By Jim Brenholts
The Elements Series
Peter Kater is one of the finest contemporary artists in the modern new age community. He is an extraordinary composer, sound designer, arranger and technician. Above and beyond all that, he is a gifted and sensitive performer, specifically on keyboards. He has no peer as a pianist.
Many listeners and readers will be more familiar with him as a frequent collaborator with R. Carlos Nakai and Nawang Khechog. To be sure, those performances are excellent works. However, Peter’s solo albums are also magnificent.
He has created the Elements Series for the Real Music Label. It includes four separate yet interrelated releases — Fire, Water, Air and Earth — referring to the beliefs of prehistoric and ancient civilizations that those were the only elements.
(While each CD merits its own review, the similarities and progressions do require continuous cross references among the discs. Any repetition in the reviews is intentional to make a point.)
Fire is the first CD in Peter Kater’s Elements Series. It features Peter on piano, Paul McCandless on penny whistles, oboe, English horn and soprano saxophone and Ludwig Girdland on violin.
This is a deep and very satisfying CD. Peter’s sound design incorporates all of these flawlessly into one cohesive soundscape with seven movements (tracks) and dozens of submovements (atmospheres) and effects (emphasis on the first syllable). The acoustic instruments play around, with, from and to each other. The airs and melodies are simple and elegant. The textures are smooth and vibrant. The soundscape is deep and diverse.
The album also lends itself to several adventures and to nothing at all. This set is excellent for meditation, massage, relaxation, light yoga and/or light aerobics. Its best use, however, might be as nothing — the unobtrusive sound-track to a busy day or a small social gathering. It fits Erik Satie’s much quoted (including by Brain Eno) definition of ambient music. It is interesting enough to be the focus of a deep listening session and innocuous enough to be ignored. It is also — to overuse another overused term — essential for all collectors of new age music.
Water is Peter Kater’s second installment in his Elements series. This disc features, of course, Peter on the acoustic piano with accompaniment by Paul McCandless (oboe and English Horn) and Mike Hamilton (guitars).
The structure is similar to the other discs in the series. Peter’s sound design style allows this album to unfold as a symphony with each of the eight tracks representing a movement. The properties of the acoustic instruments are increased exponentially by Peter’s recording techniques. Each has its own voice yet relies on the others for strength and embellishment. The whole is much greater than the sum of its parts while each part remains an integral piece of the puzzle. It is reminiscent of 12-step philosophy — emphasizing the we while acknowledging and supporting the I.
The big difference on the CD is the inclusion of Mike’s superb acoustic guitars. They enhance Peter’s and Paul’s artistry smoothly and deftly. This is another set of flawless performances from some masters of their craft. It is, again, essential.
The third disc in the Elements Series, by Peter Kater, is Air. Peter steps into some different territory on this disc. Accompanying Peter are Paul McCandless on penny whistles, oboe and soprano sax, and Richard Hardy on bamboo flute and soprano flutes. Peter also accompanies his piano himself with synthesizers, sequencers and his voice (subtle and processed chanting).
He has also varied the structure somewhat. This symphony has only four movements, each over 14 minutes long. The organic textures from Peter’s synths surround the acoustic melodies with billowing atmospheres and deep timbres. Richard’s bamboo flute is the perfect enhancement for the atmospheres. Paul’s elite acoustics are simple and intricate, and add touches of elegance to the soundscape.
The depth of this aura is exceptional. The electronics add overtones to the sound design giving the set psychoactive appeal. That enhances its prowess as a holistic healing tool and as a subtle ambient background. This is, again (I’m sorry), essential listening and comes highly recommended.
Earth is the final — and most powerful — CD in Peter Kater’s Elements Series. Mike Hamilton is back on guitars as is Richard Hardy on bamboo and Native American flutes and the soprano sax. Peter is on the piano, synths and sequencers.
The structure is also a tad different again. This symphony has 11 movements. The flutes and electronics mesh to form seamless atmospheres. Mike’s guitars enhance them effortlessly and poignantly. They surround the airs and, thus, are surrounded themselves. The performances are flawless — again. This CD is great for all practices of the holistic New Age. While listing them is redundant, continuing them is not. This disc ties the series together and is the best of the four albums. Thus it is (please forgive me) also essential.
