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Banco de Gaia: Igizeh

"Ooh, what have we here?" I wondered as I read the liner notes that said that parts of this were recorded in the Great Pyramid and the Temple of Seti 1. Since I am a long time and avid Egyptophile, I couldn’t wait to hear what this guy (Toby Marks) had in mind.

I wasn’t disappointed. Starting out with the wailing sound of the call to prayer (recorded in Cairo, as many of the street sounds were), I was transported by a fascinating blend of ancient and modern. The first piece (Seti 1) had a bit of a ‘pop’ feel to it, but not intrusively so. Long, richly textured grooves and samples of sounds from the streets and pyramids of Egypt made for some great listening in this 66-minute long album. I had it packed in my road music case for a 6-hour drive to Dallas, (before I decided to take a plane instead) and any album that goes into the road music case is definitely a keeper.

The Out of My Seat tracks were "Glove Puppet", and "Obsidian", which to my ears, had a techno feel reminiscent of Delirium to it, but more delicately played. Jennifer Folker supplied the vocals in both tracks. "Obsidian’s" long build to a wonderfully danceable groove sits right up there with the best of Delirium and Enigma, but with a brighter feel to it. I hope we’ll be hearing more from Banco De Gaia- lots more, if this is a typical example.

We go back to Egypt with "Crème Egg", with the irresistible rhythms of the Middle Eastern drumming and vocal samples happily panning back and forth. Surround sound really brings out the elements in this album, where it sounds like you are surrounded by drums. Marks never surrenders to the obvious and hackneyed in his treatment of the musical elements- his use of the samples and music is refreshing and surprisingly vibrant. This isn’t paint-by-numbers techno- this is musical art. (I do wonder if he sat that one male singer on a paint mixer, though…you’ll hear what I mean!) Much as I enjoy Deep Forest, they could learn a thing or three here.

In an article I read somewhere, Toby Marks expressed his disappointment with the acoustic quality of the Great Pyramid’s inner Kings Chamber. He had to tweak it in the studio, which didn’t bother me a bit. To my ears, the overlying stones gave it an acoustically oppressive quality- far different than the crisply soaring spaces of say, a European cathedral (St. Paul’s in London comes to mind…sigh…). And they totally hosed what ambience it had when they (shudder) air-conditioned it. Gotta keep the tourists cool, I guess. None of that really bothers the ambience of "Gizeh", which starts out in the Kings Chamber of the Great Pyramid, complete with the vendor’s shouts and noise of the tourists. After this audio overview, the song sneaks into an extended funky Middle Eastern groove that climbs windingly through successive layers of sounds and samples (who snuck that oud in there?), including a reprise of the Kings Chamber. Wonderful stuff…

Hello! More Middle Eastern Techno-funk- "How Much Reality Can You Take?" Lots more- if this is a sample. One of those ‘get me out of my seat’ pieces, the bass on this one really rattled the walls. Glad my neighbor wasn’t home! Another example of art in action- instead of being trite and forgetful, this wonderful piece is lively and refreshing. I think it was all the wonderful panning audio by-play with the keyboards. Give this one a spin on your headphones or surround system.

He throttles back a little on "B2" with a laid back piece that has the feel of late evening to it. Again, it is sonically high-calorie- lots of wonderfully layered sound-on-sound elements give it a dreamy feel. Chill in the desert.

The longest track on the album, "Fake it till you make it" starts out with what sounds like street sounds- television, kids, and goodness knows what else, and takes a Jean Michelle Jarre turn into a series of static minor-key synth chords. Uh, oh- is he slipping into techno-pop? Perhaps a little, but not for long- as his elemental style rises above the opening sounds. We are left hanging on an Enigma-like pause just about a quarter of the way into the song, then he gets down to business. A little Egyptian riff on what starts out sounding like a Hammond B3- until he twists its tail- and it’s off to the races again. Was my nose just ‘honked’ musically? A smile-making piece.

Mysterious elements abound in "Sixty Sixteen", which begins with a series of pure organ tones that will sort the cheap speakers from the expensive ones if you have them cranked. Again this has echoes of Jarre in it- if only in the interplay of the stringed instruments, but who cares- it’s great listening anyway. It gradually builds to some great belly-dancing peak, but in an understated way.

All in all, this is a solid, technically well-crafted album, with all tracks outstanding- not a skipper in the bunch. It is one to take on the road or on a workout. If this is a typical example of Banco De Gaia, I am really looking forward to his other releases. Highly recommended.

ã 2001 Sunfell

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