Posts Tagged ‘John Diliberto’

25 Essential Echoes CDs for 2013

December 13, 2013

Some years are better than others and 2013 was much better than most.  Right now, you can Vote in the Best of Echoes 2013 Listener Poll.   But, this list is different.  This is compiled by the brain trust of Echoes.  These are the CDs we played on the show in 2013 that we thought represented the best, and most innovative aspects of the Echoes soundscape in this past year.  If your favorites aren’t on here, I’m not surprised.  This was one of the most outstanding years ever for Echoes music.  A lot of the albums left off could just as well have been put on.  But we had to pick 25 so here they are. You can see a straight list at the end.


TimeLapseLudovico Einaudi  In a Time Lapse
Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi is a giant in Europe but still just lapping at America’s shores.  But he swept over Echoes years ago. The Echoes CD of the Month in March, In a Time Lapse is a defining album on which Einaudi pulled out all the stops, synthesizing a 21st century classicism that is all-embracing in its musical influences, and all-enveloping in its emotional sweep.

StoriesRhian Sheehan   Stories from Elsewhere
New Zealand composer Rhian Sheehan may have created one of the most sublime shadings of ambient chamber music on his 7th album, Stories from Elsewhere.  It’s a magical CD of soaring strings, surging rhythms, childlike music boxes and ambient expanses that sounds both familiar and timeless. It was a CD of the Month in May.

UNQOTSA-500Olivier Libaux  Uncovered Queens of the Stone Age
Why this album wasn’t more popular is one of the mysteries of 2013.  I suspect that confusing branding, poor distribution and limited marketing kept this CD under the radar.  Olivier Libaux is part of the New Wave/Punk cover band Nouvelle Vague but he stepped out on his own to record an entire CD of tunes by Queens of the Stone Age.  All the high priests of hip at Pitchfork, Stereogum and Popmatters completely missed this album where Libaux, accompanied by singers including Emilianna Torinni and Inara George, accomplishes a sublime re-imagining of this alt-metal band’s music. It was a CD of the Month in July.

Innocents-250Moby   Innocents
The hipsters missed Libaux, but many called this Moby’s best album since Play.  I think it’s just a continuation of his atmospheric, introspective trilogy that began with Wait for Me and Destroyed.  A CD of the Month in NovemberInnocents is the most soothing melancholy.

Olafur-Arnalds-For-Now-I-Am-Winter-2505 Ólafur Arnalds   For Now I Am Winter
Both sophisticated and edgy, Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds inhabits his own sonic universe, balancing emotions and mood on a laser’s edge of strings echoing out of frozen skies and electronics trawling the substrata.  For Now I Am Winter is his most mature work to date and a CD of the Month in April.

Scenes from a train6  Jeff Greinke Scenes from a Train
Ambient music veteran Jeff Greinke reveals a grasp of orchestration never evident in his music before in this album of exotic chamber music with acoustic horns and strings.

AnomicJah Wobble & Marconi Union Anomic
Although Anomic only came out in early 2013, I feel like I’ve been listening to it for years.  It has that sense of the classic about it. Bassist Jah Wobble brings his deep dub bass lines to Marconi Unions haunting electronic themes.

Oblivion-cvr8 Hammock Oblivion Hymns
Following up their 2012 CD of the Year, Departure Songs, Hammock goes deeper into their ambient chamber music with children’s choirs emerging out of swirling deeply processed guitars.  It will be the first CD of the Month of 2014.

Tales9 Bombay Dub Orchestra  Tales from the Grand Bazaar
Despite the presence of reggae rhyhm legends Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare on some tracks,  this is actually the most serene and melodically driven album yet of BDO’s merging of eastern music, electronic grooves and Bollywood strings.

lamentation10 Azam Ali & Loga Torkian   Lamentation of Swans-A Journey Towards Silence
The leaders of Niyaz released a deeply intimate and personal album with Azam Ali returning to her wordless vocals in this album of slow, sensual rhythms and darkly arabesque melodies.

Long Way To Fall11 Ulrich Schnauss A Long Way To Fall
A wonderfully melodic, groove driven album of synthesizer wonder as Ulrich Schnauss explores childhood memories with electronic dreams.

Aventine12 Agnes Obel Aventine
For her sophomore album, Danish singer Agnes Obel turns in another gem of haunting chamber pop.

