Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dreams and Visions by Dennis Hendricksen: Album review by Kirk

Artist: Dennis Hendricksen (and friends)
Album: Dreams and Visions
Genre:  Instrumental, experimental jazz 0r …

Epic-Ambient, cinematic New-World Windham hallucinogenic parlor funk, served on a bed of acoustic-electronica with dabbles of Africana, 80s rock, Light, and coriander.   Or something like that.

Release date: 2013

Aurora Productions
Golden Flame Records

Quick Spin:

Multi-instrumentalist Dennis Hendricksen has teamed up with over half-a-dozen uber talented musicians to create a sonic ocean that is at once, tidal pool – brooding storm, raging sea --  and the luminescent space between the molecules. 

Some 21 years in the making (original idea to completion) - Dennis speaks of D&V as his Magnum Opus.

Indeed, Dreams and Visions is an audio opulence – an invitation to let your mind go totally bonkers with all kinds of colors, landscapes and lightscapes, even as you dream concurrently of creation, planetary wobble and devastation, flying zebras and cosmic restoration.

Should I ask you how to describe a mango, how would you begin?

It is kind of like a peach but more…trombonish  etc. 

The only way I know how to quickly describe Dreams and Visions to speak the names of a few persons or ideas and hope that gets us in the ballpark.   I hear the lone trumpet of Miles Davis twined with the chaos of a Coltrane; I hear the glow of Chuck Mangione and the keyboard avalanche of Philip Aaberg or the delicate touch of pianist Liz Story.  I hear the luminescent keys of Windham Hill’s Mark Isham, the key-play of jazz-fusionist Charlie Peacock - or the sinewy acid-violin of Hugh Marsh, long time player with Bruce Cockburn (Perhaps because this IS Hugh Marsh, long time player with Bruce Cockburn)  -- I hear the bold resolution of a storm in the tradition of Groffe and the Grand Canyon Suite; I hear the opening refrains of  TV's Survivor, a stint with a horror film, and the celebratory hues of The Lion King; I hear the lush, layered synth work of Hammock, or the vigorous chamber tunes of Nightnoise. 

I hear liquid rainbows, blue cities, raging Orcs, blooming blooms, and Eve singing with the dawn.

I hear a lot of other stuff too.

Long Play:

On its surface Dreams and Visions appears to be a musical product. That is, you can buy the songs that are apart of Dreams and Vision as a download, or go old school and buy the CD.   Of the two I TOTALLY recommend the latter, because Dreams and Visions – the CD, is a total package replete with sound, a 32 page book, art, photography, Dennis's own poems, inspirational quotes and a nifty metal box.  (See samples on this review)

Until now, I have associated nifty metal boxes with musical offerings like “The Greatest Music of the 70s” as sold by Wal-Mart in their dying CD section.  Now I know that the metal box (which will not allow me to place this CD in the file box with my other CDs) elevates Dreams and Visions to a single status.  It stands alone both musically, and as a total package with an illustrated story line.  

And what a story line. In short:  the History of the Universe from start and end.

You can certainly listen to Dreams and Visions "Unaided" - but the narrative takes on deeper form when we embrace it as a package.  The 32 page book tells about the history of how Dreams and Visions came to be.  It showcases "live paintings" that were created real time during live performances of early compositions.   Dennis drives the narrative even deeper with his poems and photographs, then spices the whole with quotes befitting a broken world, awaiting restoration. 

It might help to know that Dennis is a Lutheran pastor of Canadian hue, and some of his session mates were fellow seminary students. That fact has nothing to do with how they play, or even the sounds (which would be highly atypical for any church service) – but it does provide foundation for hope. Even as God heals individuals, we abide under the dream that someday Terra herself will be healed of a grand wound.

The Music

Dreams and Visions allows Dennis to explore the full range of his sonic repertoire. He croons or rages with piano keys… or lets us float in layers of liquid sound.  At first I thought the ambience was some kind of synthesizer; now I see he achieves those translucent tones with a combination of loops, Electric and Ebow Guitars, Fretless bass, an a sax.   

