New Reviews: September 18, 2003

Reviews by Tom Orr

Nawang Khechog
Universal Love
Sounds True (MM0694D, 2003)

  Tibet's Nawang Khechog has collaborated with a good many notables in the global, new age and pop realms. Primarily a flutist but proficient on a number of instruments, Khechog sought to make an album reflective of the desire to love all sentient beings unconditionally and cultivate that desire in others. It's a concept at once simple and complex, but anyone who maintains that music is imbued with the power to make such a thing possible will not only find comfort in Universal Love but delight in its many sonic pleasures as well. The meditative music so integral to Tibetan Buddhism is abundant here, with many a layered soundscape featuring flutes, doongchen horns and chanting evocative of snow-capped mountain scenes and remote monasteries. There's more than Khechog's own heritage at work, though. African drums and rhythms do quite a lot to shake things up, and connections to Native American music are evident (not surprising, considering Khechog's recent wonderful work with R. Carlos Nakai).
  My advice to you (not that you asked) would be to pick up a copy of this disc and have it on hand for those moments when you need a break from the often unbearably nasty world in which we live. You'll not only believe that the kind of love the title suggests is worth striving for, but get an earful of beauty that should be just as universal.

M Path
Triloka (KAT 2029-2, 2003)

  Up for a bit of musical wandering? This CD is a good way to go. Gardner Cole--producer, guiding force and player of many instruments--once wrote a hit song for Madonna, but don't hold that against him. He's a world-class musician and fusionist, forming the collective called M Path to give us all a listen to the ties that bind Hindi music to such outlying realms as mystical qawwali, Tibetan spirit and the far-reaching influence of the Rom (Gypsy) folk whose origins are rooted in northern India. Restrained electronics lubricate a mix of modern instruments (keyboards, guitar, bass) and not-so-modern ones (tabla, oud, sarod) into an excursion of both seriously enjoyable inner searching and sweetly lilting asides. This "nirvanic noise of the nerves" as the liner notes call it, will set your free spirits dancing and your heart seeking. Key components include the vocals of Asha Puthli and Steve Gorn's superb bansuri flute in a steady balance of natural sounds and techno-tweaks. Wanderer is an apt title for this work, which seems to have a kind of longing at its core, bridging ancient and contemporary sounds while it continually examines the wonders along the way.

Vick Silva
Roots Man Dance
Rhombus Records/Polestar (CD 003, 2003)

  There aren't too many musicians of Latino/Native American descent who play pure roots reggae. Vick Silva not only helps fill a void but makes you wish there were more of his ilk. Roots Man Dance lives up to the title, dishing up satisfying electric/acoustic reggae that draws lyrical inspiration from indigenous (particularly Aztec) cultures and its rhythmic bounce from pre-dancehall Jamaica. There's a kind of cautious celebratory tone to this disc. Songs like "Chicano Reggae" and "Second Wind" have plenty of snap and a nicely detached sense of cool as well. The tightly wound real-drums-and-bass reggae arrangements suit Silva's brooding, slightly ominous singing voice, which in English or Spanish seethes with a rebel spirit likewise appropriate to his chosen musical genre. The recording itself is raw and not very polished, though the instruments (including some memorable sax and keyboard) are crisply laid down and the vocals straight up. Apart from one brief burst of rap, there's no bowing to commercialism or compromise here. It's real reggae, from a cultural perspective that doesn't skimp on depth when it comes to songs of everyday life and the sometimes surreal way we look at it. All serious reggae lovers simply must check this one out.

Pharoah Sanders/Graham Haynes
With A Heartbeat
Evolver (EVL 2015, 2003)

  Take the title literally. There is the sound of an actual human heartbeat heard throughout this album, from the Pink Floyd-like fade-in to the very end. This is truly music that pulses with life, and the players involved see to it that there's a strong organic component throughout despite an abundance of electronic textures. The disc's 4 lengthy tracks are akin to movements of a symphony. Their eccentric but undeniable beauty stems from the considerable talents of the musicians at work here, including boundary-pushing saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, cornetist Graham Haynes, bassist/producer/relentless sonic explorer Bill Laswell and percussion master Trilok Gurtu. The heartbeat sound is a kind of spiritual guide for a chilled-out musical journey that alternately lulls and rouses. Distant programmed rhythms keep Sanders' many-moods sax passages and other restrained instrumental bursts on an even keel, moving with delicate subtlety from melancholy jazz to ethno-trance to murky dub-funk to stuff that could be transmissions from outer space. There is an intriguing balance of man and machine, including such touches as when Gurtu's tabla and konnakal (vocal percussion) surface. This album is a good listen when you're after something that will both relax and engage your mind.

Tom Orr is a Southern California-based freelance writer, actor, percussionist, 9 to 5-er, husband, daddy, and aspiring deep thinker. He acquires more music than he has time to listen to, and feels the only solution is to acquire even more.