Zefira-Deserters13 Rachel Zeffira  The Deserters
And speaking of chamber pop, Rachel Zeffira turns her opera-trained soprano into a caressing hush; mixes circus organ with a song about suicide; and uses oboe arrangements that sound like The Left Banke’s “Pretty Ballerina.” The Deserters was the CD of the Month in June.

kveikur14 Sigur Ros  Kveikur
Sigur Ros kick out the jams on this album of delirious, roiling textures and Jonsi’s falsetto melodies of prayer.

1Impossible5 William Tyler   Impossible Truth
Tyler takes John Fahey into the 21st century, weaving fingerstyle guitar melodies that are like long epic tapes.  He’s known as an acoustic player but has lots of electric on Impossible Truth.

WorldsBeyond16 Akara  The World Beyond
With the heaven sent voice of Femke Weidema and the elaborate orchestrations of Joshua Penman, Akara creates a transglobal progressive sound that is out of this world on The World Beyond, the Echoes CD of the Month in October.

WInterwell17 Mree   Winterwell
Serene dream pop from a 19 year old singer who comes from a singer-songwriter tradition but creates Enya like choirs with her voice on this lush and powerful album.

Burnt-Belief18 Colin Edwin & Jon Durant  Burnt Belief
Timed for release on December 21, the day after the Mayan calendar stopped and the world ended, Porcupine Tree bassist Colin Edwin and prog guitarist Jon Durant unleashed this album of post progressive rock moods.  We’re still here and thankfully, so is Burnt Belief.

19 David Helpling & Jon Jenkins   Found
David Helpling and Jon Jenkins’ bring an orchestral approach to electronic music, where the orchestra is completely plugged-in, the timbres otherworldly, and the percussion tracks swept in on storms.  It was a great CD of the Month to end 2013.

Winterfold20 Jeff Johnson, Brian Dunning & Wendy Goodwin  Winterfold
This trio of keyboards, flutes and violin creates a music full of snow brushed melodies and lush arrangements with a hint of Celtic aire.

Syriana21 Syriana    Road to Damascus
This record came in under the radar from Real World.  It’s an exuberant mix of music from the Middle East to Ireland with musicians from Algeria, Ireland, Jordan, UK, Palestine but with hints of surf guitar and film noir scores.

Human22 Juliette Commagere   Human
Singer Juliette Commagere creates a beautiful and introspective electronic song cycle framing her sonorous soprano with a sound that recalls 80’s synth-pop but darker.

Traces of You23 Anoushka Shankar Traces of You
With sister Norah Jones and producer/instrumentalist Nitin Sawhney, sitarist Anoushka Shankar creates a tribute to her father Ravi Shankar that continues his eclectic approach to east-west fusion.

130521_HEM24 HEM   Departure & Farewell
When you’re contemplating loss, betrayal and redemption, put on Hem’s introspective album about their own break-up and reunion with the caressing voice of Sally Ellyson.

TonightSky25 Tonight Sky Tonight Sky
Tonight Sky is Jason Holstrom and he’s taken The Beach Boys’ harmonies and sent them into electronica space on this album of songs that manage to make you feel good while still being full of dark atmospheres.  Surf’s up again.

John Diliberto (((echoes)))
See below for a Spotify playlist of songs from all 25 albums save one.


  1. Ludovico EinaudiIn a Time Lapse (Ponderosa Music & Art) iTunes
  2. Rhian SheehanStories from Elsewhere (Darla Records) iTunes
  3. Olivier LibauxUncovered Queens of the Stone Age (Music for Music Lovers) Uncovered: Queens of the Stone Age - Olivier Libaux
  4. MobyInnocents (Mute) iTunes
  5. Ólafur ArnaldsFor Now I Am Winter (Mercury Classics) iTunes
  6. Jeff GreinkeScenes From A Train (Infectious Music)
  7. Jah Wobble & Marconi UnionAnomic (30 Hertz) Anomic - Jah Wobble & Marconi Union
  8. HammockOblivion Hymns (Hammock Music)
  9. Bombay Dub OrchestraTales from the Grand Bazaar (Six Degrees) iTunes
  10. Azam Ali and Loga R TorkianLamentation of Swans (Terrestrial Lane Productions) iTunes
  11. Ulrich SchnaussA Long Way to Fall (Domino Records)
  12. Agnes ObelAventine (Pias America)
  13. Rachel Zeffira The Deserters (Paper Bag) The Deserters - Rachel Zeffira
  14. Sigur RosKveikur (XL Recordings) Kveikur - Sigur RÛs
  15. William TylerImpossible Truth (Merge Records) iTunes
  16. Akara – The World Beyond (Merkaba Music) iTunes
  17. MreeWinterwell (Mree Music) iTunes
  18. Jon Durant and Colin EdwinBurnt Belief (Alchemy Records) iTunes
  19. David Helpling & Jon JenkinsFound (Spotted Peccary) iTunes
  20. Jeff Johnson Brian Dunning & Wendy Goodwin Winterfold (Ark Records) iTunes
  21. SyrianaThe Road to Damascus (Real World) iTunes
  22. Juliette CommagereHuman (Aeronaut Records) iTunes
  23. Anoushka ShankarTraces of You (Deutsche Grammophon) iTunes
  24. HemDeparture and Farewell (Redeye)
  25. Tonight SkyTonight Sky (Tonight Sky)