It would be wonderful if Real Music offered this as a four-disc set. As offered, it is “only” great. The progression through the series seems intentional and is readily apparent. Regardless of the listening mode — focused, casual or offhanded — the listener will feel refreshed and rejuvenated. While the entire series is essential, each disc is better than its predecessor. It has been great fun to review this set.
Reiki Whale Dreaming
New Earth Records
There are dozens of Reiki CD’s available and most of them are excellent. There are also dozens of CD’s that use the songs of whales, most of which are also excellent. Reiki Whale Song, by Kamal, and Grooved Whale, by Lisa Walker, have blended both into a stunning landmark achievement that — until now — had been unequaled. Reiki Whale Dreaming is, quite simply and succinctly, one of the best new age CD’s of all time! Kamal has done it again!
Incorporating natural sounds and tones of the ocean and songs of whales into and with graceful symphonies and atmospheres, Kamal creates deep beds of serenity and peace. Listeners can crawl into them, surrender to the moment and get lost in journeys of bliss and harmony. This CD is absolutely narcotic in its effects on the focused listener. The music surrounds and becomes an integral part of the brain’s activities. It stretches its blankets to encompass the heart and the soul. It does so gently and lovingly, and with dignity and grace. Listeners will be able to emotionalize and spiritualize the experience as Kamal merely guides and provides options. He does not lead or control.
Kamal composed, arranged, performed, mixed and mastered this CD with help from many friends — besides, of course, the whales. Most known among the contributors are Terry Oldfield and Dr. Didg. Harry Manx, Cleis Pierce, Ariel Kalma and “A Very Special Friend” also participated. The whale songs were recorded by Frank Washington and Dr. Roger Payne.
This disc, along with the aforementioned Reiki Whale Song and Grooved Whale are the new age CD’s with ocean sounds against which all others will be compared. That is an unbeatable triumvirate.
Jeff Kowal, recording as Terra Ambient, made a huge impact with his debut CD, The Darker Space, in 2002. He has followed that with The Gate, a deep tribal ambient sonic adventure that demands focused listening.
Jeff is an extremely gifted multi-instrumentalist. He is a master on virtually every musical instrument he has tried. On this CD, he uses: electric and processed guitars, guitar samples, acoustic and processed bonsuri, harmonic over-tone singing, voice and voice sam-ples, didgeridoo, pipa (Chinese lute), Chinese Gongs, Tibetan singing bowls, kalimba, congas, udu, dumbek, djembe, shakeri, barim-bau, frame drums, tinksha, rattles and a garbage can lid. (Jeff might be the first virtuoso Garbage Can “Liddist” since The Flying Lizards from the late 1970’s.) That is quite a list and noteworthy because Jeff has used no synthesizers in the creation of this disc. (He is also a master on the synth.)
Sounds on this CD are quite unique to Jeff. They create many different paths for deep listeners to follow.
(In order to describe this in its best light, I must relate a personal story. Jeff is a close friend of mine and he sent me an advance copy of this album in early 2004. I was sitting on my couch holding my grandson, Rigel, in my lap (probably the best thing in the world to do). The Gate was on my CD changer. Rigel, who was about nine or ten months old at the time, started dancing to the deep rhythms. I joined him and I stood up and danced with him in my arms. The tempo switched and I slowed to a sway. Rigel was soon sleeping with his head on my shoulder (second best thing in the world) as I rocked him gently. I sat down and continued my movements. The tempo increased and Rigel — still asleep — began rocking himself in my arms. He continued to do this throughput the entire CD. It was a truly beautiful experience.
I have repeated this experience on my own several times over the past year. (Rigel is now almost two and a half and doesn’t sit still very much. Pictures can be seen at www.darkduck.net/brenholts and www.darkduck.net/brenholts/wed-pics.) Each adventure has been deep, alive and clear. Each awakening has been refreshing and invigorating.)
Jeff continues to impress and grow as he and his partners in
Lotuspike — Ben Cox and Dan Pipitone — develop their niche in the
ambient music community. It is likely there will be many more gems
from this Pittsburgh-based label. Awareness readers can only hope
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