INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Wire NOVEMBER 2014 - by Brian Morton
LARAAJI - AMBIENT 3: DAY OF RADIANCE / ALL IN ONE PEACE
The dynamism and presence, perhaps the sheer humanity, of Laraaji's music always made it an awkward fit with Brian Eno's ambient project, as everyone involved, the producer included, seemed to acknowledge And yet the term shouldn't be thrown out entirely. Laraaji's aim in these recordings was to create utopic environments in which the listener could think, feel and imagine, engage in spiritual explorations, and do so apart from everyday ethical compromises. It's an archetypically American endeavour, with deep ties to nineteenth century transcendentalism (Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman) as well as more obviously to the busker tradition of Moondog, Giuseppi Logan and Charles Gayle which seeks to invest and transform urban spaces with fresh vibrations.
A formidably able musician and Howard University composition student, the former Edward Larry Gordon somehow resists category, but also the obvious shuffle into outsider status. There are elements here common to early minimalism, to ecstatic rock, to early new age music and to the Fourth World branding that came out of Eno's other collaborations. There are obvious echoes of post-Coltrane harmony (though this might mean post-Alice rather than post-John) and, in the insistent harmonic tilt towards D flat, of the South Western blues that inspired Ornette Coleman.
The pieces on Day Of Radiance are divided between three dynamic dances and a pair of meditations which bear more overt signs of Eno's studio manipulations. The home produced recordings collected on All In One Peace, again using electric autoharp/zither with simple keyboards, are more direct in execution and impact, the string sweeps folksy and open. But even the early album Lotus Collage has an elegance of form and something of the rich tonal charm of Arvo Pärt's tintinnabulary style, which came out of the latter's grounding in twelve-tone music as naturally as Laraaji's comes out of avant garde jazz.
The ambient descriptor remains relevant not least because each of these very different pieces proposes a parallel sonic space that recalls the repetitive effects and gradations of a platform game. Laraaji's brand of utopics anticipated the virtual world but retains a dynamic analogue flexibility and spiritual depth that digital gamers can only dream of. It's healing music, but not in a flabby, consolatory way. Transcendentalism always had its muscle men, and Laraaji is one of the toughest.