(110) Thom Jurek, All Music Guide -- August 2001

The latest Alex Cline Ensemble endeavor is the first since 1999's Sparks Fly Upward, and is a poetic masterpiece. Back is the haunted, hunted stoned angel voice of Aina Kemanis, with violins provided by Jeff Gauthier, Michael Elizondo's bass, G.E. Stinson's guitar and Wayne Peet's keyboards to accompany the massive percussion, synthesizer and string skills of Cline (on kantele and autoharp). Also lending a hand are Cline's guitar monster brother, Nels; soprano saxophonist Vinny Golia; a percussion ensemble headed by producer Peter Erskine and a host of relatives and friends of band members reading six poems by the late Akiko Yosano. The opener, "Paramita," is dedicated to the memory of Don Cherry. After a brief poem spoken by Kemanis, the piece opens with a deep, thunderous drumming. Eventually, in her ghostly yet serene voice keyboards, bass and the kantele (a kind of zither) enter the tune and become its body. Kemanis hovers above, ever so slightly, bringing her musicians with her into the heavens, ever so slowly until the entire tune is transformed from a piece of musical poetry into a prayer. On "Evening Bell," dedicated to the late composer Toru Takemitsu, singing bowls usher in bells and scrape yet resonant strings-Gauthier overdubbed-and very eventually, Kemanis' vocal. The work holds together with a spiritual thread, nothing more binds its disparate parts. Improvisation is everywhere, yet reined in with an aesthetic control of space. One of the standout tracks is the title cut, dedicated to the memory of John Carter whom Cline cut his musical teeth with. Not remotely resembling anything Carter would compose, the piece nonetheless employs his compositional methodology and uses space for improvisation in much the same way. While there isn't a weak moment on this outrageously ambitious recording, worthy of an essay instead of a review, there are some moments that need to be mentioned if for no other reason than to point listeners in a general direction. "Bridge," for (the living) David Sylvian, begins with a gorgeous vocal from Kemanis, singing the simplest of lyrics, accompanied only by a keyboard for half of the piece's 13 minutes. As her vocal opens the musical field, percussion, other keyboards, strings and reeds join together with her shimmering in the dark heat. By disc's end, it's obvious that Cline and his band can accomplish anything they want to, there be no chasm they cannot breach. In the spare, night-drenched sparseness that is "Benediction," (written for and sung by Kemanis) the keyboards and whispering cymbals offer a closing to a set of music that is both sacred and yet entrenched in the ravaged beauty of the earth. Cline's music is boundless and cannot be more or less than any of the sounds that he and his band evoke in their search for musical wholeness. As brave and uncompromising as it is inherently beautiful, this is Cline's finest moment as a leader thus far.

Thom Jurek
All Music Guide
August 2001