In a Distant Place
Longtime collaborators R. Carlos Nakai (Native American flute), Will Clipman (percussion), and William Eaton (harp guitar) are joined here by Tibetan flutist and vocalist Nawang Khechog for a bracing East-meets-West session of strings, chants, and winds. In a Distant Place sees the musicians cross into jazz territory, and the resulting dissonance and experimentalism may be a little unfamiliar to those listeners used to zoning out on Nakai's soft solo albums. Yet Khechog's flutes and vocals are nearly as buttery in tone as Nakai's, giving the album a rich depth, while William Eaton's wide array of custom-designed guitars adds a piquant twang. His insistent strings pulse rhythmically on "My Wild Heart Sings," with solo runs ricocheting stereophonically; udu drum, bass, and swirling wind sounds then propel the tempo upward as background chants and brassy Tibetan bells give the piece a religious ambience. Khechog sings four Tibetan prayers, including the rousing "Prayer for the New Millennium." Thunderous bass drum and the elephantine calls of the Tibetan trumpet raise it to thrilling heights as Nakai's small whistle sounds like a bird in a nearby tree and Eaton's guitars string stars through the heavens. "Dream Catcher" starts out in Nakai's customary canyon echo terrain, but Clipman soon picks up the pace with smart slaps on the djembe drum. The title track is an energetic musical prayer honoring the Dalai Lama, with two flutes riding polyrhythmic patterns of synth guitar and bass like a pair of eagles playing along wind currents. The album's more soothing moments allow you to laze back and look at passing clouds, but like the strong drumbeat on "As Long as the Grass Grows," In a Distant Place has a heartfelt mission of active compassion. "Barbarians at the Gate," with its war drums, grunts, trumpets, cymbals, and fuzz guitar, ends the set on a vigorous note.