It’s been a long journey from playing her music to the birds and the wind, to becoming a recording artist who just released an award-winning CD. Lorrie’s Many Paths album has recently been named as the Best Native American Album for 2011 by Zone Music Reporter.com, where broadcasters who have reported Top 20 Playlists during a particular time period chose the category nominations and category award winners. According to Lorrie, “I never ever thought I would ever make a music CD let alone win an award. All I ever wanted to do was to be able to play the flute beautifully and hope that it would serve as a healing balm to those who needed to heal. I can only hope that in some small way I have served that purpose.”
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Many Paths is Native flute player Lorrie Sarafin's second CD and a more apropos title could not be placed on this diverse and highly proficient album. Branching out from her solid debut recording, Second Wind, and featuring accompanists for the first time, Sarafin displays an uncommon ability to traverse a variety of musical soundscapes with amazing ease and virtuosity. From the opening "The Last Buffalo" which would not be out of place on a Tuu, OYuki Conjugate, or perhaps even Steve Roach album, to the breezy jazz leanings of the closing title track, Sarafin navigates ambient, Native flute, jazz fusion, new age, and ethno-tribal territory as if musical boundaries simply didn't exist for her.
As a result, the cross-genre appeal of Many Paths is strong, especially for desert/tribal ambient fans who might ordinarily assume this to be more straightforward Native flute fusion music.
While the album is technically a 2010 release, a few of these tracks have been around, unreleased, for over a decade, but you'd never know it from how fresh they sound. Sarafin's adroit Native flute playing is sometimes front and center, and at other times, she manipulates the instrument to create some unusual sounds, as well as once again employing loops (for ambient textures and ethnic percussion), as she did on Second Wind. It is her startling versatility of talent which elevated the CD to the point where it made my best of 2010 list.
The artists joining Sarafin are keyboardist Rod Ibieta, pianist Fiona Joy Hawkins, and Celtic harpist Susan Rivers. Ibieta is featured on three cuts while the other two contribute on one song each; so, Many Paths is, for the most part, still a Lorrie Sarafin effort. I do not mean to understate the other musicians' contributions, in particular Ibieta whose work I have heard before. The pair's first collaboration, "Arrival," is a tasty slice of Native flute fusion where Sarafin's airy flights are matched by a semi-jazzy rhythm track and sampled guitar by Ibieta. "Sofia," a tender romantic ballad, is the next song on which the two artists appear, and here things slow down but the music retains some of the same overall sound. Acclaimed pianist Hawkins "joins" (via a long-distance collaboration since Hawkins hails from down under) Sarafin on the new age-ish "Celestial Seas," a gently flowing marriage of ambient textures and piano, accented with the sound of waves. "Shifting Sands" unites Sarafin's haunting wooden flute with Rivers' delicate playing, as serene harp tones merge with a sparse flute melody, yielding a song of peace and beauty.
The most unexpected tracks on Many Paths, though, are the deep ambient-tribal ones, such as "Circle of Peace," which reminds me of both Roach and Rich to varying degrees. The more overtly tribal nature of "Dreamtime" recalls either Tuu or O Yuki Conjugate in my frame of reference, probably more the former than the latter as the track is not as dark as the road O Yuki Conjugate usually traveled. You'd expect a song titled "Om," to be a meditative chant of sorts, but instead, Sarafin transports the listener into a rainforest landscape with underlying ambient currents and assorted tuned percussion and vaguely forbidding swatches of sonics. "After the Rain" features echoed Native flute and accompanying thunderstorm, crickets, dripping water, and darkish ambient elements. "Fire on the Water" is even darker...disturbing actually, with flute, textures, and tribal rhythms merging into a miasma/whirlpool of energy and fear.
It's hard to believe that an artist known primarily for her Native flute playing has this adventurous and exploratory music inside of her, waiting to get out. I wonder if there is any subgenre (which could be squeezed into a wooden flute context) which would prove beyond Sarafin’s reach. Ambient fans, in particular, should sit up and pay notice. If Sarafin ever commits to an entire album of ethno-tribal music; well, as Neo once opined, "Whoa!"
Rating: Very Good+
MANY PATHS is Lorrie Sarafin's follow up to SECOND WIND and again I find that the music is every bit as good as Lorrie's last album and strives to take the listener to that next level through a blending of familiar elements with the addition of some innovative sounds that proves that Lorrie is not content to just make the same music over and over again. At times I felt like I was on a spiritual journey with Lorrie that ranged from the song Dreamtime which was influenced by the native peoples of Australia to Mountain Temple Mist which was inspired by the temples of the Himalayas. And of course the journey takes us to the Navajo reservations of Arizona. Lorrie lives just outside of metro Phoenix which allows her to visit these music inspiring sites on several reservations including Navajo, Hopi, and Pima-Maricopa on a regular basis. Lucky for her and lucky for us as we reap the benefit of the music that is born in those places. This wonderful mixing of a variety of cultures in one album is what makes this journey worthwhile for the attentive listener.
