Collaboration is a way of life in the ambient world, and I like it that way. Bringing talent together for the first time creates fresh chemistry, new explorations, and re-imagined definitions of the craft. So it is with Common Ground, the trio of Bill Olien and Gary Johnson from Resonant Drift and spacemusic composer Hollan Holmes, with ambient legend Robert Rich handling the mastering. The initial liftoff is from a grounded standpoint, opening with nature sounds. But it’s not long before we leave that behind for broader, deeper places. To be honest, the first couple of minutes of this track, Many Voices,” don’t do much for me, between the chirping and the straightforward pads. Then the warm, round tone of fretless bass slips in and nudges my attention. Sequencer work—I presume it’s Holmes’—begins to percolate in the middle of the flow, and now I’m hooked. The piece works back down to its starting point, and I find I’m more okay with it at this stage. That blend of pads and rhythms also drives “Ancient Whispers.” This piece will pull in some Steve Roach reference points, with understated tribal drumming counting off time as Johnson leaks out sighing guitar chords a la Streams & Currents. The trio keep this one dialed down in tone; its smooth waveforms ease into your system. When these gentlemen shift into more beatless zones, the drift is blissful. The stretch formed by “The Apollo Frequency” and “Edge of Tranquility” is filled with warmth and dimension and a feel that seems more driven by Holmes’ ambient sensibilities than Olien’s and Johnson’s. Of course, it’s the collaborative effort of all three, and what we enjoy here is pure and correct chemistry, so I really don’t care who’s at the helm. I’m just along for the calm ride. “Apollo” offers up some changes in tone that nudge toward being too sharp, but the skilled hands at the controls lay off just enough that they instead accent the drama of the passage. “Tempest Rising” opens in the same soft space as “Edge…”, but true to its name, begins to ramp up in intensity a few minutes in. This is another spot where solid sequencer work takes the lead and laces in a cool old-school sense. The closing track, “The Ties That Bind,” takes an interesting approach of building up a stretch of pads, very full and gentle, then letting them fade down to virtually nothing. A pause, and then the next wave rises slowly. Small sounds tick and ping like light chimes in the background, and the feel overall is simply meditative. A nice way to end this hour-long run.
Despite its (to me) slow start, Common Ground becomes a very listenable, very engaging album. I have long appreciated both Resonant Drift and Hollan Holmes, and from what I hear here, the decision to come together was a very good one, indeed. I hope this is just the first Common Ground release. Be sure to give this one a listen.
Available at the Common Ground web site.