Astromusic Records, 2001
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/07/2001
In four-and-a-half years of running this site, I think we've come close to reviewing every genre of music, except for strict classical (which will be changing soon) and opera. But nothing prepared me a few months ago for a disc which arrived in the mail from instrumentalist Gerald Jay Markoe.
It was inevitable, I guess. We've reviewed traditional music from Nepal, filk music, Celtic music - we're even getting world music from countries I've never even heard of. (Memo to Duke: That reminds me, I've got to put together a package for you.) But Zen Meditations flipped me out. Imagine - a disc that not only featured music to help you in trying to achieve oneness with the cosmos, but it even came with instructions for basic meditation. (In all fairness, I did practice meditation for a while in college - it was a course called Basic Microeconomics. I went into such a trance that the janitor had to peel me off the ceiling with his broom. Man, even Jolt Cola couldn't get me interested in that snooze-a-thon... and I still don't know how I got an "A".)
It's bad enough that I know I'm alienating the metalheads who came in to read the Emperor review today just by featuring this disc. But I'm going to alienate everyone by this admission: I actually like this disc - to a point, that is. Okay, stop laughing, and let me explain.
I am not into this whole-earth contemplate-your-navel cosmic bullshit scene - never have been, never will be. Cripes, I can't even see my navel. (I practiced existentialism for a while - that is, until I decided the whole philosophy was absurd.) So, hopefully Mr. Markoe will forgive me if I don't exactly take on this disc in the manner originally prescribed. (Not that I didn't appreciate the crystal he sent with the disc, though.) Fact is, putting a disc in front of the average person and saying something about Zen meditation will make them run from the room faster than the audience during a melee at The Source Hip-Hop Awards.
So, let's instead take this disc on as a collection of world music-based new-age tracks. That's right... I said "new age". Not all of it is like Yanni. Turn down the lights, and clear your mind of the preconceptions you may take into this disc. Now, take a deep breath, press "play," and close your eyes...
Ommmmm...ygod, I'm actually liking this disc, you might say to yourself. In all truth, Markoe takes the lessons he's learned having practiced Zen meditation for 40 years and creates a soundtrack that allows the mind to relax. Admittedly, you have to have some liking for music with a distinct Tibetian or Asian flavor, but if you accept the music as it is, Zen Meditations proves to be a disc which is quite enjoyable.
Normally, when I say a disc could put me to sleep, I mean it as an insult. But in the case of Zen Meditations, I could honestly see myself playing this disc in the background after having an absolutely rotten day at the office (which I seem to have more and more of as I get older), and allowing myself to pass into slumber with this as my soundtrack. Just sitting in front of my computer listening to this disc the first time, I actually felt better - tensions running out of my body, mind slowing down from a day of solving problems... or at least not making them worse. Markoe has, in fact, perpetuated the concept of the Environments records from some 25 years ago (especially with the nature sounds scattered on this disc) and created a relaxation piece that, for an hour, takes you away from the nonsense of the day-to-day world and allows you to just be with yourself and your innermost thoughts.
And, in a sense, isn't that one of the whole purposes of Zen meditation?
So why do I only like Zen Meditations to a point? By the time you get to the final tracks on the disc, like "Enlightenment" and "Naturalness," it does feel like the concept is beginning to wear a little thin. (Admittedly, even these tracks have their moments.) Still, not a major point.
So, there you have it: a review of Zen Meditations pretty much free from the cheap-shots one might have expected me to take. This disc probably isn't for everyone - but it probably should be. This is a surprisingly wonderful selection - and proof positive that some of the best CDs aren't found in the weekly Best Buy circular. Pick this disc up, take a chance on Markoe and his music. I mean, what do you have to lose, besides your life's stresses for an hour?