You might think that with such a diverse range of cultures that the music might be a bit schizophrenic as each culture tries to assert itself through the songs that Lorrie has chosen for this album but such is not the case. I won't deny that the songs do evoke different images as you move through the tracklist from beginning to end but the songs do seem to created a unified journey for the listener giving the traveler a variety of scenes to contemplate as the music washes over them. Heck, at times I even found myself thinking of some of Steve Roach and Byron Metcalf's more tribal oriented music as I explored the songs on this disc. A song that illustrates this style of music would be the remix that was done of the song The Last Buffalo which is track 12 on this collection. Take a listen and see if you don't agree.
Of course this shows exactly what I was talking about earlier that Lorrie is not timid about exploring new ways to express her music that are not completely centered on her flute being the focus of each song. The flute is still there on many of the pieces but mixed or sampled in such a way that it complements the other instruments that are present on many of the songs. While Second Wind was mostly a solo effort Lorrie has enlisted keyboardists Rob Ibieta and Fiona Joy Hawkins as well as multi instrumentalist Susan Rivers to help realize the vision of her music that is Many Paths. The addition of these talented artists into the mix with Lorrie allows this album to offer to listeners a rich emotional landscape of songs that runs the gamut from tribal beats to the soothing sounds of her flute offering us refuge from the stress of the every day world that we all face.
And when I say runs the gamut I do mean that literally. Check out the song Arrival which starts off simply enough with an acoustic guitar and Lorrie's flute being played hauntingly in the background and then sit in amazement as it shifts into a smooth jazz piece that doesn't lose the listener but pulls them along without missing a beat. A tricky move to be sure but Lorrie was able to pull it off and then continue right on into the next track without leaving the listener wondering what happened to the music that they were listening to at the start of the album. The only nit that I might pick with this song is that it ends rather abruptly almost like it was cut off a little too prematurely but a great song while it lasted.
All in all I have no problem recommending this album if for no other reason than because of the musical ground that it covers in its 14 tracks. The running time is just shy of 60 minutes and allows the listener to spend some time getting to know Lorrie through the songs that she has chosen to share on this album. She has varied her sound palette with this album and has achieved some wonderful results by presenting her music in ways that won't be what the fans of Second Wind will expect. It is a refreshing approach to her signature Native American flute sound and through her skillful and imaginative handling of the songs she is able to express more of the emotions that live behind the songs that she composes. While not all of the songs are what I consider contemplative none of them wander too far from that mood to disturb those who might want to put this album on in the background as a way of relaxing at the end of a stressful day. Hats off to Lorrie for allowing her passions to lead her further down her chosen musical path and to share with us through Many Paths the excellent results of what she has discovered.
Definitely recommended by AV.
A Musical Journey through the Desert Southwest
From flutist Lorrie Sarafin comes an album which contains some of the best combinations of desert ambient soundscapes, haunting Native American-influenced flute, and environmental sounds since John Huling's classic release, Desert Plateaus.
Listening to SECOND WIND is like taking a journey through the southwestern United States, from the majestic landscapes of Monument Valley to ancient Anasazi and Pueblo ruins to shadowy sand and cactus landscapes which are both beautiful and terrifying in the isolation they represent. Employing various instrument sounds and loops (e.g. assorted synths, percussion and keyboards) as well as her excellent flute-playing, Sarafin portrays a day in the life of the desert, starting with Bobbi (Canyon Sunrise) and its plaintive echoed piano and washes of ambience with additional hand drums later added to the music, and ending with the eerie textural Dusk (featuring some evocative kalimba, i.e. thumb piano, set against the sounds of crickets and synth washes) and the mysterious yet serene Camelback Shadows with flute hovering over tribal percussion and waves of synths that evoke images of the lengthening shadows of the song’s title.
In between are thirteen more tracks, all of them offering variations of this assortment: ambient-flavored pieces that contain excellently engineered synth/keyboard washes and tones, songs dominated more by the artist's Native flute, or perfectly balanced blends, such as Floating, which bounces reverberating bell tones underneath pulsing hand drums, a flute refrain, and fluid synth lines. Some tracks delight with their inventiveness, such as the whimsically titled It's A Dry Heat (swooshing whirling synths set against sampled plucked upright bass which morphs into a quasi-glitchy piece as ping-ponging tones are set off by ebbing and flowing washes before settling into a shimmering collection of electronic textures, suggesting heat rising from the desert floor). Zen Gardens has, as one might expect, an Asian sound to it, although the addition of reverbed tones scattered throughout the track juxtapose the bamboo flute and tribal percussion nicely. Environmental sounds add just the right emphasis to Monsoon as approaching thunder leads to a torrential downpour before fading into a gentle rainstorm, while a Robert Rich-like flute floats hazily in mid-air and subdued electronic effects impart an otherworldly sensation to the piece.
From a technical standpoint, as an independent release, SECOND WIND is exceedingly well produced and engineered (the artwork is equally professional, especially when compared to some other indie first-time recordings I have seen). Seeing as how this is Lorrie Sarafin’s first solo recording, it’s exciting to speculate where she is headed. This album is one of the best efforts in capturing musical desert ambience I’ve heard in a very long time. I eagerly await future music from this extremely talented woman.
- Bill Binkelman