Dennis wrote, or co-wrote most of the compositions; But even more, he created a place where friends are allowed to shimmer with him in a community creation.

My first sense of the music was how utterly complex it is.  I was dazzled by both the process and the sounds, so I asked Dennis a series of questions on Facebook chat.  I started by asking about his collaborations...

Yes.  Hugh Marsh is the violinist on Cockburn's Christmas CD. Hugh played with Bruce Cockburn starting in the late 70's and stayed with him for over 2 decades (the most consistent member of Cockburn's band).

(As for the) other musicians - they are either local musicians I played with at various gigs over the years, or I connected with them while in Seminary (there are two other Lutheran pastors in the crew of musicians - Paul Sartison, who plays bass on some tracks, and David Hunter who is the didgeridoo player anytime that Australian instrument shows up). The trumpet player (Akira Murotani) was a student at Luther College which is right next to the church I serve - he was great as a high school student, he only improved throughout university. So I have been blessed to have connected with many excellent and creative musicians over the years, many of whom became good friends.

The Flow:

Dreams and Visions follows a certain presentation rhythm.  There are three “movements” followed by a final grand concluding sequence.

The setup goes as follows.

Dream 1

Vision 1
Hiatus 1

Dream 2

Vision 2
Hiatus 1

Dream 3

Vision 3
Hiatus 3

Dream 4 (extended) 

Dreams: As is, we often use the word dream to suggest edgeless and floaty.  But not here.  Instead, think of dreams as things which mutate.  The dream compositions are often the most dramatic, erratic and edgy, with musical movements that turn on a dime.  I heard several dreams that started in one place and ended on another planet.

Visions:  Highly Cinematic.

Hiatus: As suggested.  Audio rest between the storm, characterized by lush velvety Ambience.   Delightfully refreshing.

The Mix:

In reading the notes I find that Dreams and Visions is some 21 years in the making.  I assume that means from the ideas behind the tunes to the completion of the disk.  Apart from the raw collaborative synergy of the music, the thing that most intrigues me is the mix.  I cannot image writing this music down in the manner of a symphony… parts seem far too free-form.  Beyond that, I heard certain sounds that seemed to morph, either from one instrument to another, or from organic to synthetic.

I was perplexed, so I asked Dennis about both the complexity and the process.

The complexity of which you speak is one of the reasons it took so long for me to finish the project - I needed big blocks of time to pay attention to everything that is going on. I was involved in the final mixing, but I used some professional sound guys to do the final mixes because I do not have enough knowledge and experience with things like multiband compressors and EQs, and so forth.

Many tracks on Dreams & Visions began improvisationally. I would sometimes tell the musicians the mood, or the picture I was going for - other times (like the improvs with Hugh Marsh) they just happened. I would then use those improvised tracks as the basis for the composition - often editing them to create the essence of the image in my mind. Once these basic tracks were shaped through editing then I would get other musicians to overdub their parts. Sometimes I would write the part out for them exactly, other times I would give them some musical ideas then let them be creative with them. Then once again I would do more editing - shaping the overdubs into a coherent whole. One way to think of this photographically is to say each musician would bring an element of the picture, then I would position that element, light it a certain way, and enhance it in photoshop to bring out colour, or reduce colour. In this way I was using the recording studio like a musical instrument "playing" the contributions of all the musicians.

Other songs were structured right from the beginning, I would build the basic tracks in a very specific way and then have the musicians overdub their parts, often with detailed instructions as to what I was looking for. The first track was like that for example. An example of the other method is the final track which is a weaving together of two improvised bed tracks.

As for transmogrifying instruments -- I would need to know a specific place to tell you for sure, but what I can say is that the way I wove things together there are definite times when one instrument will blend into another - the transition being part of the "magic" of editing. I like that effect, and have used it often.

