Time Travel







Wind & Wire
- A Review by Bill Binkelman

Richard Bone

     Richard Bone, one of the most chameleon-like artists in EM/ambient music today, has released still another great album. Tales from the Incantina is a recording of musical impressions of the Toltecs, an ancient and spiritual people, and their relationship with their gods. But, this being Richard Bone, don't expect the usual ambient-tribal fusion music. This is not o yuki conjugate or anything remotely like it. In fact, this recording is proof once again of Richard's ability to both re-invent himself and also to stay uniquely Richard Bone. How the man does it is anyone's guess. Maybe he did a deal with Elizabeth Hurley, a la Bedazzled ? (Or perhaps it was Peter Cook?)

     Musically, a lot of Tales from the Incantina is, believe it or not, a variety of spacemusic. Occasionally cast somewhat (emphasis on the somewhat) in the mold of Serrie, Vangelis and, more recently, Anthony Baskey, Richard also mixes in some Tim Story along with some of his usual whimsy. The result is an album that is warm, melodic, frequently minimal, and yet also rooted firmly in EM-land (even retro EM at times).

     The opening cut, "In Said Katun,"  features lush synth choruses rising and falling over a background of positively celestial synths. While Richard has never been one for gloom-and-doom dark ambient, the sheer ethereal nature of this song surprised even me. It's a soaring slice of spacemusic. The second cut, "Nagualito," introduces some motifs of the rest of the album - an undercurrent of subtle electronic bass notes, a somewhat muted piano played in a minimal style, and echoed vibrato synth notes, panned from side-to-side. There is a faint air of something retro to the underlying electronics and some of the lead synths as well, but it's a pleasant nostalgic feeling to my ears. "A Column of Glyphs" continues with the vibrato-synth textures, along with some mellow other keyboards, sounding like they strayed over from Coxa . The lead melody is taken by a mournful sounding keyboard and the cut becomes a bit wistful, maybe even sad. Synth chimes, a tad Vangelis (circa Chariots of Fire ) enhance the air of regret or loss. It's a lovely and melancholy number. At the end of the song, the synths shimmer like diamonds before the sad refrain returns.

     "Inevitable Zen" opens with a kind of distorted effect, sounding like quickly turning a radio volume up and down repeatedly. I wish I had a better description for the effect, but I don't. Very quickly, a minimal piano melody predominates, although this strange reverb-like effect continues in the background, rising and falling. The highly impressionistic piano on this song reminded me of Tim Story. Washes of other synths merge with the opening effect and the piano. Here¹s another cut that has an air of either sadness or reflection to it. With about a minute and a half to go, an oboe (!) floats into view, and now the Story comparison is emphasized even more. By the way, for those who don¹t know it, my comparisons to Tim Story are highly complimentary. I hold him and Mr. Bone in very high esteem!

     "The Fifth Riddle" lightens the mood a little, mixing piano and swirling synths, with a stereo-panning vibrato effect. The panning, unfortunately, is a tad distracting on headphones, but on loudspeakers it¹s just fine. By now, on Tales from the Incantina , one thing that struck me was how electronic this recording sounds. I mean, Richard¹s music is almost always EM-sounding to some degree. But this, because it is not the same kind of ambient as Etherdome or The Spectral Ships (which were more floating and/or drone-based works), makes use of lots of spacy textures and overt electronic effects. Still, this is Richard Bone, and even at its most electronic, the album still maintains a humanity and emotional weight that most EM can¹t even aspire to.

     Finally, on "Ley Lines," the CD turns significantly lighter in feel. And we have some pronounced rhythms, too. A midtempo bass line, burbling and bubbling, underscores a lively (but not too) melody. This song brings a nice balance to the recording, especially coming in the middle section. It¹s not "pop," but it¹s very accessible; yet, nothing at all like the songs from his "retro-jazz" trio ( Electropica, Coxa, Ascensionism ). By the next song, "Corazon del Cielo," we are back in more introspective territory, this time thanks to a combination of flute and synth strings. "Dzibana" is exotic, again using some retro-sounding synth effects and synth washes alongside the piano. Rather than a pure ³melody² the cut has more of a faint impressionist flavor, with repeating musical phrases.

     Classic spacemusic synth textures and chords open the cut titled "Nine gods Nine." The overt spacemusic touches on Tales from the Incantina were wholly unexpected by yours truly. It¹s nothing I thought I¹d hear from Richard Bone. But he handles it with his usual style and grace. Synth bells/chimes play notes over the synth textures as the song heads for deep space (or, since the inspiration is on Earth, the listener¹s gaze turns to the stars).

     Two last cuts grace the album with still more retro-EM, that delicate minimal piano, and warm lush underlying synths. There is a delicate sense of equilibrium to most of the Tales from the Incantina . While this is not catchy, it's not really ambient in the usual sense either. The songs are much more unstructured than, for example, Ascensionism . But they're also not floating ambient soundscapes, such as on Etherdome . They're something in-between. The last song, "Sanctus Sonora," has a high-note keyboard, piano, and bell-like synth, doing an almost ballet-ish graceful dance. The music is soft, delicate, and almost fragile. These are not the usual qualities I associate with Richard Bone¹s music.

     How do I feel about this album? I like it. In fact, the more I listened to it, the more I liked it. It¹s a fairly substantial departure from the last five recordings of his that I¹ve heard. There¹s still that Bone flavor, but it¹s mixed in with some new spices. Ambient fans who never warmed to Richard¹s retro-jazz trilogy should find Tales from the Incantina much more to their liking, and spacemusic fans who are not averse to piano mixed in with synths will likewise hear a lot of great stuff on this recording. In the end, though, Richard Bone proves that he is possessed of a singular artistic vision. Idiosyncratic to some, genius to others, he¹s a musician who continues to walk a different path than the norm. Now that he has delivered something far afield from past efforts, only the muse knows what's next.

Review by Bill Binkelman