On Innova's Vipassana, composer Joseph C. Phillips Jr. leads the ensemble Numinous through his four-part composition of that name. Vipassana is a word most frequently used in the context of Buddhist mediation, signifying seeing through direct perception rather than through second-hand observation. Phillips' hour-long composition Vipassana is not meant as music to accompany the activity of meditation so much as it is itself a meditation on, and voyage through, various visual stimuli, though the last piece departs from that model in that it envelops a setting of a poem by Denise Levertov. Musically, this quartet of stylish and provocative pieces stands somewhere between the style of Steve Reich and contemporary jazz, though parts of it are texturally much busier than Reich and the use of improvisation is fairly restrained, limited to solo space to spotlight some key players in the ensemble. The ensemble Numinous contains some names familiar from the downtown scene in New York, such as cellist Jody Redhage, violinist Ana Milosavijevic, trumpeter Dave Smith, and trombonist Deborah Weisz; Smith gets a plum solo spot in the third piece, "Into all the Valleys Evening Journeys." Julie Hardy sings the poem in the last piece, "The Nothingness That Is the Source of Everything," very pleasantly, and while this is not ambient music, the sense of music-making throughout is relaxed, dedicated, and for the most part, calm.
For some listeners, Vipassana -- at least in its early stages -- will seem too derivative of Reich and they may not be able to move forward with it. However, Phillips is taking the long-term view of such input, asking "what might be the next step" rather than merely imitating the model; he folds it into a blend that succeeds in being the sum of its parts and to illustrate his program, which is an unusual one: part symphonic, part spiritual exegesis, and partly developed from a love of particular instrumental combinations. There are certain kinds of harmonic shifts that Phillips prefers, and after listening for awhile you might come to expect them. Nevertheless, Vipassana is never less than likeable, is sincere in intent, and is greatly enjoyable to listen to; Joseph C. Phillips Jr. is a young composer to watch.