One of the great things about writing for Sea of Tranquility is that I'm always getting turned on to new music and discovering new artists. This was exactly the case when I received a copy of the latest ECM release from guitarist Steve Tibbetts entitled Natural Causes. Now Steve has been an established musician for well over thirty years and yet my first exposure to this supremely talented guitarist comes here on his eighth album for ECM, and his first for the label since 2002's A Man About A Horse. Oh well you have to start somewhere and maybe it was just a case of being in the right frame of mind, but to be honest, for this reviewer this was probably the best place for me to get acquainted with the Minnesota based musician.
Natural Causes is a primarily an acoustic based affair that finds Tibbetts once again collaborating with his longtime percussionist Marc Anderson. As you might have guessed by glancing at some of the song titles the music here, and especially his Steve's guitar playing which often sounds like he's playing a sarangi, has such a distinct Eastern feel to it. This is also due to his approach of using sampled gongs and other metal-key instruments which are triggered from a midi interface hooked up to his acoustic guitar. The overall sound is increasingly fleshed out and carefully layered with the help of Tibbetts' piano, kalimba and bouzouki, along with Anderson who handles all the percussion, namely hand and steel drums as well as gongs.
According to Tibbetts he is "partial to silence, breaks, decay, full stops in music" and that on Natural Causes he "could have delineated separate sections in some compositions at a break, but I like the idea of freezing silence or gaps into the fabric of the music. It was tempting to have the entire album appear as one track, one unbroken piece."
The overall effect of this approach on the music here is undeniable. The silence or gaps can certainly be detected in various places throughout the album and yet they never interrupt the natural, free flowing beauty so present in each and every one of these compositions. It's as if the listener has been seduced into an exotic, lush, meditative state for forty glorious minutes as Tibbetts intricately weaves layer upon layer of deliberately and lovingly crafted atmospherics into each track.
When reviewing an album of this magnitude, I find it surprisingly difficult to articulate and effectively put into words the emotional impact generated by music like this. It doesn't happen nearly as often as I wish it would, but when it does it's nothing short of spiritual, that's really the only way I can put it to you. Natural Causes is quite simply a thing of beauty and if perfection exists in music then this disc has to be regarded as such. If you haven't yet experienced the magic of Steve Tibbetts then I can't honestly think of a better place to start than right here.
**Interesting to note that during the sessions for Natural Causes Steve cut a beautiful acoustic version of Hendrix's "Villanova Junction" that he ultimately felt didn't fit in with the music on this disc. However if you want a real aural and visual treat you can view it easily enough on YouTube, as he interprets Hendrix in his own distinct style with what appears to be the mountains of Tibet as a backdrop. It's definitely something to see and hear.
5) Sangchen Rolpa
10) Kili-ki Drok