John Diliberto (((echoes)))


FoundNine of the CDs in this list were Echoes CDs of the Month, and the other three could’ve been on this list. Join the Echoes CD of the Month Club now and you can put David Helping and Jon Jenkins’ Found under somebodies Christmas tree.  It’s our December  CD of the Month.  You’ll get great CDs and help support Echoes at the same time.   You can do it all right here.



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Here’s a Spotify Playlist of tracks from all 25 CDs.  Jeff Johnson, Brian Dunning & Wendy Goodwin’s Winterfold isn’t on it, so I put a previous recording by Jeff Johnson in as a placeholder.

Top Ten Albums of 2012 by John Diliberto.

November 16, 2012

Deep moods and a couple of quirky releases highlight

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John Diliberto’s Top Ten Albums for 2012.

2012 will be a year marked by really good albums, but not necessarily groundbreaking, earth shattering or definitive works that place any one release ahead of the pack.  There are a few albums I could’ve picked as number one, and the remaining order is mutable.  But this is what I settled on when Echoes affiliate WXPN called for my Top Ten Albums and Songs for 2012.

John Diliberto’s Top 10 Albums for 2012
1 Hammock – Departure Songs
2 Thierry David – Stellar Connection
3 Marconi Union – Different Colours
4 Liftoff – Sunday Morning Airplay
5 Ablaye Cissoko & Volker Goetze – Amanké Dionti
6 Dead Can Dance – Anastasis
7 Jeff Johnson & Phil Keaggy – WaterSky
8 Raygun Ballet – World That Wasn’t
9 The Ravonettes – Observator
10 Sigur Rós – Valtari

It took me awhile to settle on Hammock’s Departure Songs as the number one release.  For shear ambition this might be the most daring album of the year, a double CD of their shoegaze electric chamber rock.  This album has reverb of oceanic depths and layers like shimmering strata.  Departure Songs can be overwhelming, even oppressive in it’s unrelenting darkness, but you can sink into this music of guitars ringing in echo, vocals mixed into a ghostly haze and string quartets sawing into the dark night of loss.

Thierry David’s Stellar Connection was the number 1 disc on the mid-year Best of Echoes 2012…So Far list and still could be.  When I wrote about this April CD of the Month I called it a defining albums which “over the course of an hour, Thierry David carries you on a journey that sometimes dips into the luxurious Pink Floyd-in-a-lounge trance of “A Familiar Blue Stranger” or drops into the magnificent void of “A Silent Voice Answers” with growling harmonics worthy of Karlheinz Stockhausen or Steve Roach.

Marconi Union’s Different Colours was also a CD of the Month in July.  In my review of the album, I called it their “most mature and distinctive album yet, a faultless CD of electronica film noir moodiness  from beginning to end.”

The most overlooked album of the year was Liftoff’s Sunday Morning Airplay.  This DC area collective with members from Thievery Corporation, Fort Knox Five and elsewhere turned in a “nostalgic meeting of 60’s pop psychedelia and chilled electronic modalities.”  Their Echoes interview was also one of the most fun pieces of the year.  I always smile when I listen to this album.

It doesn’t get any more pure, simple, grounded and serene than Amanké Dionti by Ablaye Cissoko & Volker Goetze.  Cissoko has a voice that tugs on the soul and matches it with impeccable and plaintive kora melodies.  If Miles Davis had played with African musicians, he might have sounded like Volker Goetze.  African serenity at it’s best.

2012 saw the return of Dead Can Dance, and their album, Anastasis, did not disappoint.  They once again took took deep atmospheres, ritual songs and supralingua dialects to ecstatic, transcendent heights.  It was the Echoes September CD of the Month.

