Clearly the most outerworldly and diverse Northwoods album released, Lightening Darkness is a journey into Middle Eastern music and free harmonic extractions. The title comes from a Sun Ra poem, and the album features more beautiful cover artwork from bassist Mike Johnston, who designed their previous two covers. The album also marks their first appearance on the Entropy Stereo label, out of Ann Arbor, MI. Northwoods waste no time in their exploration of Eastern atonalities, as the opening title track suggests. Abstract percussion and Johnston's skilled William Parker-like bowed bass create a sense of uneasy anticipation -- a soundscape of sorts. Suddenly a crashing gong from drummer Nick Ashton signals Mike Gilmore's vibes to quietly end the piece. Here one can hear the magic and effortlessness of the band's intimate communication. "Rainbow" features Gilmore on the cheng and sounds like a Ravi Shankar venture into abstract, progressive Krautrock. It is his shining moment on the instrument, illustrating his complex musical diversity. Gilmore also highlights the obscure Sun Ra piece "God Is More Than Love Could Ever Be," this time on the vibes. His relaxed textured overtones send a deep, heartfelt message to the listener's soul, as the rest of the group perfectly round out this near-flawless tribute to one of their obvious musical influences. Not to be outdone is Johnston, whose Middle-Eastern flute on "Tuareg" and "Tariquah" is spine-chilling, as it begs the question, "Where did these Midwesterners pick up such an intimate talent for these non-Western musical mysteries?" Both tunes feature guests Kirk Lucas (cello, tambourine, bowed banjo) and Ben Bracken (tamboura, percussion), who plays with Gilmore and Johnston in the experimental Remote Viewing Ensemble. "Tariquah" (meaning path or way) is Johnston's most intimate moment in the trio, as one gets the feeling he is taking listeners on a personal journey through his emotions and experiences. Bone guitar and tamboura peacefully fill in musical spaces as Ashton offers gentle percussive guidance. All members are present for "Black Ice," their most abstract recording and a piece that defies simple definition. This 14-minute excursion works well, exploring harmonic extremes with gentle ease. Lightening Darkness is a great musical addition to any jazz or music lover's collection indeed.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Hundey