Zen Connection vol 1
My visit to a major record store isn't only comprised of sampling music on biohazardous headphones and blowing cash. Part of the entertaining experience is to read the titles of the so-called "chill-out" albums to see what kind of creative name they came up with this time. Then I examine the lavish "Oh-I'm-too-cool-for-other-CDs" packaging of such albums, quickly placing them neatly back onto the shelf before I offend dear Buddha and his heavenly clan. One wonders what is being marketed here: a certain cultural lifestyle or, stripped to the bone, music. And for us music lovers, no matter how hard we look through the cover art and the heavy price (and given that we figure out a way into the packaging) the music is often nothing but white noise.
But rest assured, a table seems to have turned with this release from Australian record label One World Music, probably the first critically acclaimed downtempo release from that continent. Undoubtedly its compiler, Leigh Wood, put the merits of the music above everything else when selecting tracks for this album. A double-CD like many other chill-outs, this album stands out as a true journey through the Eastern and Western realms. The first and second discs titled "From the East" and "To the West" respectively, tunes in each category to accurate themes: from the traditional, meditative East to the more secular West; both contemporary enough to avoid any extremities.
A first glance of the playlist delivers many familiar artists, starting from DISC 1: the carefully constructed "Breathing Light" from Nitin Sawhney, a pleasant jazzy tune with a light drum + bass tinge; followed by "Mountain Path," one of the better tracks from Badmarsh & Shri's album Signs, a musical category on its own. Veteran Middle Eastern musician Omar Faruk Takbilek, long-time beat-artisan James Asher, and Dutch-extracted Fahtima showcase their Arabient side with vibrant percussion, seducing vocals, and a soft meoldic oud. German-lounge composer Jasmon's reggae-influenced "Dimdanana," intertwines itself into the Arabic tapestry of the latter half DISC 1.
As we move "To the West," the album begins to get slightly upbeat, boasting a variety of styles from artists such as tango-masters Gotan Project with "Queremos Paz," taking you straight into the heart of ballroom Spain; drum + bass wizard LTJ Bukem in his downtempo excursion; and Ensemble Ethnique, wrapping Indian vocals in a bossa nova scheme. Especially impressive are the three danceable tracks by local Australian talents Amanaska and Stef.
This album is the solution to the host of the generic dust-collectors we have been inundated with during the past year. We are not asking for salvation; we are not asking for our homes to be transformed into a restaurant in Paris. All we are asking for is good music. And here we have it, stripped to the bone.