Jeff Johnson & Phil Keaggy’s WaterSky is the November CD of the Month.  Like it’s predecessor, Frio Suite, it combines intimate interplay of guitars and keyboards, with expansive sound design in a music that is both cinematic and introspective.  You just want to wrap yourself up in their sound.

Raygun Ballet may be the leftfield album of the year.  Put together by John-Mark Austin, World That Wasn’t  is a nostalgic electronic trip using snippets of 50s and 60s radio and film sound clips to reveal the world we thought we’d be inhabiting in the 21st century.  And he does it with beautiful melodies and sound design.  Where are our jetpacks?

The Raveonette’s Observator is the only non-Echoes release on the list this year.  Their high energy, psychedelic rock makes this one of the few albums that I would listen to, and then listen to again, immediately.

Rounding out the list is Sigur Rós’ Valtari, a nice bookend with Hammock’s Departure Songs, although Sigur Rós brings a lighter touch to their sound design with a mix of gothic ambiences, and quaint keyboard sounds mixed with Jonsi’s ethereal falsetto.

Like I said, the placement of these albums is almost arbitrary and others not on this list, including Todd Boston’s June CD of the Month, Touched by the Sun, Coyote Jump’s May CD of the Month, Waking from the Roots and Forastierre’s From 1 to 8, our February pick, could’ve easily been here. And they will be in our 25 Essential Echoes CD list for sure.  Look for that in early December.

If you subscribe to Spotify, here’s a playlist with all these albums save a couple that didn’t seem to be in the system.



~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

Echoes On LineSign up for the Echoes CD of the Month Club and get Tangents now as a bonus for your membership now! 

Five of the CDs on this list were Echoes CD of the Month Club selections Sign up forEchoes CD of the Month Club now and you will not only receive the November CD pick, Jeff Johnson & Phil Keaggy’s WaterSky, but our December selection, Hammock’s Departure Songs AND Tangents – The Echoes Living Room Concerts Volume 18 as well.  With the Echoes CD of the Month Club, you get great CDs like these coming to you each month.  Join now and you’ll get Watersky plus, Departure Songs and  Tangents – The Echoes Living Room Concerts Volume 18. Follow the link to the Echoes CD of the Month Club  and see what you’ve been missing.

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Harold Budd Tribute

February 16, 2012

The OKTAF RECORDS label is putting out what looks to be a very promising tribute album to Harold Budd with people like Biosphere, Marsen Jules,  and several artists I’m less familiar with.

Here’s the Press Release:

With “Lost In The Humming Air – Music inspired by Harold Budd” oktaf records announces an amazing collection of thirteen exclusive tracks made by a selection of some of todays best known ambient music producers giving their tribute to the outstanding piano legend Harold Budd.

The playlists features names as: Deaf Center, Loscil, Martin Fuhs, Biosphere, Xela, Marsen Jules, Andrew Thomas, Mokira, Christopher Willits, Taylor Deupree, Rafael Anton Irisarri, Porn Sword Tobacco and bvdub feat. Criss Van Wey.

Well known for his spaceful piano playing and his early cooperations with Brian Eno, Harold Budd has inspired a whole generation of modern protagonists of ambient, jazz and especially the so called modern classical genre. With his recent releases on David Sylvians Samadhi Sound label as well as on Darla, he is still showing his outstanding musical genius to the world.

“Lost in the Humming Air (Music inspired by Harold Budd)” will be released on April 9th (March 26th digital) on oktaf records. Exclusively distributed by Kompakt.

~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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Oster/Manring/Weingarten in Echoes Living Room

January 4, 2012

They call themselves Blue Eternity now, but we know them as trumpeter Jeff Oster, bassist Michael Manring, and electric slide guitarist Carl Weingarten.  They are all familiar to listeners of Echoes.  Michael Manring was a founder of the group Montreux, recorded many solo albums and was the house bassist for Windham Hill Records in the 1980s and ’90s.   Carl Weingarten first came to renown with the progressive rock group, Delay Tactics before striking out from St. Louis to San Francisco where he immersed himself in the dobro, slide guitar and world music with a few other stops in between.  He’s been a fixture on Echoes for years.  Jeff Oster is the trumpet/flugelhorn playing investment specialist who also makes albums that hover between jazz and ambient music, including his Echoes CD of the Month Club selection, Surrender.

A couple of months ago they came into the original Echoes Living Room to perform a set of Oster’s music and then a set of improvisations they’ve been playing as an ensemble.  Oster’s set ran already.  The concert by the ensemble, now known as Blue Eternity, runs on January 17 on Echoes.

