Cello Circles review by Bill Binkelman


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Cello Circles
Cello CIrcles

Cello Circles by Kalyan and Sambodhi Prem

Surely one of the Internet's best by-products is how it has shrunk our world. Witness this effect as exemplified by the CD Cello Circles. Sambodhi Prem (guitars, bass, and sound modules) and Kalyan (cello, dilruba, recorders, kena flute) live thousands of miles apart (the former in Australia and the latter in Canada) yet over the span of seven years (2001-2008) they "collaborated" on this marvelous album. Cello Circles is best appreciated in the same way one approaches a 20-year single malt, a 5-course meal in a fine Parisian restaurant, or other pleasures which should be savored, not devoured. I'm not necessarily saying that Cello Circles can't be enjoyed as a "typical" new age music disc, i.e. played in the background for any number of activities. Far from it, as the inherent energy of many of the pieces might be well-suited for yoga or other physical movement activities. However, the more I listened to the CD, the more I realized I wanted to listen to it—intently, that is. There is so much here from which to glean enjoyment.

Describing the music in concrete detail is problematic for two reasons. One is that the tracks tend to be on the long side—only one is less than 5 minutes and three are 8+ minutes with the longest being 12:25 in duration. The second obstacle is the nature of the music itself. I hesitate to label the pieces "improvisations" but this is not an album of structured repeated refrains either. A more appropriate description might be to say the music represents "intriguing meanderings across a warm musical landscape."

Many of the tracks feature subtle rhythm accompaniment from a variety of sources and cello frequently takes the lead role, however at times, Prem's guitar steps out or even Kalyan's flute/recorder. The mix on the album is incredibly deep, so I strongly recommend headphone listening at least once. Prem, who produced and mixed the final album, did an outstanding job with layering the instruments, placing them in the sound-field with detailed precision, assuring that nothing is "lost" yet maintaining the overall aesthetic of the music.

Mood-wise, you may be surprised that a CD dominated by cello would not sound overly somber or melancholic. I won't go so far as to say this is light-hearted music (although "Friendliness" is both lively and lovely), and there are some moments draped in soft darkness tinged with reflection. However, the overall evocation is more neutral, as if the two musicians were not pre-occupied with having the listener "feel" a specific emotion and instead opted for crafting music that breathes a life literally of its own. Again, I shy away from saying this is purely improvisational music, except that on one level it is, but the length of time spent on refining this release has exorcised the "fat" (which some improvisational recordings can have) and left only the "meat." There are no wasted notes, chords, or rhythms. Everything has a place and purpose, from electronic keyboard accents to acoustic guitar chords to bass notes to every sound that Kalyan coaxes from his cello and other instruments.

I wish I could be more specific, as no doubt there are more definitive descriptors I could come up with, but in all sincerity, somehow that would be doing this album a disservice. It may sound cliché to state "Words don't do this music justice," but, in essence, it's true. Not because of the abundant artistic worth of the music, but because language is insufficient to capture the musicians' talents and the music's many charms. A sunset is, after all, just a sunset, and an autumn-tinted maple leaf is, well, just a leaf. However, try to capture in words what they actually "are." Good luck! Cello Circles is like that—a gorgeous album meant to be experienced and not defined.

Rating: Excellent

Bill Binkelman
Zone Music Reporter

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