R. Carlos Nakai,
Spirit Horses:
Concerto for Native American Flute
& Chamber Orchestra

(Canyon, 1986)

Raymond Boley, founder and president of Canyon Records, commissioned Spirit Horses as a way to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the company's first release. He stipulated that the collection must include some of the melodies from that first release, Natay, Navajo Singer by Ed Lee Natay (also reviewed here on Rambles). "Zuni Sunrise Song" kicks off the first piece in this collection.

My overall take on this CD is: "This is the kinda thing you like if you like this kinda thing ... unfortunately, I don't." Be warned before it starts that this music is performed in a "crescendo form based on the Nubian/Egyptian tradition in which a pulse gradually unfolds to support melodic material." It is certainly a good thing that I am not of Nubian/Egyptian culture because the music would drive me to serious drinking problems.

This type of music is not for the hearing impaired! To review the actual notes and sounds of this collection, I had to constantly work the volume up and down. It would fade below my range of hearing and I would crank it up. Then, it would suddenly crescendo and make me jump and scramble to turn it down. It is a constant roller coaster -- far too much so for me to give it any credit as successful composition. I feel they missed their mark (pitifully) in creating a "pulse" since I could find no regular pattern to the rollercoaster. If the crescendos had been shorter and regularly paced, I would agree that it is a pulse, but the way it is composed, I can only call it a nuisance.

OK, I will get off my soapbox and tell you about the artistry and talent in this collection. It consists of four movements: "Premonitions of Christopher Columbus" (16:10), "Tapestry V" (10:36), "Colors Fall" (4:29) and "Spirit Horses" (12:48). There is an encore presentation from The Music of R. Carlos Nakai, "Shaman's Call."

Nakai's flute work is, as always, wonderful. He is the master of the Native American flute and demonstrates his skill extremely well in this collection. However, he is eclipsed by Mark Sunkett's African percussion, especially in the first movement when Sunkett plays the luna (talking drum) and adds hand drumming on the djimbe. Sunkett shines throughout this collection. Xiaozhong "Alex" Zheng, on cello, also gives Nakai plenty of fierce competition. Zheng's performance is sublime! Add Michael Hester on alto saxophone and you have a situation where it is simply impossible to focus on Nakai.

If you can tolerate the volume changes, this CD is well worth the price for Sunkett's performance alone. His percussion is beyond belief!

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 21 June 2003

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