They have done it again! This is as gorgeous as their first collaboration Frio Suite. These musicians – excellent on their own – seem to make each other even better when they work together.
Time: 8 tracks / 52 mins
Phil Keaggy and Jeff Johnson are almost guarantees of quality on their own, but whenever they have worked together – and this is their third collaboration – something particularly beautiful happens.
As well as producing small group worship material, keys player Johnson is a master of atmosphere, with several albums inspired by places and by Stephen Lawhead books. He has also excelled in stripped back meditative releases. Here he brings washes of sound, cascading rhythms and bright motifs.
Keaggy probably needs no introduction to any readers, and his unique guitar sounds – both electric and acoustic – lace this gorgeous release.
But the special thing about this pair is that they blend together perfectly and you really can’t spot all the joins. Both have originated the themes, letting the other embroider them. Both add the most delicate touches and both add percussion; Keaggy plays some flowing fretless bass, while Johnson’s keys also provide rhythmic undergirding; and both add discreet vocals on “Chapel of Stone.” I originally wrote that Johnson set the overall feel of the collection, but later it reflects Keaggy's The Master and the Musician as much as anything. They really bring the best out of each other – this is so much richer than Johnson’s recent Eirlandia.
The title track sets the tone so well: one of the best tracks that they have recorded as a duo, it has a distinct theme over the gentlest washes and the exotic sound of Keaggy playing chumbus (an oud-like Turkish guitar) before he breaks into a hallmark solo.
The Mediterranean flavours re-emerge on other tracks, like the sumptuous “Quo Vadis,” and a little on “Parousia (a Presence).”
The superb "Chapel of Stone" is a great example of what works here. Keaggy wrote the main tune, noting that it “develops and takes the listener to places they wouldn’t initially expect! I explored Spanish, bluegrass, old time and even added some subtle mandolin on this.”
But although Keaggy initiated the piece, Johnson is the one who visited Cappadocia and experienced the church carved out from the inside of the rock and hidden from the outside, recalling in the track notes, “This was no cave but a small cathedral with columns and a vaulted ceiling. The acoustic in this place was otherworldly! The music here sort of explores this space with its main sanctuary and connecting rooms including a large dovecot on the second floor. The vocals that Phil and I add at the end sort of represent the echoes from voices past that would have sung chant in this place.”
Long-time Keaggy fans will appreciate the deliberate references he makes back to a few specific tracks on albums like The Wind and the Wheat, the Frio Suite and The Master and the Musician; while less intentionally, the classical guitar on “Quo Vadis” brings to mind his Spanish guitar album Lights of Madrid.
Some people regard this as New Age music, but I’d say it’s intricately composed Christian artistry at its best. Like Frio Suite, although the smooth instrumental can just provide background, the music is far more structured than that, deserves your attention, and is one to get completely lost inside. Highly recommended.