Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Lama's Chants : Songs of Awakening
Buddhist chants and mantras are all the rage in yoga circles these days. Get an appealing western singer, create new melodies that border on pop, dress them up in electronica and world fusion rhythms, and off you go. Instant karma! But back in 1994, Jean-Philippe Rykiel took a different approach, bringing orchestral sensibilities to the chants of Lama Gyurme, a Buddhist monk from Bhutan. A blind French keyboardist who has worked with artists as varied as Jon Hassell and Salif Keita, Rykiel's approach to Gyurme's chants ranges from simple keyboard pads to more elaborate productions like "Hope for Enlightenment," with its majestic, faux-orchestra arrangement. But even the pads can be deceptively effective as on the nearly 25 minutes of "Calling the Lama from Afar" where synthesizers swell, change timbre, and turn from ruminative grumbles to quietly soaring angels as Lama Gyurme recites his prayers. The Lama's Chants was originally released in 1994. This reissue includes the original disc plus a second disc of live performances. Although Rykiel avoids many of the clichés, his arrangements aren't as inventive as those of Steve Tibbetts on his albums with the Tibetan nun Choying Drolma, Cho and Selwa. Tibbetts paints with meticulous detail and organic design while Rykiel settles for broad swathes and easy accompaniment. His arrangements are sensitive to Gyurme, but unlike the chants themselves, some of the sounds are dated, especially the Jan Hammer-like lead synth on "Offering Chant."