We don’t usually film Echoes performances, but they did and here’s a clip from one of the songs.  Footage includes their live performance and some shots of my neighborhood.

Hear Jeff Oster with Michael Manring and Carl Weingarten live  on Echoes 12/17 and the following weekend. Details.

~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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John Diliberto’s Best of Sleepy Hollow 2011.

December 15, 2011

I’ve made my own Best of List, an Echoes Best of List, the Echoes Listener Poll and now, here’s the Best of Sleepy Hollow 2011. For those of you who don’t know, Sleepy Hollow is the long-lived weekend morning music show on WXPN in Philadelphia.   (It says 30 years on the website but it’s closer to 40 now.) It’s similar in tone to Echoes, only even mellower with a greater emphasis on singer-songwriters from Nick Drake to Norah Jones.    This Sunday, December 12, I’ll run my Best of Sleepy Hollow show from 6-8AM. That will be followed by Keith Brand with his favorite Sleepy Hollow tunes of the past year.  Looking at it, it’s not too dissimilar to the 25 Essential Echoes CDs of 2011.  What a surprise.


1 – Agnes Obel – Riverside – Philharmonics

2 – Skuli Sverrisson – Her Looking Back – Seria II

3 – Jeff Oster – Beautiful Silence – Surrender

4 – Olafur Arnalds – Pu Ert Joroin (You Are the Earth) – And They Have Escaped the Weight

5 – Winterlight – Suddenly Something Good – Hope Dies Last

6 – Moby – Rockets – Destroyed

7 – Iarla Ó Lionáird – Foxlight – Foxlight

8 – Lia Ices – Bag of Wind – Grown Unknown

9 – Thurston Moore – Benediction – Demolished Thoughts

10 – Royksopp – Forsaken Cowboy – Senior

11 – Arrica Rose – Sail Away – Let Alone Sea

12 – Shelby Lynne – I’ll Hold Your Head – Revelation Road

13 – Jonathan Wilson – Gentle Spirit – Gentle Spirit

14 – Dustin O’Halloran – We Move Lightly – Lumiere

15 – Keith Jarrett – Part Xiii – Rio

16 – Low Roar – Help Me – Low Roar

17 – Moya Brennan – Go Brach – Voices and Harps

18 – Marketa Irglova – Wings of Desire – Anar

19 – Patrick O’Hearn – Playground – Transitions

20 – Tony Bennett & Amy Winehouse – Body & Soul – Duets II

21 – Pat Metheny – The Sound of Silence – What’s It All About

22 – Francis Lai – Emmanuelle II – The Essential Film Collection

23 – Emmy Lou Harris – My Name is Emmett Till – Hard Bargain

24 – Peter Gabriel – Mercy Street – New Blood

25 – St. Vincent – Champagne Year – Strange Mercy

John Diliberto ((( echoes ))) 

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Echoes September CD of the Month: Fernwood’s Sangita

September 2, 2009

Sangita_cvrGlobal Americana Chamber Music

You can hear an audio version of this blog, with Fernwood‘s music, here.

Fernwood is the name of an acoustic band from southern California, but that’s about the only geographical data on this group that’s easy to nail down.  Consisting of  multi-instrumentalists, Gayle Ellett and Todd Montgomery, Fernwood’s music is an undefinable sound, a kind of Americana world chamber music.  Following up their debut, Almeria,  Fernwood’s new CD, Sangita continues their mix of banjo and bouzouki, sitar and mandolin into a soundscape that’s as sweet as a country fiddle tune and as beguiling as a raga.

Gayle Ellett plays pyrotechnic guitar solos with the progressive rock group, Djam Karet, but with Fernwood he’s looking for something different.

Ellett-Cowboy Hat-bouzouki-250Gayle Ellett: We’re trying to make music that’s overtly beautiful and not be afraid of that and make music that doesn’t show off our technical skills or how fast we can play.  Which is hard to be mature enough to chill out and not turn it into a shredfest and look what I can do.

Todd Montgomery is a scholar of world instruments.

Todd Montgomery @ Echoes Session

Todd Montgomery @ Echoes Session

Todd Montgomery: Over time I realized I was always learning another cultural style of music and I finally realized doing Fernwood, it wasn’t the culture I was interested in.  It was the instrument. So that’s really the main drive, to blend all these beautiful sounds and have everyone hear them.

Fernwood carve out an Americana world music full of sonic details and plaintive melodies. Indian ambiences, Appalachian picking and an elegant European nostalgia converge on “Cimarron.” It’s like a Nino Rota score for a Fellini film, played by a bluegrass band.