The vision(s):

About my fourth or fifth straight listen thru, I scratched out all the various images that flew thru my mind, given the dynamics of each tune.  (I was driving at the time, and now cannot read my notes:)   Suffice it to say, the moods and images are so varied, that I figure better to let you frame your own inner world.  There is one track however, that simply unleashes such of avalanche of images in my brain, that I dare say --   Do not listen to this track under any kind of medication.  It was potent enough as is.   The #2 track -- Vision 1: A Shadow Falls on the Garden -- swells with lush, then LOUD even startling ambience.

I assume, given the title, fragrant opening and the discord that follows that this composition narrates the  Fall, the biblical idea that our once harmonious home was plunged into ruin.   

Dennis elaborates:

You might be interested to know that track 2 is actually the oldest material on the project - the basic keyboards, bass and guitar were recorded in 1993 with early digital gear. The image is of the fall, but not right away - at first you are hearing what I think the garden might of sounded like. The middle eastern vibe is reflective of the traditional site of Eden - modern day Iraq (between the Tigris and Euphrates). The fall shows up later when the guitar begins to sound like a chainsaw, a symbol in a sense of the curse of having to toil with the land. However even in our fallen condition God's presence remains and so there are still echoes of Eden at the end of the song. That's what I developed the song to mean for me, but like most art I think it can mean different things for different people. 

As is, I heard much differently.   I did hear a blooming Lotus flower from Eden, but then… quickly traded my vision of Eve for the Bride of Christ, which (and I am almost afraid to put this in type) I envision as a bare-breasted woman from India, beautifully adorned for her husband in jewels and psychedelic silks.  

Then comes the dread.  Rather than snake in the grass or expulsion from the garden, I heard the very majesty and jolting Horror of the throne of God.  That may sound confusing to some, who associate God with only rainbows and clouds, but as for me, I am prone to want to re-claim the words… Terrible and Awesome, even Horrible as sacred-dread words, for the very full glory of God.  This music put me in the feet of Ezekiel, as he peeks on the open door of heaven, trembling.

Quick Notes:
Track 3 to 4:  seamless.  I could see the aural mist, even as it gathers into a rainbow...blows away in shattered butterflies...then deluge.

As for track 5:  LOUD. grungy. (This is where I see hurricanes and Orcs)

Track 7:  The Wilderness Path leads to the Mountain.

Addendum:  Given the centrality of the Earth in Dreams and Visions, I find I missed a vital theme.  Dennis offered this as we chatted about the story line.

The mountain is Calvary, the wilderness path is both the beginning of Jesus' ministry, when he was tempted in the wilderness as well as echoes of Isaiah's picture of the messiah and restoration of Israel coming through a path in the wilderness. Perhaps I was too obtuse in this poetic rendering. To me this track is actually the pinnacle of the project - both musically and thematically.

Oh, I also much liked track 8 with its speeding panthers and running gazelles. 

Or track ten (the final) with the title - The Radiant Abyss, Twelve Jewels and a Throne -  made me think of a huge jeweled amphitheater, with all the creatures of the world singing in unison - in the round.  Or something like that.   Modern anthropology traces the Human story to Africa.  Dennis goes full circle and closes the story line with robust African praise.

The recommendation:

Absolute.   Should I have any reservations it would be this. Dreams and Visions is sometimes brooding and erratic.  If you do not have an ear for dissonance, this is probably not your disk.

At the end of 2014 I picked my years favorite disks.  This would have made that list and more… but I listened late.  Now I add it to my list of best instrumental music in the history of the world.   

The small "c" creator:  
As mentioned before Dennis is a pastor… and a thinker and a writer.  You can follow him here on his Namesake blog, or his "thinking/worship/liturgical  blog"  (Mysterium) or listen to other tracks on his Sound Cloud site.

Final Final note:
Should I have any sadness, it is that music of this caliber is usually missed by the masses.   People who might connect with Dennis on a theological note, might not be willing to go with him distance as pertains to sound…and the world in general is hard place to market music, even when it is the best the planet has to offer.

Do a creative artist a favor, buy Dreams and Visions in some form… and share this review.  Thanks.

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