamp over churning electronica rhythms, while Chinese flutes cry out over synthesized cosmic vapor trails.Ramfjord uses ethno and electronica samples you hear elsewhere, but he weds them to a heroic sense of melody with synthesizer sequences that percolate in counterpoint to drum loops. Maybe it's the remote, Nordic atmosphere or the title, Aphelion - the point in the earth's orbit furthest from the sun - but Amethystium stays just this side of cool, avoiding the over-heated bombast of contemporaries like Yanni. Still, there's nothing under-stated about APHELION. It's all anthemic cadences and surging rhythms, a clarion call and charge into the fray, like the riders of Rohan coming to the rescue.

©2003 John Diliberto

(January 2003)

Jeff Pearce

Bleed is the foreboding name of ambient guitarist Jeff Pearce's latest CD, but Pearce's wounds are more emotional than physical. This darkly introspective, but quietly melodic CD finds Pearce creating reverberant guitar orchestrations through his fragile melodies into loops, delays, and echos that build and converge, creating a sonic womb of contemplation. In largely realtime performances, Pearce layers his melodies with gentle, picked cyles and quietly growling e-bow guitar lines, all bathed in deep, deep reverb. Pearce says the album is based on some old journals and the teenage traumas and yearnings they awakened, but you don't need to know that to hear the melancholy in his music. This album also includes more contemporary inspirations. He recorded "Through Tears" while watching the events of 9-11 unfold. That track debuted on An Echoes Requiem in October, 2001.

©2003 John Diliberto

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