By Jim Brenholts



Joanne Shenandoah
Warrior in Two Worlds
2000 Red Feather Music
Joaane Shenandoah felt honored when Ann Sparling of WXXI, a PBS station, asked her to compose and perform the music for Warrior in Two Worlds, a documentary on the life of Ely Parker — Iroquois Chief, anthropologist, engineer, writer, military leader, influential government official and successful businessman. As an Iroquois herself, Joanne “was convinced that I could present Parker’s life through a musical style he would have found familiar and in harmony with the times.”

His life is a fascinating story. He rose from a representative of the Seneca Nation to a brigadier General under U.S. Grant. In fact, Parker wrote the articles of surrender that Robert E. Lee signed at Appomattox.

Joanne’s instincts have served her well. Her music is lyrical and dark, helping to define the confusion in Parker’s life. (While he was brilliant and respected, neither the Native Americans nor white Americans accepted him fully.) The atmopsheres border on dirges and the brief soundscapes (all under four minutes) flow smoothly. While the music is integral to the film, listeners can also enjoy it immensely in its own right.

This CD is also somewhat of a departure for Joanne in that her vocals do not dominate the sound design. They are present and wonderful but they serve more as complements to the rest of the music. She weaves her voice above, below and through the atmospheric music. Using ethereal flutes, synths, guitars and indigenous sounds, Joanne builds suspense and empathy. Deep listeners will feel Parker’s plight as he searches for his niche in tumultuous times.

Joanne has received many awards and much respect during her career. This might well be her finest moment.

Mary Youngblood
Dance with the Wind
2006 Silverwave Records
Mary Youngblood is one of the premiere flutists in the USA — regardless of type or style. She has won numerous awards and much acclaim during her career. (Her debut, The Offering, was released in 1999.) She does it all with a very simple sound design. She eschews electronics, relying, instead, on the inherent properties of acoustic instruments to create atmospheres and moods.

Her music is alive! Mary’s style has its own niche. She is a sensitive soul, attuned to the search for answers among the mysteries in her world. The movements and voices of trees inspired Dance with the Wind.

Sometimes the wind is a gentle breeze. Sometimes it roars in a raging storm. When Mary lets the wind flow through her flute, she creates beauty and joy. The wind also moves trees. Mary writes, “The trees have given a voice to me, the voice that sings to you now.”

This music has depth and soul that evoke feelings of freedom, gratitude and love. She gathers information from many quarters. First and foremost is her family — four children, one daughter-in-law and one greatgranddaughter. Mary also thanks her church family, her collaborators and several friends. As her music indicates, she is a rich woman with a generous heart and a kind soul. Her music gives much and asks little in return.

There are dozens of styles of Native American music. While Mary’s music has similarities to many of them, it has its own unique voice. This is a great CD from a great woman!

R. Carlos Nakai
1985 Canyon Records
(I went back to a 1985 recording because this one is, in my opinion, Nakai’s most unique and most inspirational recording.)
In a career that has spanned more than two decades, R. Carlos Nakai has created alot of brilliant soundscapes. While many are equal to the genius of Cycles, none surpass it.

To paraphrase Carlos’ liner notes, this music relates the experiences he felt during his time in the Northern Plains and the Southwest Desert. He perceived these sonic experiences “when in harmony with the cycles of life.” These compositions define Earth/Mind consciousness, musically.

This is also atmospheric ambience of the highest order. Carlos enhances his native American flutes and drums with a synthesizer. The resultant atmospheres and soundscapes have tremendous depth and limitless soul. Carlos’ sensitive style and graceful touch create vast clouds of music with great holistic healing powers. Deep listeners will go on extraordinary journeys with Carlos as the guide. Serious meditation will facilitate alignment of the mind, body and soul with the four ancient elements — fire, earth, water and air. It all balances life cycles and fills the voids with life energy and harmony.

Carlos has dozens of CD’s in his discography. Most of them are excellent but none are better than this one.

Johnny Whitehorse
Johnny Whitehorse
2006 Silverwave Records
“Johnny Whitehorse is a character creation of Robert Mirabal.” That is according to the liner notes of this CD. Consistent with Robert’s other releases, the sound design is flawless. He combines traditional acoustic instruments with subtle electronics (courtesy of Larry Mitchell.)

This is a great CD! Robert immerses himself in this character to the extreme. (It is almost scary and certainly eerie.) Johnny’s persona is that of a craftsman and a traditionalist. He creates music to deliver praise and homage to his heritage and to the spirituality of Native Americans.

While this is great music, it does take an effort to appreciate the nuances to the fuillest. It is possible to use this as background ambience, but deep listening and serious involvement capture the depth. The atmospheres and soundscapes are rich and full, relating several subtle messages. Deep listeners will enter Johnny’s world so it is important to read the liner notes and to appreciate him as his own entity rather than as an extension of Robert Mirabal. As stated above, that can be eerie but it is also rewarding.

These gentle atmospheres are excellent for meditation and holistic healing practices. Robert’s production and recording techniques take full advantage of the inherent overtone properties of the acoustic instruments — specifically the flute and didgeridoo. The performance are rich and soulful. The experience is grand.

This album is a true gem, going above and beyond the norm into the perpendicular universe.

Jorge Alfano and Akoncagua
Spirit of my People
2002 Sacred Spirit Institute
Jorge Alfano is a 21st century renaissance man. He began his musical career by running away to tour with a popular vocalist when he was 13 years old and living in Argentina. In the ensuing years he has become a master of the Quena — a South American bamboo flute — and an expert multi-instrumentalist. He is also an ordained Metaphysical Minister and founder of the Sacred Sounds Institute, a center for the development of consciousness through music and meditation.

Spirit of My People is a set of 13 acoustic performances, two of which are original compositions. The others are traditional Native South American pieces. Peter Kater recorded and co-produced this album. Akoncagua is Jorge’s band, composed of Jorge, Randy Crafton, Fernando Otero, Hector DelCutto and Leonardo Suarez Paz.

This music is sweet, sublime and spiritual. Jorge’s passion for the traditions of his heritage allows for great depth. His willingness to stretch those boundaries enhances the music’s spirit. The sound design incorporates elements of new age music, jazz and ambient music. The nature elements of the acoustics generate vast atmospheres and smooth overtones. The soundscapes are relaxing and serene. The textures and timbres are strong and powerful.

This CD is absolutely essential. It has all of the qualities that make acoustic holistic healing music great!

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