In the perfect world that exists only in my head, Darshan Ambient (aka Michael Allison) is on tour right now in support of his new disc, Falling Light, backed by a band of top-notch studio musicians and filling intimate clubs and small venues, and I have a chance to see him play live. It almost literally stuns me that Allison, a musician who so perfectly and so often straddles the borders between jazz, contemporary instrumental, and New Age music, isn’t getting the metric ton of respect and exposure he deserves. This is not hyperbole, this is fact, and a single foray into Falling Light will bear it out if you’ve got any question. Building on the sturdy jazz foundation of his previous superb release, Dream in Blue, Allison continues to lay down catchy, inspiring songs full of depth, inner meaning and a mighty dose of soul. Not in the funk sense, but pure, deep-down human soul. His signature is a masterful blend of catchy hooks and riffs paired with quiet synth pads that drift like dreams under the music, and it’s fully packed in here. “Out to Sea” opens with the pads, giving way to a simple phrase of four notes, then six, then four again, on piano. With each fresh pass, Allison gently lays in more elements–a sighing pedal steel guitar, the round, rich tone of fretless bass, and more. It’s wonderful in the way it embraces its simplicity. This sense–working off a central phrase that holds still as the music grows in pieces around it, comes back frequently. On “The Night Coming Home to Sleep,” piano takes center stage, speaking the phrase, accented with guitar and smooth washes. “To Look At In Winter” works off a simple scale run on piano while Allison piles in the layers. At the start, there’s an interesting and unexpected touch of vinyl crackle.
In listening to Falling Light, keep in mind that this is all Michael Allison. Every note, every instrument. Here he is, playing the Isham-esque trumpet in “Small Blue Ones.” He comes in after another hushed-dawn open on synths, playing a slow song. A jazz-perfect rhythm section folds in to keep time and pick up the tempo while the trumpet keeps its own pace in counter. One of my favorite tracks here, and not just because I’m an Isham fan from way back. Here he is tearing it up on a vocoder-sounding guitar on “Second Thoughts,” bolstered by a snappy backbeat on drums. (If you’re looking for the funkier version of the aforementioned soul, here it is. Come ‘n get it!)
With its (in my opinion) widespread crossover appeal, Falling Light is a shoo-in candidate to top the various Best Of lists for the year and would, in a perfect world, catch ample airplay not just on the various niche/New Age programs out there, but in the jazz-based mainstream as well. Make no mistake: this is a superb, amazingly constructed disc by a very, very talented musician. It’s got that Sunday-morning-music allure, laid-back and pleasant enough for a casual listen with your coffee, but is also strong enough, in the pure musical sense, to satisfy intent listeners.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading back into my perfect inner world to catch Darshan Ambient & Band at a local club.
Available from Spotted Peccary.