On both their album covers, Fernwood prints the statement:

All music played by hand, on instruments made out of wood.

Gayle Ellett: Our music just about loving the sound that comes out of the instruments and just trying to serve that, the instrument and the love of the tone. So it is kind of a manifesto.

Fernwood have the antique charm of a gentle but surreal music box cranked in the Ozarks on tines from India.  Their new album is Sangita and it’s the Echoes CD of the Month for September. I’ll be featuring it on Monday’s show.  This has been an Echo Location.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

Echo Location: Ray Montford

July 22, 2009

Canadian Guitarist Ray Montford threads together country, new age and Pink Floyd

You can hear an audio version of this blog with Ray Montford’s music here.

raymontford4Guitarist Ray Montford has garnered accolades from people like film director Atom Egoyan and Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman.  The Canadian musician is slowly being discovered by listeners who want their music to take them somewhere.   Ray Montford has played scores of sessions in Canada, ranging from work with gaelic singer Mary Jane Lamond to the Canadian country band, The Rankin Family.  He’s a little dismissive of that work.

RAY MONTFORD: I toured with them in the mid-nineties when they were at the top of their game. We went to the States a few times. I just basically put on a hat that they wanted me to wear, and I did that.

But that might account for some of the country inflections you hear in Ray Montford’s playing. He made his first recordings on acoustic guitar, inspired by Windham Hill players like the late-Michael Hedges.

RAY MONTFORD: I was really into exploring open tunings and that whole   Michael Hedges vibe. But then it took me a while to realize that’s not really where my heart is, and my form of expression is more with a rhythm section and creating textures with that kind of support behind them. So it’s too bad in a way, because if I had stuck to the solo thing I’d probably be getting more gigs. [laughs]

Ray Montford

Ray Montford

But then he couldn’t have played those Pink Floyd inspired leads.  On Ray Montford’s latest CD, A Fragile Balance there’s a sense of pain and loss in the titles and music.  Ray had a few rough years that included being laid up with injuries.

RAY MONTFORD:  I had gone through a couple of serious injuries within two years, one of them involving a car accident. I was on a bicycle, so I felt very grateful that nothing worse had happened. So that changes the lens in how you see things. I think some of those titles are based on that.

Titles like when “Darkness Takes Flight.”

Ray Montford’s A Fragile Balance is an often haunting, but just as often triumphal statement.  It’s out on Softtail Records. I’ve got a more extended interview with Ray on Friday’s Echoes. This has been an Echo Location.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

10 Best Vangelis CDs

July 21, 2009

John Diliberto & Vangelis

John Diliberto & Vangelis

In the 1970s and early 80s, Vangelis was synonymous with orchestral electronic music the way another Greek, Yanni, is synonymous with the New Age music.  Whether it’s his film soundtracks forChariots of Fire and Blade Runner, or his epic albums Albedo 0.39 and Voices, the sound of Vangelis has shaped much of Echoes‘ first 20 years.  Vangelis is the father of symphonic synthesis, that style that merges electronics with the expansive compositions and arrangements of a classical orchestra. But while most electronic musicians who employ symphonic textures wind up sounding pseudo-classical, when Vangelis does it, he just sounds like Vangelis.

Vangelis Papathanassiou has released over forty albums and soundtracks since his official debut, Earth in 1973.   His career spans psychedelic, progressive rock, electronic, new age and symphonic music.  While there is a distinct Vangelis sound, marked by sweeping orchestral strings, often bombastic dynamic shifts, and ostinato sequences, he has stretched, bent and mutated those characteristics into widely divergent compositions over the years.  Albums like Beaubourg and Invisible Connections are  electronic freakouts that could’ve come from the Columbia-Princeton Studios or Radio Cologne.  That sound is counterbalanced by his sweeter music like the score to Chariots of Fire or his pop work with Yes singer Jon Anderson.

On Wednesday, Jully 22, I’ll be airing a segment on Echoes called Vangelis Then & Now.  Due to DMCA restrictions, we can’t do the full Vangelis thing, but here’s a list of the Ten Essential Vangelis CDs I would’ve included.


Albedo 0.39 1-Albedo 0.39
This is Vangelis’ space music opus.  Along with its follow-up, Spiral, it’s his most sequencer driven album revealing the Zeitgeist of 1975, where Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Jean-Michel Jarre were releasing their space music journeys.  Albedo contains several of Vangelis’ best known themes, including the space explosion of “Pulstar.”

