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(44:30, Sona Gaia Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Lakshmi Rocks Me 2:52 2. Dance of the Rain Forest 4:45 3. April Air 3:57 4. 14 Steps 5. End of the Beginning 5:15 6. Turkish Taffy 4:55 7. Alap 1:10 8. Indra’s Net 4:53 9. Nyo Nyo Gde 4:00 10. Gopi Song 7:46 LINEUP: Mathew Monfort – ac., el. & other guitars, mandolin Doug McKeehan – ac. & el. violins; guitars Jim Hurley – synthesizers, piano Ian Dogole – exotic percussion With: Bill Douglas – bass; flutes Zakir Hussain – tabla Jack Dorsey – drums
Prolusion. ANCIENT FUTURE is an American ensemble, which is widely recognized for being originators of the World Fusion style. Their classic 1990 release “World without Walls” was nominated by broadcasters worldwide as Zone Music Reporter's Best World Album of 2011. On June 7, 2011, the exact lineup of Ancient Future, which performed on the recording, reunited to perform for the first time in over 15 years at Yoshi's San Francisco and other venues. To celebrate the reunion, Capitol/EMI Records has released the first ever digital version of the album. Here is the review of its original CD version, which was issued by the Sona Gaia label, a division of MCA Records.
Analysis. There are ten tracks here, and the titles of three of those, Lakshmi Rocks Me, Indra's Net and Gopi Song, instantly bring to mind an idea that the Ancient Fusion musicians are acquainted with such wonderful mystic/metaphysical teachings as “Bhagavad-Gita” and “Shrimad Bhagavatam”. (By the way, I perceive the construction of the world – to put it roughly and succinctly alike – the same way as it’s depicted in these books). As to the album itself, it normally finds them embracing two distinctly different idioms, Jazz-Fusion and World Music, in quite a high progressive manner, without any conflicting results at all. Yes, this is just what they have always been doing as a band, albeit this time out, the latter constituent of their style does refer to Indian motifs really frequently, which isn’t too surprising on the other hand, bearing in mind the above notes. A half of the compositions, Lakshmi Rocks Me, 14 Steps, Indra's Net, Turkish Taffy and End of the Beginning, come across in no other way than as wonderful, kind of jazz-driven, musical trips to India, with visiting Palestine and Tibet while on the latter two ‘routes’ respectively. The music might bring to mind Shakti or even Mahavishnu Orchestra circa “Visions of Emerald Beyond” – only think a few tabla players instead of Michael Walden, who is a drummer, as you might know. All five of the pieces are masterworks to my mind, even though the disc opener is somewhat straighter than the others, on each of which the band often does favor strong, truly ensemble, playing over melodic development, with Matthew Montfort and Jim Hurley putting layers of various guitars and violins (respectively) over the top of Ian Dogole’s mallet percussion instruments which, in turn, set up both basic beats and complex rhythms. Montfort’s style of playing guitars is beyond comparison, since it’s really one-of-a-kind. Appearing much more often as a violinist than as a guitarist, Hurley now reveals an intensity that evokes both Subramaniam and Grapelli on their collaborative effort “Conversation”, now has a softer approach to his performance, later being reminiscent of Jean-Luc Ponty on the aforementioned Mahavishnu album. The liberal use of exotic percussion (tabla, udu, kanjira and more) adds a variety of Eastern colorations – not only to the describing five pieces, but to most of the others as well. Doug McKeehan provides lush synthesizer passages, mainly as a background for Montfort and Hurley’s explorations. Where he often appears as a central player is on Gopi Song, contributing plenty of bright piano leads to the piece. Coming across as a complex jazz-fusion ballad with hints of European classical music, this is a very good composition, as also is Alap, no matter that it’s quite short. Only featuring Montfort, this is a piece for acoustic guitar with a strong Eastern feel to it. The remaining three tracks, Nyo Nyo Gde, Dance of the Rain Forest and April Air, are all much jazzier, and while the first of them contains World Music-related motifs (this time Chinese ones), the others remain within the domain of Jazz-Fusion throughout, conflicting with the band’s main style, and by the way, only these two deploy a drum kit – read: have a concrete bottom end. The latter piece is my least favorite track here. It really does leave much to be desired, representing a set of melodic piano improvisations done over simple, swing-based, rhythms.
Conclusion. I still prefer “Planet Jamming” (2003) to any of the other Ancient Future outings that I’m familiar with, but “World without Walls” has just become my second favorite album by the band. Overall, this is a really strong effort. Full of creative inspiration, it also has a spirit of excitement and adventure that are often lacking in contemporary jazz-fusion releases.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: March 21, 2012
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