Monday, November 1, 2021


JEFF GREINKE (his personal website is here)
Other Weather

Spotted Peccary (2021)

I first heard Jeff Greinke's music when I bought In Another Place (released in 1993) and to say it was love at first listen would be apt. Over the decades, I have intently followed his career arc as he evolved and morphed, going through assorted phases, and each shift in his creative focus has both surprised and delighted me. I know that some of his hard core dark ambient fans (who enjoyed earlier releases like 1985's Cities In Fog and 1987's Places of Motility felt "cast adrift" as Greinke entered a "softer" period with masterpieces more akin to Tim Story's tragic minimalism, best represented by 2007's  Winter Light and 2009's Virga, but no matter which direction Jeff Greinke took his music in, I was left fascinated and appreciative of the scope and depth of his composing and performing talent.

Other Weather presents a hybrid of sorts, encompassing a variety of the various musical tableaus he has crafted over the past 20+ years. The title may be a call back to 1994's Big Weather, or even to the aforementioned Virga, and each of the eleven tracks' titles features either a subtle or more direct connection to weather itself (e.g. "Rain Through the Night," "Snow Across a Windswept Plain," "Clouds Like Flying Saucers"). Greinke has always shared Tim Story's unique and evocative way when it comes to giving tracks their titles.

All that out of the way, Other Weather is freakin' beautiful and can stand alongside his entire pantheon of previous excellence, and for me, landing near the top of his lengthy discography. Greinke leans more heavily on his own talent and less on guest artists (e.g. compared to the aforementioned Winter Light and Virga), with Heather Bentley (cello, violin, viola), Alex Guy (viola), and Paris Hurley (violin) as well as Greg Campbell (French horn, small percussion), and James DeJoie (clarinets and flutes) appearing only on either tracks 5 and/or 10. The rest is all Greinke, demonstrating brilliance via an assortment of keyboards and whatever other instruments he plays (none are specifically listed for him).

More than once, I "caught a whiff" of the soft, subtle, dark ambience of In Another Place, which is "light" compared to a lot of dark ambient music, suffused with a subtly glowing/flowing gentleness that is discernible among the darker shades of menace and mystery. Other tracks hew closer to his more recent exploration of warmer ambient soundscapes. However, make no mistake about this being "new agey" (which, as you should know by now, is not meant as any criticism of that esteemed genre, but merely a point of reference for the sake of more clearly defining the overall characteristic of Greinke's music). What Greinke does so well, both here and on some of his other albums, is coalesce his ambient textures around a plaintive piano melody, which is sometimes centered around minor notes and other times slightly more "optimistic" major ones. Many tracks feature either a strong sense of dramatic tension, or at least an undercurrent of it. In this regard, and especially when paired with the weather references in the song titles, his music reflects the almost limitless possibilities of our planet's weatherscapes.

Those tracks that feature the string and/or wind instruments ("Snow Across a Windswept Plain," and "Icebreaker") share similar motifs and themes to Winter Light and Virga, but not in any way derivative of either of those previous works. The other nine tracks traverse a shifting series of sonic landscapes consisting of a bedrock of piano and a wide variety of ambient textures, e.g., the chime-like tones in "Outflow" or the extremely subtle koto-like accents in "Storm Chaser." "Rain Through the Night" best exemplifies the more shadowy side of Greinke's musical persona with a series of repeating piano phrases laid over subdued yet moody atmospheric touches.

Before I sum up, I just want to give props to Howard Givens for his, as usual, superb mastering job on the album, which Jeff Greinke produced on his own and did the superlative mix as well.

If Jeff Greinke is relatively unknown to you (which begs the question, Why?), Other Weather is a great initiation to this under-appreciated artist in the ambient field (who also branches out in interesting ways on albums such as 2013's Scenes From A Train. Greinke is one of a few select artists who always elicit the musing "I can't wait to see what he/she does next?" from me. Other Weather continues to have that effect on yours truly. It's easily one of the best records of 2021.


Click this link for purchase options via the Spotted Peccary website


DEBORAH MARTIN (her personal website is here) AND JILL HALEY
The Silence of Grace

Spotted Peccary (2021)

Being quite familiar with both ambient artist Deborah Martin's and multi-instrumentalist (in the contemporary instrumental/new age music genre) Jill Haley's bodies of work, I was particularly interested (to say the least) in what their collaboration would yield. Would it hew closer to Martin's electro-acoustic soundscapes or Haley's masterful flowing melodicism with an emphasis on major notes/chords? Well, to say I was surprised is an understatement. Seldom do two dissimilar artists join forces and "hybridize" their individual musical personas into something that, while not totally unlike their separate "voices," incorporates elements of each of their strengths to produce a melding that seems as if it came from a single source. But that is precisely what The Silence of Grace displays, i.e. a blending together of disparate elements which actually creates a whole new sound.

The Silence of Grace is one of those vexing recordings for reviewers like me, i.e. I try to both describe the music in (at least somewhat) concrete terms as well as evaluate it on its artistic merits. Here, the music defies easy "literal" descriptors, other than listing the instruments these two artists play. For the record, Haley plays English horn, oboe, percussion, and a Yamaha Motif, while Martin's list of electronics and keyboards contains the same Yamaha, as well as a Roland V-synth GT, Roland Integra, Spectrasonics Ominsphere, Taos drum, and percussion. What it all adds up to is, in a word, gorgeous. And I mean drop dead gorgeous. The eight track titles call to mind images that evoke drama, power, awe, and beauty, (e.g. "Verdant Sanctuary," The Stillness of Forest Bathing," "Water Flows of Clouds and Thunder") all elements which are present in abundance throughout the album.

The presence of a fair amount of orchestrations tilts the album in a classical/soundtrack direction, although for many I would think The Silence of Grace is still rooted in am ambient aesthetic. Haley's assorted woodwinds, which here she plays in a dissimilar style when compared to, e.g., her solo National Park series of releases, also contribute to the classical sound to the music. To be honest, more than a few times while listening to the album, I heard faint (or not so faint at times) echoes of Aaron Copland, albeit at his most subdued. Obviously, this is meant as a huge compliment, but it should not deter ambient/new age fans who do not enjoy classical music (either contemporary or traditional) from streaming this album and, if found to be to their liking, purchase it.

There is a gentleness of sprit at work on some tracks, such as "Verdant Sanctuary," with twinkling bell tones dancing over the woodwind melodies, accented by subtle ambient and orchestral accents. Pastorale elements are painted into "The Stillness of Forest Bathing" and one can almost imagine the sun shining through a canopy of tall trees. Here, and everywhere on The Silence of Grace, what stands out the most is how seamlessly Martin's electronics/keyboards mesh with Haley's woodwinds, almost as if they were the work of a single mind (as I mentioned earlier above). I would imagine attending the recording sessions (held at Dreaming Edge Studio in Vancouver, Washington) would prove mesmerizing for the listener, even possibly transportive.

Tip of the hat to mixing engineer Matthew Stewart (also at Dreaming Edge) as well as Howard Givens who mastered the album at Spotted Peccary Studio NW in Portland, Oregon.

I hope that The Silence of Grace finds the huge and appreciative audience it deserves. To say I was blown away by this collaboration between two artists whose careers I have followed for years (especially Martin, whose debut release, Under the Moon, introduced her to the world in the in 1995) may be understatement of the year. I have been lucky enough to meet them both in person and it is easy to see that their music is an extension of who they are as people and that the heart and soul they infuse in each note and chord is sincere and deeply rooted in an emotional core of artistic expression. 

Click this link for purchase options via the Spotted Peccary label