(Higher Octave, 2006)
If you're looking for pleasantly chilled, ambient new age music, look no further than Govi's latest CD Jewel Box. The 10 tracks with their appropriately lapidary names offer an easygoing, melodious blend of jazz, new age and world music. Guitarist -- indeed, multi-instrumentalist -- Govi's signature smooth, genre-bending sound is as much in evidence here as ever. However, anyone seeking musical gems may come away feeling a little unfulfilled: Jewel Box has little of the brilliance and fire its title promises.
The CD opens with "Ruby Lips," a cool, mid-tempo saunter with electric guitar, subtly exotic percussion and castanets. A hybrid of smooth jazz and new age, it sets the mellow, easy listening sound that characterizes the remaining nine tracks. It's followed by "Moonstone," which has a slightly bluesy feel, and "Medallion," neither of which deviates substantially from the opening track.
"Nettie Gem" varies the formula with its Middle Eastern-sounding introduction -- but it is a melody so cliched and stereotypical it would surely offend someone if it were labeled world music. Fortunately, the song takes a more original shape when guitar and oud kick in, preventing it from becoming one of those cringingly sentimental, synthesized new age/world combinations. It still doesn't end up sounding Middle Eastern -- it ends up sounding like, well, Govi. None of the world influences on Jewel Box are particularly profound, but it remains impressive that Govi plays his own sitar on tracks like the slow, meditative "Diamond Sutra" and, indeed, plays almost all of the instruments on the CD. Still, one wonders if more musicians and live recording sessions would have given Jewel Box the energy and bite it lacks.
Govi is best known as a guitarist, and particularly as a nouveau flamenco guitarist, so it is unsurprising he sounds his best when covering more familiar territory: the relatively upbeat "Emerald Eyes" and "Sapphire Sky" sound crisper and more authentic than anything else on the CD. Govi's skill on the guitar is clearest on these two tracks, but it might be a stretch to call them true standouts. Melodic but undemanding, they fit in well with the rest of the CD. Nothing on Jewel Box is likely to arrest a casual listener's attention. Everything flows beautifully, but for better or for worse, not much stands out or lingers in the memory.
There are a few contrived new-age sound effects and synthesized instruments to ignore, particularly on "Gandhi with the Jewels" and "Diamonds in the Dew," but for the most part, Jewel Box is a smooth, enjoyable CD to have on in the background while reading or entertaining or simply relaxing. Previous Govi recordings like Silk & Saffron have been both pleasant and interesting to listen to; Jewel Box remains pretty, if overproduced and polished into inoffensive blandness.
by Jennifer Mo