R. Carlos Nakai,
Fourth World
(Canyon, 2002)

R. Carlos Nakai is the Boss when it comes to Native American flute. He literally wrote the book (The Art of the Native American Flute, with composer James DeMars). In spite of what sounds like an obscure specialty, he's also been nominated for Grammy awards in multiple categories and sold millions of recordings. That's partly because he appears in a surprisingly wide variety of musical contexts.

Fourth World falls into the new age category. Big, sweeping strings. Calm, gentle melodies. And, of course, infinitely soulful flute. The sort of thing I'd usually go for only while drinking wine in a hot tub after an intense yoga session. Maybe not even then. The pan flute of Zamfir still causes bad dreams. (If you're not old enough, hey, you're on the Internet. Look it up.)

But Nakai makes it work. His melodies have the right touch of the exotic and the arranger, Billy Williams, keeps the settings interesting with a mix of strings, brass, woodwinds and Native American percussion. The results are beautiful and deeply soothing.

Nakai started his musical training as a classical trumpeter before switching to a Native flute and has shown taste and intelligence in merging elements of his background on this and other albums. His technique is flawless -- the solid, slightly hollow sound of a wooden flute, trills, ornaments, appropriate vibrato, an occasional bend in a note -- every tool sounds natural and is played with deceptive ease. The flute is center stage most of the time. The entire orchestra or its individual instruments add continuous color and sometimes take the lead.

Tempos are varied but never fast. The final track, "Meditations on Dinetah," is the only one for solo flute. It reminds me of another Nakai album I'd recommend to those taken by Nakai's sound, Canyon Trilogy. It's solo flute all the way except for the skillful use of electronic effects. Before you hear these you might expect incongruity. After, you marvel that Nakai manages to make them sound like part of nature -- it might start the EPA thinking about preserving Moog synthesizers.

Fourth World should have no problem appealing to new-agers and those fond of the Native American flute. I encourage others to give it a try -- hot tub and love beads not required.

- Rambles
written by Ron Bierman
published 25 January 2003

When you are competing against yourself for a Grammy, you must be the best in your field! In 2000, R. Carlos Nakai had two albums nominated in the category of Best Traditional Folk Album, Inner Voices and Inside Monument Valley. This year, he has received his fifth Grammy nomination. Fourth World has been nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best New Age Album.

Nakai is well known throughout Native American, new age and folk circles as the leading native flute performer. He is said to be the leader of the "renaissance" of the Native American flute. Instead of repeating what was done in the past, he seeks new ways to incorporate the native flute into contemporary or groundbreaking performances.

This CD is symphonic performance throughout. Nakai is accompanied by the Canyon Symphony, which consists of 20 violins, eight violas, six cellos, four basses, two French horns, an oboe, a trumpet and percussion. He has 43 supporting instruments for this performance, plus a conductor, and the result is astounding! He has taken the native flute to a new audience and has shown what native artists can achieve through flexibility and adaptation of their work.

The overall effect of this CD is one of peace and tranquility. It is excellent background music for intellectual pursuits or meditation. The oboe and French horns provide the perfect complement to the flute for relaxation and stress reduction.

My favorite of the selections is "Under the Beautiful Sky." It reminds me of a gentle rainstorm just before dusk. The percussion has that "raindrops on a tin roof" soothing effect. The sweeping string instruments are like the wind that often accompanies these showers.

"Little Dog" has a prominent trumpet composition that I love, likely because I played trombone for so many years. This one would be a perfect music score for a Western movie. It has a more traditional tone that the others and has a faster, almost urgent tempo. You sense great movement and action.

"Meditations on Dinetah" is a beautiful, haunting flute solo. It is ideal for journeying if you set the player on repeat and let it run for a while. The delicate vibrato will reach deep within your soul and transform your spirit. There is a discernable echo effect, which makes you think you are at the rim of a canyon listening to Nakai playing on the opposite rim. The ending is spectacular with the short, crisply tongued notes leaving you feeling haunted.

If you like the symphony sound, get this CD. It takes the native flute to an entirely different position in American culture.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 10 May 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.