by Hannah M.G. Shapero
July 30, 2002
The versatile Steve Roach returns to the neo-tribal world of shamanic percussion with this thunderous album, performed with drummers Jeffrey Fayman and Momodou Kah, and with guitar tonalities by prog-rock veteran Robert Fripp. Fayman and Momodou have appeared previously with Roach and Byron Metcalf on 2000's THE SERPENT'S LAIR. Throughout the years, Roach has been able to assemble a constellation of top talent to produce a body of work that melds aboriginal percussion and wind instruments with 20th century electric guitar and 21st century synthesizers. TRANCE SPIRITS is the latest addition to the collection.
It is interesting that Roach's guitar ambient album STREAMS & CURRENTS came out in the same year as this one. The two Roachworks could not be more different. Streams has hardly any rhythm at all; it's pure harmony, a music of rest and dream. TRANCE SPIRITS is all about exciting, entrancing rhythm, with harmony kept in the background. The two drummers, Fayman and Momodou Kah, perform live and acoustic; no electronic generators or looping for them. As a result, the interactions between the ensemble beats become as complex as any fractal programming could produce, with the subtle irregularities and constant changes only possible with the work of human hands. Sometimes the drums carry on with galloping intensity, as in track 6, "Year of the Horse," where you ride with wild Central Asian horsemen over virtual steppes. At other times, the drums boom slowly, sending mysterious messages over the sustained notes of the electric guitars and synthesizers.
The Roach sound we have come to know and love is here, too; his modified electric guitar, which seems to be his current instrument of choice, is joined with the shimmering drones of the synthesizer, holding down complex and dissonant tone-clusters. In track 3, "Off Spring," the drum is nearly silent and the echoing electronic / guitar horizons are all you hear. In track 4, Roach, going solo, sends forth what he calls a "hybrid groove," a rhythm that mixes elements from both electronic and acoustic sources. The album ends with a grand ensemble of all players together, along with Fripp's guitar and Roach's "mystic chord," a towering sound-structure from the late 19th century (composers like Scriabin, Debussy, etc.) which Roach has adapted for the 21st.
TRANCE SPIRITS is an album of our time, blending the futuristic and the prehistoric, drums of skin and wood working together with computers of plastic and silicon. A visual note: The cover and interior of the CD papers feature the eerie, Deco-Mayan-visionary sculptures of Ralph Prata, (more of them are visible at http://www.ralphprata.com) which do the same in carved concrete which Roach and company do in sound.