Sitting down to write about Forest Spirits, the third release in Conni St. Pierre’s “Nature Spirits” series, the first word that comes to mind is, appropriately enough, “organic.” I mean this partially in the way of the album flows, from the simplicity of unadorned flute on “Forest Light” through more complex arrangements featuring a variety of global instrumentation and then returns to the simplicity of the flute on “Roots Breathing Down.” But also, and particularly in the case of the flute pieces, I mean organic in a beautifully raw, wabi sabi kind of sense. On “Forest Light,” and later in “Snow Covered Branches,” we are given St. Pierre’s playing, miked very close and intimate. We hear and almost feel the drawing of breath and the hard puffs across and into the mouthpiece. Not every note is clean and perfect, particularly on “Forest Light,” and that in itself (to me, at least) makes it perfect. The feeling is bare and honest and elemental and hard-focused on the organic nature of the instrument. Across the rest off the release St. Pierre and some friends branch out, pun only slightly intended, to explore other themes. “The Clearing” uses a tremolo effect, like sunlight shimmering through the forest canopy, to underscore a gentle procession of flute with guitar from Pat Malla. This is my favorite track on this release, for its casual glide and lightly hypnotic air. Running a close second is “Branches Up.” This is a light, airy song driven by hand percussion and acoustic guitar. Phil Poirier contributes guitar and some gorgeous overtone singing to the mix. It’s just a smooth bit of feel-good groove. The guitar comes back in a heavier guise on “Lycopodium,” as Ted St. Pierre wrenches out big bass chords with a cool metallic resonance. They’re balanced nicely against a simple wash of drone, warm and quiet. Piano takes the forefront on “Leaf Shadowing,” its dramatic melody getting occasional assists from flute and Eastern-style strings. There is also a bit of Eastern flair on the delicate “Bend in the Wind,” which feels like a walk through a Zen garden on a chilly day. St. Pierre’s shakuhachi flute shares the lead with what I believe is a harp, doing its best koto impersonation. The way they dance around each other carries a hint of improvisation. Again, there is an interesting sense of intentional imperfection in some moments, the feel of two things just a moment apart from one another. Far from sounding sloppy, it’s integral to the soul of the piece. It’s a wonderful rawness, the moment accepted as it is. (I do recognize that this is probably a well-rehearsed and intentional aspect of the piece, but to my ears it has that roughened charm.) St. Pierre takes something of a risk with the closing piece, “Roots Breathing Down.” Here again is the flute, alone and up close in a long meditation. St. Pierre plays with dissonance and long-held notes. There are aggressive, low-end tones that drill straight into you to pull out a response. The feeling is intensely personal; this is her playing straight from her center, connecting breath to instrument to soul. It’s not easy to take in at first, but I find myself once more drawn deeply into the truthful rawness of the sound, the deep earthiness that ties so strongly to the theme of the release. It may not be for some, but the more I have listened to it, the more I’ve come to appreciate what St. Pierre is doing. Also, as noted above, this closes the circle nicely, bringing us back to the solo flute.
Forest Spirits is a fantastic piece of work. I love the way it moves from simplicity to complexity and back. St. Pierre is a gifted musician whose sound is full of soul and spirit. A must-hear release.
Available from Conni St. Pierre’s web site.