This instrumental project is a suitable background for prayer and meditation, but is interesting enough to play on its own.
Time: 6 tracks / 46 minutes
There is no shortage of ambient material out there from all sorts, from the skilled to those just using the tag to cover compositional deficiencies.
Not all of them are all that meditative, either.
We know Frank van Essen’s abilities in this field from his relatively recent Sanctum release, which balanced ambience with gentle progressive rock sensibilities and an Irish edge. It also featured a variety of instruments.
Of this simpler collection, he writes, “For a long time I have wanted to make an album with music for meditation, prayer, relaxation and inspiration; music that makes room for your imagination and lets your spirit soar. This is a first collection of tracks, largely improvised on violin & viola.”
Van Essen is best known as a drummer who gets to use his violin on occasion. Here, things are reversed. He only touches percussion when using cymbals for gentle emphasis.
For this collection, he has linked up again with fellow ex-Iona colleague Dave Bainbridge, who provides keys washes for three of the tracks. Two of these are Iona songs: “Machrie Moor” from 1993’s Beyond these Shores and “Luke (the Calf)” from The Book of Kells, which is instantly recognisable from its first few chords.
This gives a clue as the structure of these pieces. There are properly constructed songs behind much of the improvisation, played at a slow pace and with van Essen’s violin exquisitely expressing the mood. When Bainbridge is absent, van Essen provides his own keys.
So he has trodden his ground very carefully: structured enough to be interesting, but not so melodic that the tune is a distraction from reflection or prayer, and improvised enough to add a fluid sense of direction. Even when going about daily business at home, I have found it pleasing and substantial enough to leave on repeat for calming purposes.
The former Berklee Orchestration student has also added a sense of grandeur to the project, something that is a suitable background for prayer and meditation, but is interesting enough to play on its own.
My personal four-part account of 50 years of CCM (incuding Iona) starts here