Mask 2-Mask
Mask is a dramatic choral work from Vangelis.  The choir is uncredited, but is likely the English Chamber Choir with lead tenor from Guy Protheroe.  Referencing Carl Orff and perhaps Magma, Vangelis orchestrates dramatic choral refrains that can sound like storm troopers on the march in “Movement 1” or the imploring gothic voices from the heavens on “Movement 4” with its marimba cycle and string bass groove.  I bought Mask on CD before I even had a CD player.

51P7RX9EWAL._SL500_AA240_3-Heaven and Hell
Released in 1975, Heaven & Hell is a crowning achievement for Vangelis.  Composed with just a couple of synthesizers, a ton of percussion and the English Chamber Choir, it’s a dynamic and heroic work. From the opening synthesizer clarion, the choir calls out to the heavens, synthesizers spin in counterpoint to tuned percussion, and timpani and cymbals crash on the shores of Vangelis’ electronic orchestra.  And check out Vangelis’ uncharacteristically jazzy Fender Rhodes keyboard playing.  It also includes Jon Anderson‘s sweet interlude between movements, “So Long Ago, So Clear.”

Soil Festivities 4-Soil Festivities
This is the most “ambient” of Vangelis albums and his most underrated.  Inspired by life’s processes, Vangelis uses repetitive minimalist patterns, nature sounds as well as  flute and violin-like keyboard voices to create a seamless, contemplative journey that eschews his penchant for both sweetness and bombast.  Released in 1984, Soil Festivities isn’t a meditative piece but an evolving journey over its five movements.

China 5-China
China marked a real shift for Vangelis. Ethnic instruments had always been part of his palette, but he’d never delved as deeply as he did on this 1979 CD.  He plays Chinese flutes, the koto and other instruments mixing them in with his sweeping, cinematic synths for an east-west orchestra of the imagination.

Opera Sauvage 6-Opera Sauvage
Released in 1979, Opera Sauvage is the score for a nature documentary by French filmmaker Frédéric Rossif.    It contains one of Vangelis’ best known songs, the poignant “L’enfant.” It’s a simple pentatonic theme with piano chirping out the sparse melody over a two note synthesizer ostinato, yet it remains remains powerfully evocative and hymn-like.  Used in the film, The Year of Living Dangerously, it stole the score from Maurice Jarre’s actual soundtrack.

Voices 7-Voices
Voices arrived in 1995 after a four-year hiatus from studio recordings.  It’s an instantly recognizable set full of his trademark sequencer rhythms and orchestral synthesis.  Voices reestablished Vangelis’ preeminence as a master of music drama and atmosphere as Voices teems with heroic synthesizer melodies and inventive choral arrangements.  In addition to Vangelis’s instrumentals, there are three vocals, one each from Paul Young, Caroline Lavelle and an ethereal lost-in-space track from Stina Nordenstam on “Ask the Mountains.”

Music From Koreyoshi Kurahara\'s Film Antarctica 8-Antarctica
This little seen 1983 film by Koreyoshi Kurahara about a failed Japanese mission to Antarctica in 1958 features an epic score from Vangelis that picks up on the white-on-white landscapes, vast ice formations and chilled environment.  The title theme is a heroic work, while other tracks like “Antarctic Echoes” are full of the quiet, sweet repose that Vangelis frequently explores.  Just before his digital transition, you can hear the subtlety that Vangelis gets from his keyboards with the Chinese flute-like line on “Song of White.”

Spiral 9-Spiral
Spiral, released in 1977, is in the vein of  Albedo 0.39 but only contains five long compositions ranging from the sequencer driven title track to the quietly poignant “Ballad” with its vocoder voice sounding a lament from within Vangelis’s circuitry.  This is Vangelis in sequencer overdrive.  I always loved the cover with the headphone jack coming out of the sky to plug directly into your head.

Blade Runner Trilogy: 25th Anniversary [3 CD] 10-Blade Runner
Following on the heels of his lush, romantic score to Chariots of Fire, Vangelis composed this darker, edgier soundtrack in 1982 for Ridley Scott‘s archetypal science fiction thriller. Vangelis couched his electro-symphonic score in percussive rhythms and shadowed timbres.  This is the album I hear cited most often as an influence by electronic musicians   It was reissued last year as a 3 CD set with lots of new music.

Those are my picks.  I’m sure you might have others.   Tune in Weds., July 22 for a Vangelis suite, Then & Now on Echoes.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

Echo Location: Rhian Sheehan’s New Zealand Soundscapes

July 8, 2009

New Zealand composer Rhian Sheehan uses synthesizers and music boxes.

