Anawaty/Russell: Analog Universe

On Analog Universe, their second of three planned collaborations, Cass Anawaty and Paul Russell slide into your listening space with a set of laid-back, post-rock-influenced tunes that take up immediate  and comfortable residence in your pleasure centers. These are songs rather than the longer, jazz-oriented excursions of their previous work, Monjour, and as such they’re more compact in their considerable impact. On videos posted to their web site, Anawaty and Russell both discuss being very conscious of keeping to this song-based structure as the disc developed. Russell’s focus in the past has been more pop oriented, he explains, so these pieces were more firmly in his wheelhouse. Which is not to say that Analog Universe eschews the elements of jazz, world music and ambient that informed Monjour. They’re all here. In fact, I find the songs here lean toward what I’d call a sort of “island jazz” feel in many places. There’s a Caribbean funk to some of the rhythms along with the cool complexity of jazz structures. (Charley Langer’s smooth sax on the opening track, “Theme for an Imaginary Noir” is your David Sanborn-esque clue there.)  It just happens to be wedged into 3- and 4-minute pieces. Anawaty and Russell, fine musicians in their own right, opted to load their roster with quality musicians to fill out their ideas. Virtuoso guitarist Don Latarski rejoins the team, packing tunes with his soaring, soulful lines. His opening licks on the title track pull in memories of Chris Rea–silky yet solid, each note so very distinctly fired, with just a spicy pinch of Spanish flair. I confess to playing this track several times in succession, and gladly so. Bassist Jeff Leonard also logs his second stint on the team. His delicious tones infuse pure, living soul into “If I Only Could.” His solo around the three-minute mark is heart-piercingly gorgeous. Of course, it helps that Anawaty has spent the time before laying down some stunning guitar work (love the harmonics) alongside flute from Romy Benton. This is a beautiful ballad that truly nails down the post-rock tone the duo were shooting for. Leonard later grounds the floaty strands of “Another Worldly” with rock-solid lines, and perfectly complements Benjy Wertheimer’s crying and singing esraj, an Indian bowed instrument, on the ambient-edged piece “A Space in Time.” “Deep Sighting,” the closing track, takes a Satie-like piano melody from Anawaty, quietly pulsing along on its own, and introduces it to the sharply plucked tone of a Chinese guzhang. As lovely as this simple duet is, it gets taken up another level when Dale Bradley’s rich cello is massaged into the mix. The hangtime given to the fade of the last note brings Analog Universe to a suitably pensive end.

The thing about Analog Universe is that you really need to dive as deeply into it as you can. It’s great as a casual listen–it’s quickly become a downtime go-to disc for me–but you have to recognize that  Anawaty does audio mastering for a living. He’s all about sound quality and depth, and he brings his absolute A-game to this disc, which is only augmented the more by Russell’s practiced input. There are so many small and subtle sounds, touches that literally last a moment, that absolutely resound in your head. The closer you listen, the more you understand how much these guys love this music. And you will, too. I quite expect Analog Universe to get a lot of well-deserved exposure and airplay on genre radio shows. It’s a great crossover disc that should appeal to New Age/world fans, jazz lovers, and folks just into quality instrumental music. Get this disc.

Available at the Anawaty/Russell web site.

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