Independent release, 2010
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/27/2010
Back in the early days of labels such as Narada and Windham Hill, before what is now known as “smooth jazz” bastardized the genre, I believe that the original form of “New Age” music consisted of light, instrumental acoustic songs that reached into the soul and made the listener sit back and absorb the beauty of the world. I still remember the very first time I heard the song “Fisherman’s Dream” off a sampler record I was given at Rose Records in Des Plaines – it’s long gone, and is now, I believe, an Oriental food store – and how the gentle lilts of this one piece of music could make a nouveau metalhead such as I was marvel at beauty that was simplistic yet complex at the same time.
So, it should be no surprise to see Will Ackerman, the founder of Windham Hill Records, serve as the producer for Arrival, a CD of guitar and piano music from Devin Rice and Erin Aas, for this disc seems to reach back to the early days of new age music, tapping a vein that, honestly, seems to have been forgotten about in the genre over the past few years. And while this disc occasionally allows the listener to focus in on the beauty of the instrumentation, Rice and Aas haven’t figured a way to keep the listener’s interest locked quite yet.
Two years in the making, the overall sound of this disc reminds me of not only early Windham Hill and Narada releases, but also the early work of artists like Doug Smith, whose guitar mastery worked into additional instrumentation that complemented the work of the six-string. There is no doubt that both Rice and Aas are magnificent guitarists; the opening track “Thyn Ayre” proves that without a doubt. But what is surprising about this duo is that when Rice switches to piano (occasionally overlaid with his guitar work) and Aas handles the string work, neither instrument jumps to the forefront, nor do they fight for the listener’s attention. Instead, they become a natural blend as if they are one voice, and this speaks volumes for this duo’s musical partnership that they can do this so seamlessly.
Likewise, tracks such as “Tribute To Robert Frost,” “Perdido En Granada,” “Morning With Annie,” and “Stars Of Winter” showcase the instrumental mastery of Rice and Aas, making the listener wonder if they’re listening to the first volley in a hopefully long career.
There are, though, some minor weaknesses. I am not certain whether Rice and Aas intended for their guitars to be slightly out of tune with each other on the track “Nevada,” but it is not only noticeable, but it becomes distracting. And while the music overall on this disc is breathtakingly beautiful, it has the tendency to lull the listener into listening to it subconsciously – all in all, not a terrible thing, but when one is trying to pay attention to the nuances of the performances, it is a little off-putting.
In a similar vein, Rice and Aas include guest musicians through a good portion of Arrival, but for the most part, unless one was reading the liner notes, their contributions would be missed. I, for one, am guilty of this, having overlooked the fact that Ackerman himself contributes the final guitar solo on “Whiskey In The Watertower.”
Still, Arrival is, overall, a very solid effort from Rice and Aas, and not only champions acoustic music, but serves as a reminder of just how powerful new age music originally could – and still could – be. Here’s hoping that this is the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership between these two musicians.