You can hear an audio version of this blog, with Rhian Sheehan’s music, here.

LP050_coverIn the attic studio of his New Zealand home, just around the corner from where Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson makes his films,  Rhian Sheehan spins out electronic fantasies.  He’s got a room full of electronic gear, but on his new album, Standing in Silence, he raided his daughter’s toy chest and came out with a music box. It originally played “What a Wonderful World,” but after Rhian finished sampling it, it sounded quite different.

Rhian Sheehan: I took it out of context and tuned it to my own melody, Popped it through a sampler. I had this idea of What would it be like if you were inside of the music box and you could hear the cranks and the sounds, what would it sound like? That was the idea of that track which is track 3 on that album.

In a post-modern twist, Rhian took the digital melody he made from the music box and had that made back into a physical music box which he gave away with his CD. As he plays it in his studio, you can hear the melody of “Standing In Silence 3.”

Rhian Sheehan: We actually put that melody into a real music box so it was like deconstructing and reconstructing.

Although these instrument give Rhian Sheehan’s Standing in Silence a sense of innocence, there is also an undertow of foreboding.  Upon returning to the bucolic calm of New Zealand after an extended trips to places like Tokyo and India, he felt a certain disconnect.  You can see that in the photographs that accompany the CD: desolate urban locations in Tokyo and other places, but the music contains field recordings he made that are full of life and people.

Rhian Sheehan: I was fascinated with that idea. There are photos of shopping malls for example but there are no people, there’s nobody there. I guess that was the idea, in the music you can hear crowds and hear people but you never see people.

Rhian Sheehan’s new album is called Standing in Silence on Loop Records. I’ll have a more extended interview with Rhian on next Tuesdays Echoes.  This has been an Echo Location.

Here’s a video from Standing in Silence.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

Trippin’ Out to Saturn with the Sun Ra Arkestra

July 3, 2009

Space Is the Place The Sun Ra Arkestra made a return to earth this past Wednesday night at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia.  The sound was high-school-gym awful, the seating on the floor uncomfortable, the lighting harsh.  It didn’t matter.  The 21-piece Sun Ra Arkestra, led by alto saxophonist Marshall Allen, raised the spirits in a two hour, non-stop performance that ranged from swing to corn to way the hell beyond.

The concert made me a born-again Arkestra devotee. Between 1972 and his departure from the planet in 1993, I saw the Arkestra every chance I could, some 30 times, including Christmas Eve in Boston.  But I’d resisted the Marshal Allen led band.  I thought it could only be a shell of the cosmic circus that Ra presented.  I was wrong.  Allen, always one of the formidable voices in the band, has kept Ra’s spirit alive with a performance that wasn’t a recreation.  It was another step in the Arkestra’s evolution.

But all the great Sun Ra elements were present.  There were spangled capes and hats, swing numbers and corny tunes, amateurish dancers and riveting horn sections, and of course, free form blowouts like you rarely see anymore.

Farrid Barron did a great job on piano and sending out shards of synthesizer chords, but it was actually Allen who handled all the electronic space age whoops, whorls and wiggles.  He played his antiquated, but effective electronic valve instrument when this wizened wizard wasn’t spitting out oscillating alto solos.  Now a spry 85, and with the Arkestra since 1958, he hasn’t lost anything.

Stalwarts with the Arkestra from the 60s, 70s and 80s included bassist Juini Booth, baritone man Danny Thompson, tenor sax player Charles Davis and trumpeter Michael Ray, who I still think of as the hot new young trumpeter, even though he’s been with the group since the late 1970s.

Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra The Arkestra did their walk through the crowd, Noel Scott did somersaults, they essayed Fletcher Henderson’s “Big John Special,” a staple of Sun Ra’s later years and at the end, most of the horns left the stage and Marshall Allen and the percussionists let loose a joyful cacophony of free jazz blowing.

In the late 90s, I produced a documentary called Sun Ra’s Cosmic Swing for NPR‘s Jazz Profiles.  You can still catch it online, here.

Allen has released several albums with the Arkestra and they are currently touring Europe, doing the festival circuit.  You can catch their tour dates on the Arkestra’s website.

The Sun Ra Arkestra will perform  a Halloween show, an Arkestra tradition, on Oct. 31st. Philadelphia, PA, International House Philadelphia, 3701 Chestnut street, PA 19104.  I’ll be the one standing in rapture.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

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