I've had my ups and downs, mostly downs, with John Diliberto, a very good critic of New Age music but a pain in the rear personally, passive aggressive. Nonetheless, when he recommends something, I tend to pay attention: he and John Schaeffer are trustworthies within the genre, and there are so damn few good critics to go around in any style of music that none can be lightly dismissed (over in the metal phylum, Martin Popoff's a name to look for, btw). Therefore, when I received Scott August's Radiant Sky, carrying Diliberto's blurb, I sat up a little straighter.
August is one of those minimalists who has the mode nailed. Reading the back liner to his CD is deceptive. I spotted references to 'shimmering pianos', 'haunting ancient flutes', 'delicate guitars', and so on, only to then quickly skip into the promo lit, unfortunately finding it spoke of 'spa treatments', 'yoga workouts', and 'meditation'. No one could help but think "Oh Christ, here we go again!" (and, um, I'm interned in holisitic medicine), but, with music, the proof is always in the listening, and I found myself greatly surprised at the skill with which this guy composes and, even more importantly, arranges.
There aren't many works in this mode—I'll call it 'cosmic furniture music' for the moment, referencing the illustrious Satie—but a few stand out: Peter Baumann's first two solo releases, Klaus Schuze's slower work, some of Mike Garrison's catalog, and so on. What's so damnably hard to achieve is a completely convincing ambiance with so few notes and instruments. August pulls it off with ease, bridging the sidereal with the terrene (the moment I heard the Native wood flute in New Horizons, pictures of Monument Valley and a number of spots on the Colorado Plateau I've hiked came speeding back to memory: Arches, Natural Bridges, Capitol Reef, etc.) in mellifluous pensees and topical miniatures. Look to Schulze for the 'epic journeys' Diliberto mistakenly speaks of; what he's misinferring are the huge vistas August depicts.
In fact, Radiant Sky bookends David Wahler's Antiquus (here), a disc I liked immediately but which has gained depth in each successive listen, becoming one of my favorites of the last half-year. Perhaps it's just that I'm entering dinosaur mode, but I don't really think so. There's a certain sector of this genre in which maturities have finally been met, and the chasm between a slew of styles (World, progressive, Romantic, etc.) erased. Not one single note on this disc is less than serenely evocative and perfectly placed, the truest apogee of an artistic mind. Like Antiquus, I'm using Radiant Sky to fall asleep to at night, mind filled with starry wonders, heart gentled into the Harbor of Lethe. It also, however, more than fills the bill for serious attention, a chiaroscuro created in the temporal lobes, slowly shifting, ever revealing the sidepockets missed so readily by the urban brain, wafting up subtleties only an aesthete could describe.
Scott released a couple of discs before this. Haven't heard them, but, if they're anything like Sky, we're looking at an important new voice in the phylum, a gent who is as serious as the musical collective centering in Ancient Future (here), though here more from the Milky Way 'n Grand Canyon persuasion.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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