American Indian flautist Jeff Ball calls The Shape of Light his seventh album, not counting his last two CDs, the seasonal outing Songs of Winter (2003) and the soundtrack/compilation Return to Balance (2005). That makes it his first album of new original compositions in five years. Although the disc, like all previous Ball releases, is credited to him solely, his press biography makes a point of crediting the Jeff Ball Band, which is appropriate since most of the tracks are played by an ensemble that includes brother Randy Ball on fretless bass, Arvel Bird on violin, Dawn Avery on cello, John Natale on acoustic guitar, Peter Phippen on bansuri bamboo flute, and Ron Warren on piano. Then there's longtime percussionist Ted Natale on the hang (pronounced like "gong," but with an "h"), while Ron Kravitz also plays hang and shruti box. Introduced in 2001, the hang is "two joined shells of steel with thumb-size indentations that represent seven to nine notes harmonically tuned around a deep root note that emanates from a small dome in the top center....Played with both hands in a rhythmic fashion like a hand-drum, [it] makes bell-like sounds, somewhat like a steel drum...." One might say the effect is like a cross between a steel drum and a kalimba, and it works quite well as the percussion instrument in Ball's music, which is all about space between the instruments and juxtapositions of sound textures and rhythms. Although Ball takes two solo performances, "Tranquility" and "Never Alone," more often he plays as a member of the group, adding the haunting, bird-like trills of his flute to the patterns set up by John Natale or Warren. The music is spare and deliberate, but never dull, not only because of the assurance and experienced teamwork with which the musicians play, but also because of the varying sounds. Seven albums in, Ball has developed his own style of music, based on traditional Native American music, but drawing in other new age elements to create a signature sound.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann