One of the best releases this year. Just when you think you have heard it all, a new album comes into your life and takes you on a journey that you thought you had already got all the maps for, this is exactly what the new offering from Peter Kater and R Carlos Nakai has achieved. Ritual is an album that floats through a multiple of genres and creates a soundscape that is both enchanting and haunting, as it is beautiful and purposeful.
The opening to this amazing new release is called Meeting at Twilight and it achieves all of its goals with a speed and intensity that good music always does. There is a certain build up of pace in this track, that while it is relentless, it is also respectful and takes us dear constant listener, on a direct, but gentle journey through sight and sound. Can it really be 10 years since these two have performed with each other on an album?
I cannot really say I have a favourite, as I love them all, but the composition Standing as One came pretty close, featuring the sumptuous Cello of Jacques Morelenbaum and Katers magical piano, we have here dear constant reader a total classic, an eight minutes plus of magisterial beauty and when R Carols Nakai joins the fray, the piece grows with a strength and passion that is so rare in music these days, it has also to be said that the harmonic vocals of Trish Bowden added to this piece a real sense of angelic power and grace. The whole essence of this track from its basic musical construction to its over powering emotional direction, for me, makes this a near on perfect composition and believe me this is an occurrence that does not happen often, yes, without doubt, Standing as One should be regarded as a classic on its own merits.
Now settle back, we are about to go on an epic journey through the multiple genres of a musical paradise. I can now call Invoking The Elements, here Nakai and Kater are in their element and create a blissful soundscape to get totally lost in, it has to be said Kater is at his best on this composition, a little Jazz influenced piano is added to the mix on this track, but the slow pace and minor refrains from them both makes this one stunning composition. At times this piece reminded me of a Pavane, but the sombreness of its structure, was heightened at times with some Jazz wizardry from Katers stylish playing throughout. With sublime brass from McCandless we are treated to a piece that overall leaks pure quality.
The good news is dear constant readers and listeners, it just gets better and better, as we move to the piece entitled Offering, the production on this album is as outstanding as the performance, but here I loved the soulful vocals of Bowden, here she found herself within this piece and it floats like a boat down a soft summer river in July, at times whilst listening to this track I felt quite moved emotionally, it was as if the musicians were creating a musical landscape, a veritable inner dimension of beauty as they played.
Now for those of you who like to get lost in music, here is an opportunity, dear constant reader and listener, Kater and Nakai have now given to you a composition over well over 12 minutes to delve into. For the flute fans out there, prepare to be washed with some of the deepest and most meaningful flute I have heard played for many years and for those of you who like a piano to create an ambient inner world of peace and tranquillity, you need to look no further that the piece called Space Within. It also contains some wonderful chanting from R Carlos Nakai that creates a composition that is so deep and filled with intent its marvellous, there is a sense of real improvisation here that makes it even more wonderful, if indeed that is possible.
So to the penultimate piece off the album, it’s called Envisioning, the flute/whistle used here is so light one can almost feel the dawn of a Spring morning within it, with Katers piano and McCandless on brass again, it once more re-energises the album in the same way that the opening track did. There is a level of inner passion about this composition that if not listened to carefully, one may miss. Then it breaks into a gentler passage at a third of the way through that brings an extra dimension to the whole piece, but always there is Kater and his timely and leading piano, he shines on this track and as we move into the last segment Morelenbaum’s Cello gives us a arrangement that could almost be described as a suite. With R. Carlos Nakai reigning supreme with the Native American Flute, this 9 minute plus epic is just exceptional.
So time has once again come full circle and we have yet again arrived at the last track and it just happens to be the longest one at just over 13 minutes and each of the musicians who appear here on Ritual must be applauded. Dream Dancers is a truly respectful and significant track not to just end an album with, be it will stand alone as a composition to be revered in the years to come, the creation of a truly spiritual piece that just flows with the intent of love is more than infrequent, but within this track and the whole album Kater and Nakai have probably not just created another award winning album, but gifted to the world a genuine all time classic, this just has to be one of the best releases this year.
Although they have recorded at least eleven albums together over the past twenty or so years, Ritual is the first release in more than a decade from pianist/composer Peter Kater and Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai. On several of the seven tracks, the duo is joined by legendary reedsman Paul McCandless, cellist Jaques Morelenbaum, and/or vocalist Trisha Bowden. All of the music on the album was improvised and Kater states in the liner notes that “It is an offering and invitation for us all to meet in this place of pure beingness that transcends time, duality and concept. It is an expression of the totality and gift of each moment and the awareness that the experience of this journey is its own reward.” I have always found it fascinating that Native American flutes can work so beautifully with an instrument as different as the piano. Of course, both artists are beyond being masters of their respective instruments and are very much in synch creatively, but I still find it amazing that the much simpler flutes can hold their own with the very complex grand piano. This music is a coming-together of musical cultures that share and celebrate their differences as well as their similarities and unite as one. I have always given Peter Kater a ton of credit for being so open to such a wide range of musical expression, and even after fifty-plus recordings, he is still going strong! R. Carlos Nakai also does quite a bit of chanting on the album and there is a translation of his chant in the liner notes.
Ritual begins with “Meeting At Twilight,” a beautiful trio for piano, Native American flute, and oboe. Beginning with a brief flute solo, Kater then enters with a dark rhythmic pattern in the bass of the piano. McCandless’ English horn plays a gorgeous counterpart to the flute in a piece that is sometimes mysterious and sometimes more lively and upbeat - a great opening that sets the tone for the album as a whole. “Standing As One” starts out with a mournful cello and piano duet - very smooth and haunting. Once the flute and Bowden’s lovely voice have made the ensemble a quartet, the piece becomes an emotional powerhouse. “Invoking the Elements” returns to the trio of Kater/Nakai/McCandless and is impossible to classify into a specific genre because jazz and blues add subtle flavors to make this a tasty stylistic stew, if you will. I really love this one - fairly soft-spoken and subtle, but so expressive! “Space Within” is a 12 1/2-minute improvisation that is smooth and gentle and includes Nakai’s poetic chanting. “Dream Dances” is another lengthy improv that this time includes the whole group. At a bit over eleven minutes, the piece has plenty of time to evolve and move in a variety of directions, bringing the album to a satisfying close.
Longtime fans of the Kater/Nakai collaborations will be very happy with this new installment. Newcomers will find this a great place to start.