Byron Metcalf, Inner Rhythm Meditations

metc_irmMost of Byron Metcalf’s work tends to be percussion-forward shamanic rituals that thunder into your soul to great effect, an invitation to grab hold of your primal power, saddle up your spirit animal, and take it for a ride. On Inner Rhythm Meditations, the drums settle back to chart a milder cadence as Metcalf, ably abetted by flutist Peter Phippen and Erik Wøllo on guitar and synth, taps into that part of your soul that just wants to move fluidly, sway gently, and celebrate being here. There are none of the usual passages where Metcalf just roars away on the skins–and believe me, I love those parts of all of his albums–but the constancy of the drums and other percussive elements, reassuringly holding down the proceedings like a collective heartbeat, are perfect accents to Phippen and Wøllo ‘s ambient flows. To a large degree, this is kind of Phippen’s show. Metcalf provides the steady, grounding life-beat, and Wøllo crafts the deep, breathable atmospheres, but Phippen is the one who takes your soul by the hand and leads it off to the higher places to let it soar around a while. The three-part chemistry is magically effective, and each component absolutely holds down its own role. Metcalf’s array of percussive voices square off nicely against Wøllo’s signature guitar sighs on “As Clouds Dance,” and Metcalf places each in its specific spot, setting the listener in the middle as the piece folds outward.  This track is a solid spotlight for Wøllo as well, between those sighs, some bright sequencer work, and short but soaring solo lines. The aptly titled “A Perfect Place” is a melting thing that effortlessly blends a hypnotic beat, long pads, and slowly curling guitar chords with singing flute.  Phippen sits out for a while as the other two lay down a very comfortable bed, then steps in to sweeten up the place. There’s a little sliver of cool attitude to it, skirting the familiar boundaries of a Native American sound with maybe just a suggestion of jazzy flair. Metcalf’s criss-crossing tones here are sublime, peppering the air with sharp, tiny sounds to offset the rich low bounce of the frame drum. At the end of the album, Phippen’s work on “Presence of Longing” goes a long way toward making this perhaps my favorite track. At the very least, it is the most deeply affecting and a perfect exit. Part of what makes it remarkable is how much of a back seat Metcalf takes. His role, largely, comes down to the simplest of strokes, a single slowly meted out note that holds the space as Phippen courses over ambient washes from Wøllo, which are also quite understated. The overall quiet of the piece lets the nuanced emotions of the flute pierce straight into your soul. Beautifully meditative. I could loop just this track and be content.

By making a slight change of approach to his usual style, Metcalf has crafted an album that stands out in his already impressive catalog. Inner Rhyhtm Meditations lacks none of the personal power of his more aggressively shamanic outings; instead, it achieves that same soulful connection and transcendence through the power of rhythmic repetition and blending the drums with mind-easing washes. What takes this over the top is how he then lets Phippen and Wøllo take turns shining at the front with their own voices and styles. This one has a permanent home in my list of personal favorites, and sits comfortably at the top for me among Metcalf’s albums.

Available from Byron Metcalf’s web site.

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