Darshan Ambient’s Little Things – The Echoes CD of the Month for September
In the days before YouTube, iTunes and most other on-line music sources, Darshan Ambient was a minor star at mp3.com, the renowned legal music download site. He released his music there and garnered nearly 100,000 listens. That’s not much in terms of YouTube’s multi-million-listen hypes, but it was a lot in the fledgling days of on-line music.
Listening to Darshan Ambient you might not suspect that Michael Allison, the man behind DA, spent years playing edgy R&B with Nona Hendryx and punk with Richard Hell. That’s not an overt influence in Darshan Ambient’s music, and that’s especially true on his new CD, Little Things. But it’s there: in the musicality of his sound, the hook of his melodies, and the gentle tug of grooves that range from Jon Hassell-like rhythmic amalgams to jazz syncopations.
On “UnUsual Thursday,” Darshan Ambient seduces with unmoored ambiences before locking you in with an ambiguously ethnic percussion groove. Is it Indian? African? Does it matter in the cross-cultural world where digital sound objects are available to anyone? In this digital ethnic world a sarangi lick can open a track like “Slow Drum”. Allison doesn’t play the Indian bowed instrument, but someone did somewhere at some time, and Allison uses that phrase to lead-off his piece, employing the signifiers of Indian music to create an ethnic music from culture that doesn’t exist.
That’s one of the questions posed by Michael Allison on his most mature and sublime album too date. It features a seamless flow of sounds that are sometimes eastern, sometimes African, sometimes urban. “The Mystery of Sleep” harkens back to Robert Rich’s techno-tribal moods, as Allison employs spare, picked electric guitar timbres, cello and lap steel guitar in this slowly throbbing piece. Rich uses lap steel as well, usually as a snaky Middle Eastern wail, but Darshan Ambient taps its country affinity to take middle eastern grooves into the west on “Shadow Country”, a new twist on Ambient Americana.
Michael Allison is a musical omnivore, so it’s not surprising when references to Miles Davis with a trumpet and tamboura drone turn up on the corner of Darshan’s “52nd St.” After all, Darshan’s 2011 album, Dream In Blue, was an homage to Miles. It’s even less surprising when Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” is sound-checked on “Fields.” One might also hear Reich’s “Violin Phase” on “There!” or maybe it could be The Penguin Café Orchestra.
Little Things is as dark as it is dreamy, as melodically inviting as it is atmospherically enveloping, and it’s Darshan Ambient’s best album to date.
John Diliberto (((echoes)))
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