You can’t go wrong with Miles Davis as an influence but you can go wrong paying tribute to the jazz giant with fawning recreations or banal interpretations. Michael Allison, recording as Darshan Ambient, doesn’t go wrong. With a title that references Miles’ Kind of Blue, Darshan Ambient’s Dream in Blue succeeds in paying homage while maintaining fidelity to his own unique voice.
The opening track, ‘Upon Reflection’ begins with the kinds of synth pads, bass lines and electronica grooves we’ve come to expect from Darshan Ambient, ever since his days of releasing his music on MP3.com. Then, at two minutes he introduces us to the concept of the album with an ostinato bass line and ride cymbal drive that take this into the terrain of electric Miles. Yet there’s no doubt this is Darshan Ambient, as electric piano tolls against guitar triplets and melodic synth hooks.
This is a brave recording for Darshan Ambient, who has matured with each album, releasing some melodically arresting and texturally deep albums over the last few years including A Day Within Days, From Pale Hands to Weary Skies and Autumn’s Apple.
Change is what you might expect from a guy who started out playing bass with artists like Nona Hendryx and Richard Hell. Despite those credits, Allison was no member of the ‘blank generation.’ His sources were more like Patrick O’Hearn, Steve Roach, King Crimson and Brian Eno.
Dream in Blue alternates more typical Darshan tracks with his jazz-inflected moods. ‘Mirage’ may be the most haunting piece, with a delayed bass line thudding though a landscape of yearning slide guitars, whirling synths, pizzicato strings and echoing duduk. It’s a track that shows you the promised land, but the trip is dark and ominous.
It’s Miles Davis’ tone-painting that’s the biggest influence on Darshan Ambient’s Dream in Blue, but he includes a few more overt nods to the iconic artist. ‘When Will My Someday Come’, a play on ‘Someday My Prince Will Come,’ a tune famously covered by Miles Davis, uses trumpet over a jazz-tinged rhythm section. ‘Silent Smile’ uses a gospel-hued piano theme to stage a soulful trumpet interlude.
Dream in Blue is an album that plays with expectations. ‘A Letter from Home’ could be from one of Darshan Ambient’s more ambient recordings, with pensive piano over textures that hover like fog. Then jump to ‘Sahara Sun,’a very stylistically different track with a progressive rock rhythm and a ripping guitar solo that recalls Steve Hackett.
Many electronic artists who came from the same traditions as Darshan Ambient tend towards the monochromatic in tone, with careers, let alone albums, that don’t vary much over the years. But Darshan Ambient has created a CD of wide-ranging stylistic scope while still maintaining a coherent voice. Whatever color you dream in, Dream in Blue might be your perfect soundtrack.
- John Diliberto, Echoes CD of the Month