(CyberOctave, 1998)

Walking through the 3 a.m. chill of an autumn night, leaves crunching underfoot, you're tired, worn out but still carrying a pent-up energy that you haven't quite managed to discharge. That's why you're here, pacing alone along the edge of the city, deep in thought, weary but awake. Your wandering path and wandering thoughts seem alternately carefree, bitter, nostalgic and maybe even a little frightened. But still you walk, past the still silver lake, the empty schoolyard where you used to play, the silence of the graveyard....

If you were to film the scenario above, the soundtrack for the resulting footage might well be Colma, a 1998 release from avant-garde guitarist Buckethead. Colma consists of thirteen instrumental tracks, primarily featuring Buckethead on guitar and bass and Brain on drums and loops, with guest spots for bassist/producer Bill Laswell, turntablist DJ Disc and cellist/violinist Terry Untalan.

The precise tone of the music on Colma is a bit hard to nail down. Buckethead is largely known as an experimental, comical, but still exceedingly heavy electric guitarist, but those looking for that usual loud lunacy from Buckethead's persona are apt to be very disappointed here. Instead, Colma provides an unexpectedly introspective side to this enigmatic figure, led by the intertwined atmospherics of low-key acoustic guitar, electric guitar and bass.

Yet it would be a mistake to label this another CD full of typical new age guitar ambience. The musical tones here range across some unusual terrain, aided by drumming that is unusually prominent and sometimes includes nearly industrial loops and electronic treatments. Contemplative moments like the beautiful melancholy of "For Mom" are balanced with the ominous sound and building electric guitar of "Sanctum," and blended back with odd effectiveness into the string saturated beauty of "Wondering." The quiet, smoothly meditative yet energetic guitar showpiece that is "Big Sur Moon" forms an odd pair with the surprising intensity of "Machete," which builds on Laswell's bass energetics to form a near howl before one quite realizes what has happened. The somber exploration of "Ghost/Part 2" leads into the mysterious, perhaps dangerous reefs and shoals of the closing track, "Colma," where you're left stranded somewhat abruptly to wonder at all that's been uncovered here.

This is meditation with energy, contemplation with an edge, music out on the shifting margins between thought, feeling and action. Not quite calm enough for some new age listeners, not quite loud enough for some rock followers, and not quite intense enough for some guitar fanatics, Colma remains in a genre of its own, while becoming a wonderful example of the possibilities inherent in such new niches.

Worn out but wide awake? Head or heart moving too fast to sleep, not fast enough to fly? Dust off the headphones and Buckethead's Colma, and take a walk into that waiting night, to see what you'll find out there for yourself.

[ by Ken Fasimpaur ]

Buy Colma from Amazon.com.