Blue Landscapes II: Discoveries follows on from Volume I of this album, Blue Landscapes: Music from a Quieter Place which appeared in 2012. Both volumes result from an ongoing process of exploratory joint improvisation by flutist Damjan Krajacic and pianist Robert Thies, described by Tess Miller in her 2013 review in Flutist Quarterly as “sessions of collaborative improvisation” where . . . “both musicians call upon diverse influences from classical, jazz, and world music realms.”
As 1995 winner of the Gold Medal at the International Prokofiev Competition in St. Petersburg, Russia, Thies has built an impressive career as a concert pianist, while Krajacic, originally from Croatia, has degrees in both classical flute and Afro-Latin music and has studied with jazz and Latin masters James Newton and Danilo Lozano. The common ground they sought, emerging from the “quiet place,” brings forth music of great sensitivity with moments of great beauty, while Krajacic demonstrates the capabilities of the flute, an instrument strangely rare in “New Age” music.
And indeed, since its issue. New Age is the classification Blue Landscapes I has received from distributors and radio stations, primarily, as described in the FQ review, for its “power to lull listeners into relaxed and contemplative moods.”
This designation has its upside and its downside.While it has a wide audience, there are those who automatically dismiss New Age music as lacking form and direction. However, as a friend of the late flutist Paul Horn, known as the “father of New Age music,” I am aware that, even though he created work of beauty and integrity, he was disappointed with much of what followed as this genre developed. Pianist Keith Jarrett, for example, calls much of it “lobotomy music.” And yet Paul Horn was the first to point out, as Arturo Toscanini told Duke Ellington, that “. . . there are only two kinds of music: good music and bad music.” This holds true whatever the genre. The issue is balance — for most of the music I hear on New Age labels and radio stations I would agree with Jarrett. But I have to admit that my own solo flute recitals often cross over into New Age, so I have to hope there is always room for excellence.
In Blue Landscapes II: Discoveries, Krajacic and Thies have created some very good music indeed. Unconcerned with genre, they have continued to spend many hours working together to create music out of their joint improvisations, according to Thies’ notes, about thirty hours over five days in the studio, using various devices — melodic and harmonic, compositional and spontaneous — to impose form on their musical ruminations. Only one requirement remained throughout, that this should be, as they put it: “Music from a quieter place, inspired by the beauty of nature . . . but always grounded in human emotion.” If anything, they have tried to go even more deeply into this esthetic in the second volume.
If there is one weakness in this genre it is a certain sameness that creeps in when works no longer have fast-slow-fast movements, or the tempo contrasts of jazz pieces. However, in a world where people rarely play recordings from beginning to end, but tend to sample individual tracks on YouTube or SoundCloud, this is no longer a major issue. When they come across Thies and Krajacic in their browsing, New Age enthusiasts will be encountering the highest quality within their favorite genre.
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