Laraaji

Celestial Music: 1978-2011

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Released by All Saints in 2013, Celestial Music 1978-2011 is a generous, much-needed overview of the musical career of Edward Larry Gordon, otherwise known as Laraaji Nadabrahmananda. One of new age's most distinctive artists, Laraaji is best known for playing instruments such as the zither and hammered dulcimer, as well as his association with Brian Eno, who encountered him busking on the New York City streets during the late '70s, and produced his 1980 album Ambient 3: Day of Radiance. While that album deservedly remains Laraaji's most well-known recording, it only focuses on one aspect of his sound. Since making his debut in 1978 with the privately released Celestial Vibration (credited to his birth name), Laraaji has issued dozens of cassettes and CD-Rs and collaborated with numerous experimental, rock, and dub musicians, and his catalog is as vast and overwhelming as it is fascinating and enlightening. The first disc of this anthology collects highlights from his early self-released cassettes, many of which feature extended mantras or improvisations. Many of these are ethereal, electronically enhanced recordings of acoustic instruments which ripple, cascade, and swirl throughout the heavens. Some of them are formless and expansive, but others have a locked-in natural rhythm and feel percussive and driving. One of the collection's biggest revelations, however, is "Vision Song Suite," a six-minute portion of his 1984 cassette Vision Songs, Vol. 1, a set of devotional avant-garde synth-pop songs that absolutely needs a wider release. On these songs, Laraaji's deeply soulful, echo-swathed voice croons over ticking Casio rhythms and gentle keyboard tones. Truly mind-blowing, inspirational, and life-affirming. Laraaji's voice only appears on a select few other pieces, including the eerie, heartbreaking "Sol" (1987). The second disc is a sampling of Laraaji's more widely known albums and collaborations, beginning with his visionary 1978 debut and progressing through works with Eno, Jonathan Goldman, Japanese dub crew Audio Active, Bill Laswell, and Philadelphia duo Blues Control. Laraaji's trademark zither is prominent, but cuts like "Quiet Space, Pt. 2" showcase his more tranquil side. Even though that piece was recorded with Jonathan Goldman, its all-encompassing droning sounds more like Eno than the work Eno and Laraaji actually produced together. Tracks with Audio Active and the lengthy "Astral Jam" with Blues Control emphasize grooves but don't lose sight of spiritual awareness. The entire collection is astounding, and is a necessary purchase not only for Laraaji fans, but for anyone even remotely intrigued in his story, or simply anyone interested in beautiful, visionary, spiritually conscious music.

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