Set the scene: I am driving up Interstate 95 from my home south of Boston to Portland, Maine. It is late October but New England is enjoying a second June, the warmth of the day contradicting the rich reds, oranges and yellows of the trees along the road. The afternoon sky is a glassy blue. On my stereo, Lawrence Blatt and his friends are playing an absolutely perfect soundtrack for the trip. This is what Emergence is to me: the soundtrack of a gorgeous day, laid back and promising, bright and memorable. That being said, Blatt took a somewhat mathematical approach to the music here, with his guitar parts written “by strictly adhering to musical rules of chord progression and scale theory.” From there, he brought in musicians who were not given any written music, but were instead “instructed…on the ‘allowable’ movement [of their solos] based on guidance from musical theory and practice.” Of course, when the folks you invite include names like violinists Charlie Bisharat (Shadowfax) and Lila Sklar, and cellist Eugene Friesen, can you really go wrong? Emergence, produced by Will Ackerman, is going to quickly find a home in the collections of folks who love a Windham Hill-style sound. That super-clean production is here, every sound rich and masterfully balanced, and the whole thing is shot through with a lovely sense of homeyness and honesty. “The Place Where Monarchs Go” belongs to Bisharat, his strings singing straight to your heart as Blatt picks alongside him. Blatt and Sklar follow the formula on the next track, “Poloyne,” a bit of a gypsy dance where he bridges the space between her beautiful flights of song with a low, snaky riff on the bass strings. There are so many nice touches from the guest musicians here. French horn from Gus Sebring and English horn from Jill Haley add bright, fluid tones over Friesen’s deep cello lines on “Walking Among Tulips.” Sebring and Blatt pair up for “Where the Pines Once Stood,” with Sebring settling nicely into a complementary role, his harmonies filling the backdrop with long, soft tones. And among all this wonderful chemistry, let us not overlook Blatt’s solo pieces, “A Promise in the Woods” and “Entering the East Gate.” The crisp, folk-infused melodies are pure and pleasant and comforting, exactly the stuff that made us love Windham Hill way back when. For folks with a musical bent, by the way, Blatt’s liner notes include the guitar tunings and capo placement for each track. Enjoy.
So, yes, Emergence can be your official soundtrack for driving along scenic vistas, but it’s beautiful anywhere. It’s become an end-of-day, time-to-relax album for me with its down-home comfort and easy, contemplative feel, but I also love it in headphones to take in the excellent production work and to really dig into the interplay between these wonderful musicians. New Age fans will love this disc, and everyone should come have a listen to Emergence.
Available from Lawrence Blatt’s web site.