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Native American Flute CD Review of the Week
by Rick McDaniel

(Rick is a member of the Heart of Cedar Native American Flute Circle in Dallas)

October 25, 2006

This week's review continues with world flutes month, with the latest release from silver flautist Nicholas Gunn, "Beyond Grand Canyon", on the GeminiSun Records label. This release also features a DVD, with still photographs of the canyon lands of Utah and Arizona, and the Rockies of Colorado, by Michael Fatali.

While I didn't personally find the DVD of that much interest (in spite of the wonderful photographs of the canyon lands), it may be something others would like to watch. (There have been more of these kinds of releases, over the past year, as various labels look for a way to stimulate music sales, through home theater usage. Yet, as you will discover, playing the DVD on anything other than a home theater system, will be somewhat disappointing.) Since the price isn't any higher than for the CD alone....the value is still there.

On the other hand, the CD, of Gunn's music, is one of his best. The compositions tend to be complex, interesting and range from dramatic to quietude.

The instrument mix sounds broad, and varied, from track to track. Instruments include flutes, various percussion, keyboards, violin, acoustic guitars, and vocal chant/textures. Johannes Linstead and Omar Torrez contribute guitar work. Violin contributed by Jesus Florido. Gunn also performs the vocal chants and textures, which adds a more earthy feeling than female vocals would have.

This is a work that has a kind of new age "orchestra" sound to it, with the instrument mix sounding more complex than it may actually be, by the way the compositions are arranged and played. Yet, there is a distinctly "southwest" flavor to the work, evoking both the majesty of the canyon lands, and the spirit of the places, as represented in the photographs of Fatali.

There are 13 tracks, varying in length from about a minute, to about 5 mins. Each selection is keyed to a photo theme, with Fatali's photos as inspiration for the music.

Track 1, "Beyond Grand Canyon", tends to be carried by the violin, with the silver flute adding to the stirring strings, and soaring over the image of the Grand Canyon at dawn.

Track 2, "Elves Chasm", has an almost fairy-like quality, with strings, guitars, and flutes dancing their way about the scene of a red rock canyon water fall, with lush green vegetation.

Track 3, "Count Your Blessings", brings the sound of the wind in the trees, and floating on breezes, against the scene of bright yellow Aspens in fall, framed by the dark greens of the pines, on a Colorado mountain side.

Track 4, "Jurassic Point", features gentle guitar strings, and soaring flute, as the music takes you to the prehistoric spot on Mystery Plateau, AZ, where time seems to have stood still.

Track 5, "The Boneyard", opens with the sound of space, time, and mystery, as the music takes you on a tour of Mystery Plateau, AZ, among the archealogical wonders there.

Track 6, "Face to Face", takes you through the light and darkness, interplaying in the slot canyons of AZ and Utah. As I listened, I had visions of another song, of the past, in the base melody of this piece, as "A Rose in Spanish Harlem" came to my mind. This is a very delicate variation of that older song, and is very pretty, with a warmth to the memory.

Track 7, "Gabriel's Horn", continues the journey through the slot canyons, against images of swirling sandstone, and highlights and shadows, going here, then there, as the music guides you through the slots.

Track 8, "Step into the Light", opens the deep darkness at the bottom of the slot canyon, with light penetrating from high above, but barely making it to the bottom. Percussion effects include didgeridoo sounds, distant wind, and subtle effects. A very short piece.

Track 9, "Liquid Light", takes you through Zion Canyon, with a nice uplifting beat and some very nice guitar strings, as well as simulated eagle cries, and dancing flutes, to follow the stream's flow through the canyon.

Track 10, "Bridal Falls", continues the journey through Zion Canyon, opens to the sound of delicate piano, joined by gentle violin strings, and floating flute, in a quiet, reflective piece.

Track 11, "Sentinel of Eden", continues the journey through Zion, into the beauty of fall color in the woods, hidden into the canyon floor. Piano keys and spiritual flute lead the way through the picturesque landscape.

Track 12, "Earth Bones", is solo flute paying tribute to the monoliths left by centuries of erosion, on the Colorado Plateau in Utah. This is a very soulful, almost mournful piece, and the shortest piece offered.

Track 13, "Sunkissed", brings you the full complement of instruments in this final track, paying tribute to the lone Joshua tree, high on a plateau, basking in the glow of the desert sun. A very meditative type of piece.

Overall, I find this work to be top flight music, with a complexity that keeps your interest, and allows you to explore the canyon lands, in your mind, as the music leads the way.

Michael Fatali's beautiful photography, the source of inspiration for this work, is indeed beautiful to see, but in the confines of a CD jacket, is somewhat diminished from the spectacular images that the large view camera images would allow to be made.

I can envision a gallery of wall sized images, beautifully displayed, with this music playing throughout the gallery, as a mind blowing experience, though.

This may be the best work from Gunn, to date, at least of southwest themed music.

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Happy listening, Rick McDaniel