Soul Ascending from the Primal to the Celestial presents a variety of vistas with a nearly equal number of styles. Veteran composer George Wallace offers up spacey ambient, semi-dark tribal, and touches of world music in these 12 tracks. It’s a mind’s-eye sort of affair, as Wallace shows a solid feel for setting a scene and telling a story within the few minutes he allows each song. His ambient work is suitably quiet and leans toward the spacemusic side of things, that sense of vastness that comes from big, well-layered pads. “Celestia Aeterna”is one such piece, building up from the soft call of chimes (of which, it must be said, there are many on this album). It gracefully floats outward, a very classic-sounding bit of work, light and promising, anchored with a nice bass drone. Its followup, “Mystery Unfolding,” drifts along as well, but is infused with a dramatic chord structure that raises the narrative ante. (And it has chimes.) As noted, however, it’s not all ambient here. “In-Betweenland” recalls Windham Hill combos with it rolling fretless bass. Hand percussion sets the groove, and a lightly applied jazzy feel weaves its way over washes and pads. “Speaking in Tongues” rams forward on tribal percussion and widens out into a world-music groove. “Ecstatica” (which falls under the “Speaking in Tongues” storyline of the disc–see Wallace’s web site for info) opens as a dark, drifty piece, then drops in bouncy didge and a shuffling beat that takes it to a cool new place. There’s almost too much added for my preference–for example, a high, Eastern- style flute comes in here and there, but it feels it walked into the wrong room yet decided to stick around. This happens here and there on Soul Ascending; spots where it seems that Wallace is trying to do too much, throwing too many frames of reference at us. It only stands out for me because other songs where Wallace embraces less density work very well. “Tibetan Moon Behind Clouds,” for example, is a lush drift that makes the most of its simplicity and still packs a distinct emotional core. Or “The Primordial Chord,” where pads mix with acoustic strings (and chimes, of course) in a very affecting, hypnotic blend.
Soul Ascending is a pleasure to listen to. It’s diverse without straining; each piece is strong on its own and moves the whole forward. While, as noted, I prefer the simpler side of Wallace’s work, pretty much everything here hits. Be sure to check this one out.
Available from Airborn Music.