Still: Echoes, the Echoes Living Room Concerts Volume 15 has arrived. Like all our CDs it’s a perfect Echoes blend of music from pure acoustic works to the extremes of electronic music, with ambient chamber music nestled next to deep space explorations. The album builds in an arc from Jesse Cook’s sweet “Rain,” with some nice ambient violin by Chris Church giving Jesse Cook’s lilting melody the feel of a wistful, fading memory. The CD peaks dynamically in the middle with Al Di Meola’s “Siberiana,” an energized and nearly symphonic work of global fusion. Featuring his World Sinfonia band and Di Meola bounces fiery leads off the accordion of Fausto Beccalossi. And it ends with some gentle acoustic works: Ronn McFarlane’s 21st century compositions for a 16th century instrument, the Renaissance lute, and Lisa Lynne and Aryeh Frankfurter‘s contemplative romantic duo for harp and violin.
Contributing to that arc is a haunting track by Whitetree. “Other Nature” begins with a a solo piano theme from Ludovico Einaudi, but just as you think it’s going to be a poignant piano tune, brush stroked drums, sampled balaphon and electronic ambiences from Robert and Ronald Lippok slip in and take you to another space. That leads into one of the most dynamic tracks on the CD, “Beauxsong” by The Mandrake Project. Based around a rhythm loop, Mandrake Project takes this track into unexpected terrain including electro-symphonic violins, a jazz-flecked electric piano solo that recalls vintage CTI records like Deodato and a ripping guitar solo. It’s a piece that takes progressive rock into the ambient lounge.
There’s lots of instrument manipulation on Still: Echoes. Mandrakes’ Rick Nelson stacks his violin, while Matthew Schoening loops and distorts his cello on “Emotional Clockwork.” I love the circular relationships he creates in this chamber work of melodic flow and drive. In realtime, he orchestrates a cinematic work of classical dimensions. But no one manipulates their instrument more than Ben Neill with his mutantrumpet. With three different bells, two sets of valves, a mini-trombone slide and electronics, Neill creates an electronic excursion on “Futura” with the trumpet sound playing hide-and-seek between layers of looped textures and distortions.
The most haunting song on the album may be Alu‘s “Recluse,” a song of alienation sung in a little-girl-lost voice with again, some riveting violin work, this time by Hiroyuki Goto, who wraps his instrument across Alu’s electronica groove, alternating pizzicato and arco lines while Alu breaks your heart with her pleas. Her 21st century lament is a nice counterpoint to the other vocal track on the album, Solas‘ “Mollai na gCuach Ni Chuilleanain,” a traditional Irish aire sung beautifully by Máiréad Phelan. The contrast in emotional pain and serenity is striking, More Celtic music is heard on Aine Minogue‘s “The Grove.” Originally recorded for our Christmas show, Sonic Seasonings, it sounds great in any season with Minogue’s lilting Irish harp and Steve Gorn‘s soulful bansuri flute.
There’s always at least one solo acoustic guitar track on our CDs and there are always a lot of candidates for the slot. This year it went to Canadian finger-style player Antoine DuFour with “You and I,” an intricate and crystalline track. I love some of the deeply contemplative tracks on the album. The Marcin Wasilewski Trio from Poland bring an intuitively improvised sound to “The First Touch,” getting that deeply introspective mood you expect from ECM record artists. But we never let contemplation get in the way of a little exuberance and that’s what your get with Fernwood‘s “Open Seas.” Along with the Di Meola track, it’s the pivot point of the album with it’s blend of Indian sitar, bouzouki and mandolin taking us to a high of energy and joy.
Every time I put on Still: Echoes, I feel like I’m being taken on a trip to lands exotic and familiar, a wonderful communion of sound, spirit and musical adventure. Take the trip yourself.