Thursday, November 28, 2019

Edward Larry Gordon - 1978 - Celestial Vibration

Edward Larry Gordon 
Celestial Vibration

01. Bethlehem 24:38
02. All Pervading 24:18

Written-By, Composed By [All Compositions] – Edward Larry Gordon (Laraaji)

For decades, Edward Larry Gordon was negative space. A gap if you will. Whenever one would peruse the Brian Eno section, either in their own collection or at the shop, the epochal, highly-influential Ambient series that Eno released in the late '70s and early '80s would scan as so: Ambient 1: Music for Airports was Eno's gentle-drift follow-up to Discreet Music, Ambient 2 was the collaboration with pianist Harold Budd entitled The Plateaux of Mirror and then Ambient 4 was Eno's On Land. But who, what and where was Ambient 3? Left off Virgin/ Astralwerks's reissues of all of Eno's albums, Ambient 3: Day of Radiance was the work of a mysterious busker found in Washington Square Park by Eno on a trip to New York in the late '70s (separate from Eno's discovery and documentation of the No Wave scene fermenting at the same time). Turns out to have been the Philadelphia-born Edward Larry Gordon, the name "Laraaji" a play on his name and initial.

While a path in New Age music has since followed, Gordon had put out an album previous to Day of Radiance, one produced by a New York lawyer who—after encountering Gordon's mesmeric performance on the zither at a New Age Holistic event—decided he wanted to record him immediately. Privately-pressed in an edition of 500 back in 1978, Universal Sound has rescued it from obscurity, and rightly so: Celestial Vibration is the sort of album that might make heads perceive the cringe-inducing "New Age" genre in a new light.

No doubt, such gentle ambience underpins so much of our highly-acclaimed music at the moment. In a recent chat with Luciano, he talked about focusing his attentions on beatless, beautiful productions that forego the 4/4, though can mix into them, while Villalobos is on the record as being a fan of the hallowed ECM label, which has specialized in releasing such crystalline sounds for decades now, in addition to their jazz catalog. Even Animal Collective sampled a bit of pan-flute master Zamfir on their most-recent EP. Crystal-haters beware, the new age of "New Age" might be upon us.

As for Celestial Vibration, imagine Alice Coltrane's harp runs as captured and effected by Eno's tape loop devices and you're close to the sound of Gordon. Two majestic sprawling sound tapestries comprise the disc, "All Pervading" and "Bethlehem" each nearing the 25-minute mark. Gordon's mastery of the zither (a stringed instrument that can be plucked, strummed or malleted) makes for entrancing listening. Don't think you will just be able to doze off: Gordon moves from blissed-out washes to driving passages to ruminative melodic moments that echo outward and slowly swirl back into cosmic dust clouds, his sound ever-changing. It might not be to every electronic music fan's tastes, but open ears will soon hear that Gordon is not only a master of his instrument, but also of that "otherness" that surrounds all music: space itself.

Originally released in 1978 by an obscure label from Portland, Maine called SWN Records, Celestial Vibration was the debut release by Edward Larry Gordon, at the time a street musician busking around New York City. This album was released before he adopted the moniker Laraaji, and before Brian Eno happened to come across one of his performances in Washington Square Park, dropped him a note, and produced his first widely available album, the classic Ambient 3: Day of Radiance (1980). In retrospect, Celestial Vibration isn't too different from Day of Radiance, at least in terms of instrumentation and general mood, but in no way does it feel like a first draft or a warm-up. Gordon entered the recording studio with his modified electric zither and kalimba, and improvised while deep in a trance. These in-the-moment sessions were later edited into two side-long compositions, "All Pervading" and "Bethlehem." His playing is influenced by spiritual jazz (particularly Albert Ayler and both John and Alice Coltrane) as well as traditional African rhythms, but it sounds like nothing else before it. "All Pervading" (later excerpted on the essential anthology Celestial Music: 1978-2011) is easily the more uptempo and rhythmic piece of the two. Gordon sounds completely at ease yet profoundly focused, hammering away with precision while electronic effects make the tones swirl and shimmer. The whole performance sounds effortless, and astoundingly beautiful. "Bethlehem" is more experimental, alternating between moments of stillness and sharper, nearly thrashing movements. It does get more melodic, but instead of playing the melody upfront, Gordon seems to suspend it and surround it with eerie vibrating effects. It feels very homemade and intimate; the sounds of Gordon knocking on his instruments while playing are clearly audible. It also seems to predict certain types of the free-folk that made underground waves during the 2000s. As fascinating as anything else Laraaji has recorded since, Celestial Vibration is evidence that his unique vision has been incredibly powerful since the very beginning.