Michael Allison, who records as Darshan Ambient, has had a widely varied career, from playing in rock bands with the likes of Richard Hell to knocking out 80s post-punk pop to crafting melodic New Age and ambient music. Now, with Dream in Blue, he sets his sights on his jazz influences, notably Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and creates a soft-edged fusion CD that’s quite simply one of the best releases of 2011. Allison warms up the listener with “Upon Reflection,” which starts off feeling like it would be at home on previous releases like A Day Within Days or Autumn’s Apple–a cool downtempo groove with twinkling keys and what sound like electronic drums. As you listen, though, the drumbeats begin to change, becoming analog and picking up more of a shuffle-and-crash affair with an unmistakable jazz pedigree. It’s a “welcome to Dream in Blue” moment that gets reinforced as soon as the trumpet kicks in on the next track, “When Will My Someday Come?” (A nod to the classic Miles version of “Someday My Prince Will Come.”) This is a straight-up jazz track with a live-combo feel that belies the fact that everything here is played by Allison, from from keys to drums to trumpet to guitar. And let’s talk about the guitar, not just here but through the disc. While on this track it’s got a viable classic jazz tone, mathematically perfect runs picking out the melody, work your way toward “Sahara Sun” to hear Allison unleash his six-stringed beast across drumwork that would do Art Blakey proud. The track works even more due to the quiet, pastoral melody ambling innocently along in the back as the guitar builds to a wild, fuzzy howl that drops out at exactly the right time. He shows his guitar’s soulful side as it smoothly dovetails with a classic slow-beat rhythm section on “As You Were.” (The bass here is thick enough to chew–just the way I like it.) The guitar trades leads with piano, played with late-night-lounge cool. The piano is at its most stunning on “Silent Smile (Angelo’s Song).” A romantic solo line slowly picks up quiet strings and bass. Midway, Allison brings in the trumpet, high and proud, to speak a short phrase that feels weighted with true emotion. In the last 30 seconds he reverts to solo piano save for one final chord. An amazing track. I like that Allison also keeps his ambient side in play here with the meditative “Waiting on a Dead Man’s Horse,” with its long, watery pads and ringing wind chime tones.
Dream in Blue is a high point in the Darshan Ambient story, a tale that’s been growing stronger with every new release. I think it’s a shame that Darshan Ambient is one of those wonderful secrets this genre community has been keeping to itself. This is a disc with crossover potential, the potential to expose more people to its cool fusion of styles that, in the end, simply add up to one very enjoyable, moving and beautiful CD of instrumental music.
Available from Spotted Peccary.