Ambient music may not immediately seem to have anything in common with world roots music, but in 1981 the collaboration between Talking Heads lead vocalist David Byrne and esoteric musician Brian Eno brought about an extraordinary album, My life in the bush of ghosts’, that skilfully weaved in all manner of world sounds and wrapped them up with funkier beats. This re-issue preceded that recording by two years and was a collaboration between Eno and Philadelphia born musician Laraaji who was something of a child prodigy and learnt to play piano, trombone and violin (but not necessarily in that order). He relocated to New York in the late 1960s and became heavily influenced by Eastern spiritualism as well as Eastern musical motifs in both jazz and rock idioms. A chance encounter between Eno and Laraaji led to this, now some thirty plus years old, yet still sounding incredibly fresh and vibrant. Brian Eno is now regarded by many as the father of new age music, but this label is a deeply misleading one in that some new age music has been likened to soothing background music. This is anything but, and rather is challenging, yet also endearing. It is difficult, if not impossible, to situate in a specific time or place, though interestingly Eno’s music has found its way into several of the most prestigious art galleries, notably in Milan, Tokyo and Venice.
How did the collaboration work in practice? Laraaji composes and performs on various instruments while Eno provides ‘sound treatment’ and conceptual commentary. If this all sounds a little hard to pin down, the music is necessarily mood inducing and divides up neatly into two distinct parts. The first two parts of ‘The Dance’ have a wonderful Eastern flavour to them with trance-like riffs that are repeated ad infinitum and which could be either Chinese or Japanese, but are never derogatory. If the first is uplifting, the second transports you intro another world. What is impressive is that despite the use of electronic instrumentation, the human element is never lost and, while on the surface, the music may on first hearing convey a degree of simplicity, underneath multiple musical influences are at work and gently enter the soul. The more introspective second side on the original vinyl is more reflective and will appeal to fans of Alice Coltrane, with subtle changes and addition of layer, especially on the epic eighteen and a half minute ‘Meditation #1’. In all, there are only five pieces, but lengthy ones and this is worthy of re-issue.