Laraaji - Sun Piano Music Album Reviews

Recorded in a Brooklyn church as the first installment of a trilogy, the new age pioneer’s latest shows him returning to his first instrument—the piano. 

Perhaps the most famous moment of Edward Larry Gordon’s career is his meeting with Brian Eno. The story feels mythic now, like a Disney movie set in the experimental-music scene: Upon seeing him sitting cross-legged and hammering away at open-tuned zither in New York City’s Washington Square park, Eno invited Gordon to perform at a nearby studio, an act of serendipity that culminated with the release of 1980’s Ambient 3: Day of Radiance, released under Gordon’s new moniker, Laraaji.
40 years on, the story still overshadows Laraaji’s legend as a pioneer of ambient and new age music. He’s responsible for more than 50 albums by now, but his evolution as a performer and his status as an innovator are both footnoted by Eno’s long-ago role as a musical (and white) savior. Before that fateful encounter, Gordon had a small acting role in the cult 1969 media satire Putney Swope, directed by Roberty Downey Sr. Later, as a slapstick comedian working at the Apollo Theater in Harlem (where he still lives today), he shared stages with Barry White and Roberta Flack. All of this occurred before his meditative practice revealed a concept of “sound vision” to him and inspired his first album of zither-based works, Celestial Vibrations, which came out under his birth name in 1978.

Laraaji’s newest album, Sun Piano, is the first installment in a trilogy of improvised recording projects. Recorded at a church in Brooklyn, the album is another emanation of Laraaji’s distinctive connection to music—as a source of energy, as a way of being in the world, and as a personal practice. As the title hints, the album shows Laraaji returning his first instrument, the piano, which he studied at Howard University. In a recent Washington Post interview, he described his time at Howard as a period of learning less about formal composition, his specific field of study, and more about acquiring an attitude for approaching the piano. “The piano is an instrument that gives voice to how I hold space for light,” he said.

In their own way, the performances captured on Sun Piano attempt to pass this radiance on to listeners. It’s an act of transference that never fully delivers on the inner escape offered by Laraaji’s more recognizable zither and synthesizer-based performances. On the album’s centerpiece, “This Too Shall Pass,” a plucky and playful ascending progression quickly loses its charm as a theme, settling to hammer its way to a finish. The recording, which is distant and compressed, squeezes all the character out of Laraaji’s soft technique. The gentle arpeggiations of “Temple of New Light” might possess the same kind of solar power found on Day of Radiance, but its brittle sonics will leave headphone listeners feeling sun-poisoned during the louder parts.

The same dynamics nearly mar “Lifting Me,” but then the piece locks into a mantra-like rhythm, notes landing like muted mallet hits. It’s an apex of Sun Piano, offering us the feeling one might associate with a mood-altering ray of sun during a blustery day. At four minutes, though, the feeling doesn’t last.

Laraaji’s playing on Sun Piano isn’t technically ambitious; he opts for short, safe runs and open chords that rub up against some dissonant voicings as he fiddles with the mixture of notes. Harmonies, countermelodies, and complex compositional structures are avoided to better focus on the energy of a given moment. Sometimes, as with the perfect closer “Embracing Timeless,” which moves across the keyboard like a plotless morning walk, you wish Laraaji lingered for his customary 30 minutes or longer.

Sun Piano may just be a minor spark in a career that has emitted sound, and vision, in a slow, consistent burn. Our greatest living practitioner of new age music has lived a life intent on casting light into the darkened recesses of the self and of the spirit. Even if his latest offering is considerably dimmer than his most golden works, it’s still a confident assertion that, even at 77 years old, his pursuit of the sun’s life-affirming light shows no signs of wavering.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Laraaji - Sun Piano Music Album Reviews Laraaji - Sun Piano Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, August 11, 2020 Rating:

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