johnson keaggy watersky. Like its parent Frio Suite, this collection floats, eddies and cascades.

Label: Ark Music
Time: 8 Tracks / 57 minutes  

How do you follow up a five-star duet between two artists, each brilliant in their own fields - more of the same or a fresh approach?

Many fans would enjoy either option from Jeff Johnson and Phil Keaggy, but this follow-up to the remarkable Frio Suite keeps the format. It certainly ain’t broke.

I suspect that most readers of this e-zine will know of guitar virtuoso Phil Keaggy and of the multi-instrumentalist Jeff Johnson, who majors on keyboards and specializes in instrumental minimalism. I also suspect that most who have heard them cherish their work - and Frio Suite is among the best releases that either has made. It may be that Keaggy has the improv skills and Johnsons the sense of space, but it has worked vice versa.

The original was inspired by a retreat at a lodge by the Frio river and caught the sense of fluid movement beautifully: floating moods, constantly morphing tones and tunes, plenty of translucence and tantalising little ripples. It irresistably relaxed the muscles.

From the inside photo, I suspect that this album gets its title from looking down into the Frio canyon and seeing the sky reflected in the long squiggle of water. It is a fine image of the way that we hear these two players through one another, sensing them as one unit.

The first two tracks set the tone, whispering their parentage as Keaggy brings out his more Knopfleresque  moments. Hear these at first and it feels like this time the music might be light wallpaper patterns, but hear them again as soon as the disc has finished and they take on a new richness. This is a set that works as a whole.

Next, the title track reaches the heart as a key change towards the end suddenly raises the level before letting it relax back. On “When Cicadas Marched” Keaggy brings out a fretless, oud-like, 12-string cumbus to create a more oriental mood. It is a little less fluid, but then it would be – it is about insects, rather than water.

The second half is where it really builds: “Thermal Dance” is textbook minimalism and “Air & Light,” reminiscent of Keaggy's The Master and the Musician,  sees a myriad elements merging into a Frio-like tapestry. The beautiful piano motif that opens “The Cody Incident” gives way to a transfixing, reverbed riff surrouned by little other than percussive popping, distant backwards guitar, slight funky moments, occasional dribbles of piano and p l e n t y of space. At intervals throughout the track, Keaggy spills gurgling bursts of bass that stand out against the light and airy silkiness. These three pieces are what the duo does together best…

...  as is the closer, “Waiting for Moonlight”. Built on a typical, gorgeous Johnson line that could come from anywhere between the Albion series and A Still Silence, decorated with a few flamenco guitar lines, this is the project’s satisfying melodic peak.

Watersky may not consistently reach the intricate transcendence of Frio Suite, but it often gets pretty close. And who would claim that a second hour of this beauty is overdoing a good thing? Not me.

Derek Walker
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