Jeff Greinke (joined on several tracks by cellist Christiana Morgan and trumpet player Lesli Dalaba) continues to evolve his music away from his more abstract and textural ambient beginnings, choosing to explore a more melodic neo-classical minimalist landscape on Virga, his latest CD and, from where I stand, one of the best recordings of his long career. While some cuts are less overtly ‘soundtrackish’ than his previous CD, venturing into ambient soundscape territory, I believe that the overriding musical presence here is still closer to that of Winter Light and, to a lesser but still noticeable degree, Wide View, than it is to past works such as In Another Place, Places of Motility and Cities in Fog.
I'm well aware that some of Greinke's long-time fans are somewhat discouraged by this new direction he is headed in, and they are entitled to that opinion of course. However, baring the obvious statement that an artist must answer the call of his/her muse if he/she is to be true to his/her musical self, I think this new direction represents a greater depth of emotion, a more complex (certainly not less so) approach to the music itself, and resonates on a more direct (i.e. less abstract) level than purer ‘ambient’ pieces ever could. Of course, that's only my personal opinion.
Seeing as how the definition of virga (the CD's title) is ‘streaks of water drops or ice particles falling out of a cloud and evaporating before reaching the ground’ (exceprted from dictionary.com), it may not be far-fetched to view Virga as an extrapolation from, or interpretation of, the themes which Mychael Danna plumbed on his 1993 Hearts of Space release, skys. Both albums are minimalist in their aesthetic, using a variety of classical instrumentation alongside somber piano, largely melancholic in nature, and use repeated musical refrains as their main compositional structure. According to the Hearts of Space website, the music on skys was ‘..inspired by the unrelenting monochromatic greyness of the Canadian winter skies.’ Since rain falls from the sky ..hmmm?
Not everything on Virga is confined to the neo-classical minimalist description from above, though. The opening title track features a rapid tempo piano theme played out against swirling keyboards, descending in a lush crescendo of sorts. night flyers opens amidst a nocturnal chorus of synthesized creatures set against shimmering synthesizers and a plaintive echoed piano. As he did on Winter Light's ‘Moving to Malaysia’ and ‘Under the Pagoda,’ Greinke again displays his affinity for Asian musical influences on east facing slope with gently plucked koto and delicate bell tones, joined by Morgan's sonorous cello and Dalaba's trumpet. contrails flows on airy layers of keyboards underneath echoed piano and the track could easily be classified as spacemusic especially when a particularly warm analog-ish sounding synthesizer is brought into focus.
Yet, it's the more minimalist-classical pieces here that blow me away the most—the sorrowful beauty of the wake, the expansive orchestral openness of slow rise, the stark desolation and subtle dissonance of abandoned place, the haunting drama of partial light and the slow-paced deliberate compassion of old friends.
In the end, Virga is less ‘passive’ yet also more ambient, at times, than Winter Light may have been perceived, but it's a subtle distinction for the most part. If you, like me, love this new direction that Jeff Greinke is headed in, you will greatly enjoy delving into the many pleasures of Virga, walking down its paths of beauty tinted with wonder married to despair, and serenity clouded by mystery. By the way, it goes without saying that since this is a Lotuspike release, and mastered by Ben Cox, the sound is tremendous, rife with nuance and finely captured detail and expertly mixed and engineered from every perspective. - Bill Binkelman, Zone Music Reporter