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Marienthal, James: Speak To The Sky

If one thing is for sure and certain, no matter how many different classifications you discover, there’s always a music (sub) genre just around the corner that you never knew existed. On this occasion, as I browsed the website of jazz improvisation practitioner and flute player James Marienthal, the never before found (for me, anyway) category I stumbled upon was Healing Arts Music, a title for which the man in question won an award with his album Mysteries Of The Night: Alive Inside The Tank. In many ways that made a lot of Marienthal’s latest album, Speak To The Sky, make sense in a manner it hadn’t previously for me, because the main impression I was left with after listening to this remarkably gentle and considered fare was that it was more for meditation than for ‘simple listening pleasure’.

The press release that accompanies the CD I was sent for this review states “Speak To The Sky comes from a place of being immersed in nature, slowing down, listening and tuning in to divine resonance. It is a prayer from the heart, spoken in musical tongues through flutes, voice, strings and bells. The stirring sound of Native American flute prevail, enhanced by ethereal vocal harmonies and various stringed instruments, with poignant surprises that captivate the imagination. It is a reverential musical journey, intended to bring the listener to a place of peace and serenity, with respect for all creation, and a heightened sense of wonder in what lies beyond.”

Now, I don’t usually like quoting such long passages of text verbatim from press releases, but on this occasion I felt it only fair to do just that, because none of the aspects carefully constructed as the above words claim are why I sit down to listen to music. Yes, I want to be moved, involved, invigorated and, at times to be challenged and cajoled into asking questions I might not otherwise have. However, for me, coming from a rock, metal, prog (and admittedly much else beyond those boundaries) starting point, I personally need much more structure than the sparse spiritualness being laid down with an open and honest heart here. There’s little by way of percussion, and while the tracks do follow some kind of ‘structure’, calling these passages ‘songs’ would be both wrong and also a disservice, because that doesn’t appear to be the intention. What that leaves, for someone who has zero affinity for the Native American sounds that Marienthal pulls from the air, isn’t a great deal. Yes, the mood and atmospheres are heady and the overall landscape being painted by it cohesive and clearly cared for. And yet, with much here left as a shimmer of whispered suggestion, as most instruments and voices are left to ring on without muting and the space between notes can often say much more than the notes themselves, the pieces that are left for someone not touched by the deeper meanings being explored are merely leaves being tossed by the breeze. Therefore it possibly says much that the few moments I could connect with are played out through the piano led “Silence Seen”, which has a vocal-less Enya feel in places. With almost all of the rest of this album soothing from voice to flute via gentle strings and occasional rattles and bells, I have to admit to simply losing focus as the sounds continued on unnoticed.

James Marienthal is a hugely talented and respected musician and his skills are clear to hear on Speak To The Sky. However, sometimes you simply have to admit that the inner purpose being, I’d guess quite expertly, aimed for with an artist’s work, just misses your own mark.

Track Listing
1. First Breath
2. Wondering Who
3. Speak To The Sky
4. Escondida
5. Navajo Twilight
6. Returning Home
7. Silence Seen
8. A Terraplace Of Time

Added: February 20th 2021
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: James Marienthal online
Hits: 55
Language: english

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