So there I was, eyes closed and smiling, just grooving along to the sweet guitar riffs in the middle of “The Sphere,” the second track on John Luttrell’s The Dream Exchange, and I thought, this is the kind of stuff that got me into New Age in the first place. Mind you, I don’t particularly care for the term “New Age,” but in Luttrell’s smooth, jazz-tinged style I could hear echoes of Kindler & Bell, Peter Maunu, Barry Cleveland–my cassette collection, circa 1987, when the genre’s name wasn’t in heavy debate. The Dream Exchange is a light and pleasant listen centered around Luttrell’s superb playing, but it’s also willing to take a step or two outside its own box. On the guitar-centric side, you can dip into “Interstellar Dust” where layers of overdubbed guitars create a sweet ensemble sound with just a hint of prog-rock structure. Harmonics ring and folksy lines are picked out in solos as this one eases along. The title track also has its share of close-your-eyes-and-enjoy guitar licks. There’s a classic semi-hollow sound at play here, a jazz classic, and it works fantastically against a backdrop of ambient pads and soft chords. “Dreamcast” is a gliding, lounge-infused tune that gets a little extra sexiness from slide guitar and shimmering. Luttrell’s leads here are like a lesson in smooth jazz, and I like the added touch of spiraling sequencer lines in the background. He pulls his piano up to share the front on “Away,” a beautiful ballad with a slightly stripped-down feel. I mean that as a good thing; there’s something about the very clear atmosphere here that accentuates the feeling of the song. The trade-off between piano and guitar is nicely balanced. Then there’s the point where Luttrell stretches for a bit more funk…”Ethereal Raga” is at once spacey and earthy, blending flutes, drums, a bit of chanting, and a few far-reaching chords liberally lifted from your favorite spacemusic tunes. In an album that hangs out more on the side of light jazz, this is a little bit of a risk–but it works. It has its own defining cool, and it breaks things up nicely without being too interruptive.
There are places where this album gets a bit too light for me, a bit too textbook New Age. (Lookin’ at you, choral pads and whooshy wind sounds.) But they’re the exception on this excellent outing, and easy to overlook. A very good end-of-day disc, charming, well-made, and worthy of repeat listens. I will take a dose of John Luttrell’s guitar playing anytime I feel like I need just a little more soul.
Available from CD Baby.