Celestial Vibration

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Originally released in 1978 by an obscure label from Portland, Maine called SWN Records, Celestial Vibration was the debut release by Edward Larry Gordon, at the time a street musician busking around New York City. This album was released before he adopted the moniker Laraaji, and before Brian Eno happened to come across one of his performances in Washington Square Park, dropped him a note, and produced his first widely available album, the classic Ambient 3: Day of Radiance (1980). In retrospect, Celestial Vibration isn't too different from Day of Radiance, at least in terms of instrumentation and general mood, but in no way does it feel like a first draft or a warm-up. Gordon entered the recording studio with his modified electric zither and kalimba, and improvised while deep in a trance. These in-the-moment sessions were later edited into two side-long compositions, "All Pervading" and "Bethlehem." His playing is influenced by spiritual jazz (particularly Albert Ayler and both John and Alice Coltrane) as well as traditional African rhythms, but it sounds like nothing else before it. "All Pervading" (later excerpted on the essential anthology Celestial Music: 1978-2011) is easily the more uptempo and rhythmic piece of the two. Gordon sounds completely at ease yet profoundly focused, hammering away with precision while electronic effects make the tones swirl and shimmer. The whole performance sounds effortless, and astoundingly beautiful. "Bethlehem" is more experimental, alternating between moments of stillness and sharper, nearly thrashing movements. It does get more melodic, but instead of playing the melody upfront, Gordon seems to suspend it and surround it with eerie vibrating effects. It feels very homemade and intimate; the sounds of Gordon knocking on his instruments while playing are clearly audible. It also seems to predict certain types of the free-folk that made underground waves during the 2000s. As fascinating as anything else Laraaji has recorded since, Celestial Vibration is evidence that his unique vision has been incredibly powerful since the very beginning.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
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