Peter Kater & R. Carlos Nakai,
(Silver Wave, 1990)

Working together for the first time, new-age pianist Peter Kater and Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai have brought us Natives, an album full of spaciousness, simplicity, mystery, gentleness and power. This album is an (undubbed and unmixed) improvisation and meditation upon the seven directions. It can also serve as a passport should the listener wish to travel to such places within herself. Some signposts are offered along the way. Within the liner notes, a few words or phrases accompany the title of each track. Though sometimes cryptic, these lines are helpful for accessing the music more deeply. For example, the track "South" has stated beneath it: "Noon. Summer. Growth. Trust. The path of the adult Self." Will one not hear the piano and flute spiraling outward if one reads not such words?

At the beginning of each track, either Kater or Nakai sets the tone of the piece, each playing (or Nakai chanting) for at least a minute or so before the accompaniment enters. In tracks such as "Centering" and "West," the flute opens with long, whole and confident notes. Other times, such as in "East," the piano opens the track with a pleasant, though hesitant, melody. On occasion, it seems as if the sparseness of each of the higher pitched notes of the piano is there to remind the listener of life's fragility. Meanwhile, the flute is close by, ready with a comforting embrace. Or it may be the other way around: the breath of the flute reaching for the sky, the heavy hammers of the piano playing lower notes, keeping close to the Earth.

This complementary tension offers a singular listening experience. When one musician causes flight, the other is there to ground. When one is spending much time running around the same circle of notes in a lower register, the other breaks for atmospheric heights. Often, piano and flute circle one another, looking for the proper place to connect. Once they do, whether it be the plaintive cries of the flute or the fragile percussion and plinking of the piano, the separateness of each sound is washed away by a deluge of wholeness. The listener is momentarily inundated with the warm tones of harmonics.

Not that this happens on every track. "South" and "Within (Recentering)," the final track, are relatively sedate. The flute and piano are at peace with one another and there is a gentle sharing of pace and space, a sauntering that is sure to leave the listener quite relaxed. Such a repose may be longed for after such tracks as "North," where the synergy of Kater and Nakai's duet is most prevalent, or after "Earth," where the full force of their collaboration reaches its zenith. There is so much more to be said about this album, about the effect it can have on the attentive listener, but anything said will fall short to the experience, itself, of giving this disc a twirl (or two).

Natives is the first (and most powerful) record of an unintended trilogy of collaborative efforts between Kater and Nakai. While both Migration (Silver Wave, 1992) and Honorable Sky (Silver Wave, 1994) offer the melodic sweetness and cohesion of Natives, they fall victim to what many sequels do: overproduction. Those who feel "the more, the merrier" will enjoy the fullness of these follow-up sessions with their added instruments and musicians, their extra structure and polish. However, for those who cherish the initial intimacy, rawness and dynamism of the first collaboration, these last two albums may be a bit lacking.

by Kevin Shlosberg
21 October 2006

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