Bring on the Sun/Sun Gong
I used to work as a hypnotherapist. Every week clients would come to see me with their array of issues, my approach was to enable them to switch off their conscious thoughts and allow them to delve into their subconscious to help fathom the roots of, and to hopefully fix, their problems. As I guided them into a state of trance, I would play a CD of gentle music to give them a relaxing soundtrack to their journey.
The tracks I chose were all perfectly pleasant but ultimately uninvolving, tunes that were ideal for drifting off to, not for actual listening to. Although frequently described as being Ambient (or even New Age), I knew that this muzak was a long, long way from the ambient music that I was once so obsessed by.
In the early 80s I'd been fascinated by Eno's Ambient series, and in particular Ambient 3: 'Day of Radiance' by Laraaji. The album consisted of five mesmerizing pieces, Laraaji played an open tuned zither, Eno added his meditative production. The result was beautifully, breathlessly intoxicating. This was one of the finest examples of what a glorious experience Ambient music should be.
Now, aged 74, Laraaji has just released two albums: Bring on the Sun and Sun Gong. Both are being described as New Age by my streaming service of choice. Decades of misuse of the term has left me cautious, I hesitate awkwardly before playing the albums...
Introspection, which opens Bring on the Sun, has all the trademarks of the music I grew so weary of. The gentle notes hover above tranquil echoes. It's far too polite to pull me away from my preconceived notions. But then, Harmonica Drone adds engaging textures and Enthusiasm combines plucked strings with ominous organ sound and, mid way through, a rich and sorrowful hymn-like vocal. Better still is the 10 minute Laraajazzi, which blends chiming loops with discordant jazz noises to delirious effect.
There are a handful of vocal tracks, on the charming acoustic Change, Laraaji offers his philosophy - 'if you can boogie with life, you can boogie with change', whilst the delightful 'Reborn in Virginia' is a sweet monologue about his childhood. On both songs Laraaji, who is also a laughter therapist, emits some joyous chuckles.
It's a delightful affair, and by the time of the concluding 'Ocean Flow Zither' - as dreamlike as the opening number, I've completely abandoned my initial cynicism.
By contrast, the accompanying 'Sun Gong' album is a more ethereal experience. Described by the artist as his attempt to '...construct an immersive listen that highlights the transformative power of ancient gong tones' it is split into two parts. The first consists of twelve minutes of throbbing and contemplative gong sounds, creating a captivating, embracing environment. The second part introduces bass, percussion, muffled vocals and eerie electronic noises into the mix. This unsettling cacophony gradually moves towards a peaceful conclusion, like calm after a storm.
Both Bring on the Sun and Sun Gong are glorious, life affirming works. The sounds that Laraaji creates feel like they are borne out his own philosophy and are full of his wisdom. It is a beautiful form of therapy.
Larraji at All Saints Records
Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.
March sees a greatly expanded reissue of Elliott Smith's most critically acclaimed album Either/Or