Various Artists

World Flutes, Vol. 1

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This compilation album from Peter Kater's EarthSea Records offers a musical sampler of the world's flutes from virtuosi in the field. In the liner notes, the artists explain, in their own words, the essential qualities of the instrument and the music. From Japan comes Kazu Matsui, who explains that the shakuhachi flute has been used as a tool for meditation in Zen. "Shakuhachi flute music does not have listeners," he explains. "Prayers are not for listeners." This attitude is a good way to approach the album. Matsui's "Village in the Snow" creates an atmosphere of cool calm, like icy mists hanging in a valley. His tones can rush rudely, hit sharp edges, shrill like an icicle, then round to a golden glow. R. Carlos Nakai, a longtime musician colleague of Peter Kater, offers two pieces on the Lakota flute: "Silver Fish" (a warm meditative piece) and "Morning Solitude" (the flute has "dry" sound; Nakai also processes the sound electronically to simulate the echoes of a canyon). From the Northern India tradition comes G.S. Sachdev, master of the long Bansuri bamboo flute. "Twilight" for solo flute is a calm, meditative piece; "Adoration" with its two-octave range, expresses the desires of two lovers. Both are based on Indian ragas, but the melodies are very accessible to the Western ear. Two traditional Irish tunes are played by Joanie Madden on the humble pennywhistle. Its sharp, silvery tone can express both a mournful lament ("The Coolin'" and "Skibbereen") and a more playful exuberance ("The Man of the House," played with guitarist Gabriel Donohue). The pan pipe is played both in Greece and the Andes. Ara Takatlian from Argentina provides an acrobatic display of its toots, overtones, and sweet sounds; he also plays a number of other exotic flutes. From Tibet comes Nawang Khechog playing the Tibetan bamboo flute. His peaceful "Gentle Tibetan Angel Dance" was inspired by the high plateaus of Tibet. A world flute album would not be complete without hearing from Steve Gorn, a master of numerous flutes and woodwind instruments. His moody "Dreaming Shree" was inspired by three North Indian ragas; here, Gorn combines the Bansuri bamboo flute with a haunting, starlit drone from a Kurzweil K-2000. As the drone builds in volume and reverberation (approaching a cosmic angelic "aum"), the flute melody becomes more complex. The entire album is meditative in tone; Gorn's piece is the most gripping.

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