Lama Gyurme &
Jean-Philippe Rykiel,
Rain of Blessings: Vajra Chants
(Real World Records, 2000)

The nine tracks on Rain of Blessings: Vajra Chants offer the Western listener an accessible introduction to Tibetan Buddhist chants, as performed by Lama Gyurme. Jean-Philippe Rykiel's keyboard and synthesizer accompaniments set off the traditional chanting and percussion, and allow those of us who are relatively unfamiliar with this music to hear and appreciate it more fully than we usually can if we hear simply the unaccompanied chants. The smooth and flexible synthesizer backs up the deep and slightly rough chanting without overwhelming it, and the improvised interludes carry one away from and back to the chant itself.

"Offering Chant" appears twice, in "plugged" and unplugged versions. The latter includes a piano accompaniment, which sounds a bit odd but which works amazingly well. The plugged version uses a synthesizer accompaniment, with a somewhat new-age or environmental feel. The melody is subtle but memorable.

Many of the accompaniments, in fact, have something of a new-age feel to them, but Rykiel avoids the excesses of this style while retaining its calmness and serenity. The similar mood of the divergent musical styles is one of the things that makes this album fascinating.

My personal favorite track is the "Prayer to Sangye Menla," the Medicine Buddha. It's a bit livelier than the other pieces, with a polyrhythmic percussion somewhat reminiscent of bodhran work. "Rain of Blessings," the first track, begins with traditional Tibetan percussion which sets a nice tone for the album as a whole.

The liner notes are helpful, giving information about each of the chants. I do wish they included either a translation of the chant, or an explanation of the syllables being chanted.

I find myself listening to this CD while I'm doing something physical in which a peaceful and meditative approach is beneficial -- cooking, for example, or finishing jewelry or artwork. I've found traditional Tibetan chants, without the Westernization, difficult to approach; this album is not only interesting and pleasing in itself, but has made me curious to listen again to the more traditional chants I have, and perhaps find a greater appreciation of them this time.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]



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