Sona Gaia and Narada were two of the more interesting World / New Age labels to erupt as the arts scene began diversifying with a seriousness that arose following the collapse of the 60s/70s ethos. Narada was a sketchy proposition at times, tending to the New Agier side of the house, whereas Sona always held a more serious attitude, and one of their best releases—this one, Ancient Future's World without Walls—was never quite critiqued or marketed as it should have been: as a set of works in the tradition of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Between, Shakti, and other adventurous bands with almost inhuman chops. After all, the entire World gig pretty much rooted in the inestimably superlative Oregon, an ensemble that was and still is eons ahead of its time, talented beyond compare. Thus, those who came after should have been of-a-kind and acclaimed as such, right? Ah, but then the micky-marketeers entered, and what should've been a quantum leap became, well, Private Music, Steven Halpern, and Georgia Kelley, alas…although, in Shadowfax and others, the path was never quite erased.
Well, now that everyone has sobered up and finds him- and herself able to ponder backwards, a few gems are being rescued. This re-release very much demonstrates that we missed quite a bit, even though Matthew Montfort continued his musical evolution and the band itself realigned for a dazzling concert last June (go to http://www.youtube.com/user/ancientfuture?blend=7&ob=5#p/a/u/0/Ro0VAo7a9BY and click on 14 Steps for a marvelous example). Along with Montfort came Ian Dogole, Doug McKeehan, Jim Hurley, and Bruce Kaphan, masters of their instruments, and the quartet played and still plays as though it were twice that size, complicated narrative and rhythms filling each track. The base flavors here are mid-Eastern modes, especially Indian, in tandem with the more sophisticated side of rock—after all, World music basically arose in the horizon-seeking of progrock, fusion, and jazz.
Lakshmi Rocks Me pretty much encapsulates this in titling and operation, an arrestingly paced complicatedly interlocking song of distinctively Eastern sounds that return to thematics far more readily than the ancient modes, such as Carnatic, are wont to do. We in the West are a good deal more at home with repetition than the elder intellectual traditions. On the other hand, Dance of the Rain Forest takes after rondo'ed and serial minimal patterns, turning that end-effect over to a West now stepping eastward to shake hands. April Air has aubade-ish overtones, and 14 Steps dwells nicely in the fingerpicking styles so signatured in Euro-American root musics, Montfort's six-stringing a Balkan kind of Alex DeGrassi with violinist Jim Hurley not that far from Grapelli's gypsy sympathies. Here, as in two other songs, Zakir Hussain sits in on tablas, and, man, unless you wanna go back to Alla Rakha and a few others, there's just no topping that guy.
I've long maintained that Carnatic musics are the zenith of sonic craftsmanship on the planet, and it takes a formidable degree of skill to attempt them. The inherent woodshedding is rigorous beyond belief (read Ravi Shankar's tales of his Hindustani apprenticing in North India for confirmation), and once you've decided you're going that route, there's no turning back, that's your life, as the heady elevation will admit of no slacking or indolence in the least degree. World without Walls is drenched with the most enticing and hypnotic of essences, a record that, despite the passage of 21 years since its debut, cannot age, a document upholding a spirit of creativity ahead of its time hundreds of years ago and remaining so in the hands of masters such as these. Thank goodness some things never change.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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