The opening slot to this concert collection of very well known New Age musicians is taken up with the guy who's the most celebrated among them, David Arkensone, and I selected this CD / DVD set because I long ago would have pilloried the unliving bejeezus out of all these cats, what with their past tepid Narada / Private / Candied Electric Tofu releases. It's been a long time, and I was curious to see if they'd forsaken all those erstwhile blancmange ways for something meatier. I'm happy to report that the selfsame track, Desert Crossing by Arkenstone, completely vindicates that hopeful speculation, proving itself to be a spacious and sophisticated exposition of Mediterranean influences with Western jazz and Arabic sways, gorgeous in its ambient narcotism.
Nicholas Gunn, president of Gemini Sun Music, says he intends to change the perception of this type of fare, and Live* is an interesting concept: four prime New Age musicians in front of an excellent backing band every inch as capable as the men they're hosting. Such a setting provides a very even listening experience, matrixing each gentleman precisely and to best effect. Loren Gold succeeds Arkenstone's brief appearance (he'll be back later) for an engaging piano solo accompanied by Gunn on flute. That then tilts into the semi-classically swingin' "For My Baby". From there, he hits David Benoit and Brubeck avenues, melodic and CTI jazzy.
Gunn slots in for a quartet of mellow cuts cross-slicing the CTI vibe with adagio'ed airs wistful and serene. This is the direction New Age, though I'm fairly sure Gunn would eschew the label, should've taken decades ago, seductive strains enticing the higher levels of the mind rather than the too easily sated saccharine base the mode earlier played on. He crosses Dave Valentine with Chris Hinze and a goodly dose of Thijs van Leer, achieving a plateau only van Leer, of all those historied gents, attained and held (listen to his work not just with Focus but also Roger von Otterloo).
Arkenstone steps back in and pulls things a bit more to the olden days but with an infectious bounce and swing, the band acting as a small orchestra layering around him. At this point, the constant artist interruptions in the DVD, overlays of interviews with each musician commenting briefly during his tracks, get a little annoying, but the music is so entrancing and the presentation so sparkling any irritation is glossed over and the music greatly enjoyed. Like the Ancient Future label, Gemini Sun comes from deeper traditions, and so Arkenstone gets into a latin gypsy groove commenced torridly by Omar Torrez, the razor-sharp acoustic guitarist in the backing band.
Johannes Linstead waits his turn, then brings in a nylon-strung acoustic and keeps the flavor going with Spanish Town, and the guy, like Torrez, has some lightning riffs of his own, fills for lilting sonorities within the main melodies. During Streets of Old San Juan, he briefly engages in a duet with gifted violinist Jesus Florido and, oh, that it would have lasted much much longer! Florido's as smooth and fluid as they come.
The entire concert ends with a song written by Linstead but ushering the three confreres in for a jam-style groove. Probably the ultimate in this kind of meeting-of-the-talents move was executed by Windham Hill in the An Evening with Windham Hill Live! LP, where Chuck Greenberg, Darol Anger, Michael Manring, and Michael Spiro got together with Alex DeGrassi to perform a mindblowing version of his Clockwork, but this DVD cut needn't apologize for its tet-a-tet at all.
The CD is an exact (too exact…those spoken overlays again!) reproduction of the DVD, and it's to the DVD I have first directed the reader, for the you-are-there quality of the coverage. Besides, it's always a pleasure watching musicians perform, here no less than anywhere. Though the proof of the musical pudding may be in the listening, with something like this, it's also in the seeing.
Track List (CD & DVD):
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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