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Music, Reviewed

I have an interesting and diverse musical collection. Some of it is sonically incredible, but the artists are relatively unknown.   That's sad, really, because there are a lot of lovely musical moments languishing on the shelves while most people listen to what I'll politely call noise. There aren't any audio samples here or links to any music companies- you'll have to do the keyboarding yourself. But I think you'll find the effort well worth the enjoyment these artists will bring.

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The Reviews

Bella Sonus: Enamoured

Eddie Jobson: Theme of Secrets

Jean Michael Jarre overview

William Orbit overview

Banco De Gaia: Igizeh

Spiritual High

Waterbone: Tibet

Amethystium: Odonata

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Bella Sonus: Enamoured

Neurodisc Records 2000

I picked this CD up on impulse during a visit to my Overpriced Record Department in my Pretentious Big Name Bookstore (the one with the Coffeeshop That Shall Not Be Named). It was one of those serendipitous moments- the music department equivalent of a book falling off a shelf. It just ‘stuck’ to my hand (honest!), so I shelled out More Than I Should Have and brought it home. I hated to do it, but I’d do it again, because this album was worth it.

Set your subwoofers on ‘stun’- because the very first note of this wonderful chilled-eclectic-urban album will put them to the test. No boombaboom car-buzzing nonsense- the deep, rich bass is used in a melodic manner as part of the melody line in most of the tracks, and sets the mood for 71 minutes of blissful chill. My first taste of it was in my car driving home- and I enjoyed it so much that I took the ‘long’ way just so I could enjoy it. It made the transition from Car to Klipsch, and really gave my bass reflectors a workout.

The music is an eclectic mixture of electronic, vocal and orchestral instruments, with elements that invoke the very best elements of Aria, Enigma, Delirium and Dead Can Dance. There is some wonderful flamenco-style guitar, (Gypsy) some ethereal chanting monks (Crimson Sands), and a piece, that when played on a surround sound system will have you swearing that you are snapping your own fingers (Eye of the Beholder). Vocals are airy and non-intrusive. The recording was crystal clear, and the spatial placement of percussive elements in the sound field was three-dimensional. The percussion is lively and crisp- no pop-synth drum machines here! Sadly, the liner notes were sparse, but that is my only complaint. OK, I am a background geek- I like to know how they got there.

This is good music for writing- or doing Tantric work, if you are the slow-hand sort. Try listening to it through speakers, and then through headphones. A surround sound system will place you into the center of a vortex of panning and shifting percussion and vibrant orchestrations that will take your mind soaring.

"Enamoured" is quite a good title for this album- it certainly has enamoured me with its eclectic blend of styles and colors.

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Eddie Jobson: Theme of Secrets

Private Music

I have a love-hate relationship with sampler albums from the various labels. I love them because they introduce me to all sorts of artists, styles and forms of music in an inexpensive format. I hate them, because chances are that I will want every album in the collection. I’ve done that, too- bought an album solely because I liked the tastes of the label which produced it. Windham Hill, Narada, and Private Music all have a large amount of my ‘disposable’ income.

So when I heard Eddie Jobson’s "Outer Secrets" on the first Private Music sampler, I wanted to gallop out and grab the album right away to hear the rest of it. Unfortunately, the PX did not carry much of PM’s back catalog, nor did the shops off base. It was ten years before I got my grubby paws on his "Theme of Secrets" album, in a used record store.

It was well worth the wait. "Theme of Secrets" is one of those rare sonic jewels that crops up very rarely. It was entirely composed and played on the Synclavier Music Computer- one of those dream instruments that, along with the Fairlight, was the source of many fantastic compositions from electronic artists in the 80s.

Theme of Secrets has two main musical themes. The first, "Inner Secrets", is introduced in the first cut as a piano piece- almost a rough cut of what would later in the album blossom fully realized in "Theme of Secrets" and "Outer Secrets" which concludes the short (41 minute) album. The second theme is more abstract and wintry, beginning with "Spheres of Influence" and interleaving with three other tracks to round out the secondary theme. Together, they build towards the mysterious and intriguing finale.

Sadly, this CD is out of print, but if you look hard and long enough, you might luck out like I did, and find it.

