Refractions: The Echoes Living Room Concerts Volume 12 launches Thursday night, November 16.
The music on this CD tells a story of its own, a sound of synthesis and collaboration, world fusions, ambient designs and sonic explorations. But there are also stories behind each of those songs, unique circumstances that are part of the wonder of the Living Room Concert experience. I’ve got four of them here, and two sets of four more in the next two days.
Refractions: The Echoes Living Room Concerts Volume 12 opens with Stef Burns & Peppino D’Agostino. There is just something welcoming about this song that suggests the beginning of a journey and the prospect of new possibilities. Peppino and Stef are an unlikely pair: a sensitive, finger-style acoustic player and a shredding sideman for Alice Cooper. But these guys have a rare simpatico and one of the most underrated albums of last year, Bayshore Road.
While on tour, they jammed their quartet into the Echoes living Room. The drummer left his traps behind and played a borrowed frame drum and some odd little percussion bits. I think stripping down made this performance of Inner Sanctuary all the better as Stef Burns twanged Ennio Morricone style spaghetti western guitar over D’Agostino’s open air acoustic filigree.
When Michael Brook came to town, we knew the Echoes Living Room wouldn’t suffice, so we booked him into Maja Studios in Philadelphia. This was a special performance for me. Michael was one of the first Living Room Concerts. I interviewed him in London when he was living there in 1989. He demonstrated his Infinite Guitar and I said, “You have to do a living room concert for us.” He said “How about tomorrow?” and invited percussionist James Pinker over and blew us away with a live performance of music from his then-forthcoming Cobalt Blue CD.
A track from that performance, Productivity, later appeared on our first LRC disc, A Door in the Air. Michael Retitled it Red Shift on Cobalt Blue. I always liked our version a little better and I must confess, I think I like our live rendition of LightStar from Refractions better than the version on his album, RockPaperScissors, an Echoes CD of the Month.
I like the Bulgarian Choir and Orchestra on that track, but in the back of my mind I was always thinking, “What the hell are they doing here?” We couldn’t get the Bulgarians into the studio and I think LightStar is better for it with lots more of Michael’s guitar playing and some nice violin by Julie Rogers. The song seems more open and natural now, understated and full of nuance.
Andreas Vollenweider also gave us a radical change of direction. I’ve been a fan of Andreas’ since 1982, but I must say, his vocal album, Vox left me cold. You can read my review at Amazon.com. When Andreas came in, he couldn’t bring his big harp, but he remembered being in our living room years ago and seeing the flutes and kotos that were hanging around and said, “Bring those in, and I’ll make something good happen.” So we did. We also borrowed a friend’s Celtic harp. With percussionist Andi Pupato, Andreas performed a magical version of The Seven Doors, originally a vocal track on Vox, but here delivered instrumentally, and to my ears in much better, if invented, form. Vollenweider is a true virtuoso, able to make music out of anything and he does it here.
Finally, for today, Gretchen Yanover. She’s a cellist for the Northwest Sinfonietta, but when she’s not bowing Mozart she creates her own looping compositions heard on her CD, Bow & Cello.
Gretchen was about seven months pregnant when I visited her in her Seattle home. This is one of the few recordings not engineered by Jeff Towne. I was in Seattle for a conference, but didn’t want to pass up the chance to do something with Gretchen. I just plugged one DAT machine into her system and used another for voice mics. With her cello between her legs and an FX pedalboard at her feet, Gretchen recreated the looping compositions of her album, serene and endless largos that tapped into the soul of the cello and magnified it though looping refractions. I’m sure she’s got an album of lullabies in the works now.
Refractions: The Echoes Living Room Concerts Volume 12 debuts on the air Thursday Night. I’ll have four more inside portraits tomorrow.