Echoes Jan 2024 CD of the Month: Darling & Christian

Cellos in Space: David Darling & Hans Christian's Grammy Nominated Album, Ocean Dreaming Ocean, Echoes January CD of the Month

by John Diliberto 1/1/2024

Posthumous duets are shaky territory. It probably began in 1991 with Natalie Cole duetting with her late father, Nat King Cole, on “Unforgettable.” But others have come since, most dreadfully, Barry Manilow’s My Dream Duets album where he croons with the ghosts of John Denver, Sammy Davis Jr. and Whitney Houston, among others.

Hans Christian has stepped into similar territory with his album, Ocean Dreaming Ocean, playing to rough, unreleased recordings of the late cellist, David Darling, who passed in early 2021. Darling was one of the premier new music cellists. He first came to renown performing with the Paul Winter Consort, including work on their classic 1972 album, Icarus. He went on to a solo career that included several recordings on the ECM label, featuring both solo cello and often edgy collaborations with musicians like guitarists Terje Rypdal and Ralph Towner. On a string of albums that began with the 1993 release, 8-String Religion, David Darling articulated an ambient chamber music that has influenced many.

Hans Christian is part of a generation of cellists whose path was initially carved by Darling. Like Darling, the German-born Christian is a music eclectic, creating a unified field of sound initially sculpting one-man solo works of looping cello, electronics and ethic touches, then forming the chant fusion duo Rasa with singer Kim Waters. Rasa ended, but Christian kept going with several eastern-inflected journeys, playing the nyckelharpa, sarangi and other instruments. His last solo album, After the Fall, was a CD of the Month in 2020.

Ocean Dreaming OceanDavid Darling and Hans Christian had never met, and with David’s passing in 2021 they never will. But Darling’s friend and producer, Mickey Houlihan, passed multi-track recordings of the cellist to Christian and asked him to make something out of them. Instead of creating simple duets trading verses, Christian used Darling’s recordings as the basis for deep ambient orchestrations that are very much in the spirit of his ambient chamber music.

The mood is set with the opening track, “Epitaph”. It’s a bit funereal, and as a title, a bit on-the-nose, but that somber mode is pretty much where David Darling lived. Cello lines interweave, bathed in reverb passing like ocean liners in the night. Darling’s voice singing wordlessly as the piece comes to a close is a touching moment.

“Minor Blue Chorale” is built around a simple, beautiful cello melody from Darling, but Christian builds it up into a string orchestra. “Miracle,” on the other hand, travels on a repeated piano sequence from Darling, that Christian trails with a swirling harmonic process like ghost echoes. He orchestrates the multi-layered cellos into overlapping eddies; string choirs that are solemn but also hopeful in the way a gospel theme is hopeful.

“Unforeseen Rain” is a languid piece of long cello sustains with trumpet by Ron Miles, that doesn’t quite come together, as Miles seems to be playing on another piece of music than the rest. I can see why Christian dropped that out of the mix on his more coherent “Unforeseen Rain Ambient” mix.

The title track rests on faint whale recordings, a shout-out to Mickey Houlihan and his work with Paul Winter, who he recorded in environmental spaces like the Grand Canyon. It features David Cullen and Ross Bellenoit on “ambient guitars” which means they don’t sound like guitars but are creating the sometimes glistening, sometimes deeply-droning background sheen around which Darling and Christian seem to be echoing the whale moans.

Astute fans will note that Ocean Dreaming Ocean originally came out in April of 2023. But we had a previous commitments for April and May CDs of the Month, so the album got passed by, although it was heavily played on Echoes. But now that it’s been nominated for a Grammy Award, I thought it would be a timely pick as the first CD of the Month for 2024.

We may never hear another new, pure David Darling album again, but his spirit, sound, and reputation as the Lord of Largo, are beautifully maintained on Ocean Dreaming Ocean. Hans Christian has done a masterful job of preserving the essence of David Darling, while simultaneously expanding it. Ocean Dreaming Ocean is out now on Curve Blue records.


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