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Jean-Michel Jarre : Overview

The late 70s programmable analog Moog and early digital synthesizers like the Synclavier and Fairlight in the early 80s launched a whole slew of brilliant electronic music. This period saw the musical debuts of Tangerine Dream, Synergy, Tomita, early Yanni and Kitaro (before their sad descent in to syrupy New Age sound-alike fluff), and of course, the digital soundtrack god Vangelis. But the absolute avant-garde, and still king of the heap is Jean-Michel Jarre.

His music pioneered many current trends- the looping rhythms, the layered icy synths, and the vocal samples that are now part and parcel of the majority electronic music played today. Drums in the Early Days were programmable beat boxes instead of today’s eclectic live ethnic mixes, and along with the shaky mastering in the new medium of CDs, are the only element that really ‘dates’ the music of this period. Subsequent releases of these artists’ albums have corrected the engineering flubs, but have preserved both the charm and annoyances of this era.

Jarre not only wrote good music, he gave great performances with it. His pyrotechnic and laser spectaculars are the stuff of legend, and a Jarre concert is not to be missed if it comes your way. He even has a laser ‘harp’ that is featured in many of his concerts.

Of all his albums, "Zoolook" (1984) has to be one of the most intriguing and unusual for its day, and still holds up well nearly 15 years later. His use of backwards sound, sampled voices, vocoders, and brilliant stereo panning make this album a headphone must-listen. If you are a polyglot, try to see if you can determine what languages you’re hearing in the opening track. I dare you. (They were listed in the liner notes of the original CD pressing.) This is probably the seminal sample album of all time- you can tell that Jarre enjoys his ‘toys’ and puts them all to good use. Give it a whirl on a surround system- you’ll be in for a treat- especially the second cut (Diva). The dripping water is particularly interesting. And that’s Laurie Anderson doing the vocal gymnastics in the second half of the piece.

You might also listen to this album and realize that this is early Goth, too- with its brilliantly dark tones and otherworldly echoes. It is always fun to speculate on who created ‘album zero’ of a musical trend. While Jarre isn’t as oppressively gloomy and industrial as some full-fledged Goth music eventually became, you can hear the funereal roots of the trend in this album more than his others. "Zoolook" is a journey through a dripping ruin on an overcast day, with the sun breaking out in his more danceable cuts. Perhaps he is too optimistically upbeat to be truly Goth, but you can certainly hear the precursors here.

"Magnetic Fields" "Equinoxe" and "Oxygene" are more typical Jarre fare. Here, he breaks out the trippy Eurodance rhythms that reflect Giorgio Moroder and the dying (in the USA, anyway) disco movement. But he infuses them with richness and depth that makes them classics today, unlike the throwaway fare that was most pop/dance music of the mid-late 80s. His music is irrepressibly French- in both bombast and mood. His is what I call ‘high-calorie’ electronic listening- layers and layers of sounds in a deep field of nuanced color. The good part is that you won’t get fat consuming this French feast! Whether ‘space’ or ‘dance’, Jarre is always avant-garde, and is still going strong 16 years later.

An aside: I always break out both the album and its liner notes when I write about my music- and one thing I have noted is that today’s CD ‘jewel cases’ are much lighter than the cases of the early 80s. I don’t have a scale, but I’d almost swear that the empty cases weigh at least an ounce more. Progress, I guess- it was the same for the early microwaveable ‘plate’ dinners and liter bottles, too, as I recall.

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William Orbit: Overview

What can I say? I am a sucker for Euro and British dance music- not that mindless disco bubblegum stuff, but music that the original raves in Britain played before the corporate drones and druggies ran them into oblivion.

William Orbit’s music certainly comprised a lot of that mid-late 80s sound, with its long grooves and danceable peaks. There is something about the drive and rhythm of British and European dance music that seems to vanish when the style crosses the Atlantic, and I have never understood why. The rhythm and hook grabs you and impels you to move- for hours on end, unlike the sodden thump-thump of the Edited for American (lack of) Taste version that washes up on our shores.

It’s sad, really, because we’re really missing out. William Orbit’s music will give you a small reason why.

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