The Phantom Tollbooth
Fragments of Grace
Artist: Jason Carter with Ragatal
Label: Arc Music
Length: 10 tracks

"File under Guitar Music," instructs the album sleeve, but for those used to pop and rock that description is quite inadequite as an introduction to this album. An intriguing blend of contemporary Spanish guitar, electric and acoustic violins, bass guitar, and tabla, this album is laid back and atmospheric in a way quite different from many albums that get that label.

The production is spacious, giving the various instruments plenty of time to build up their respective movements. The Spanish influence on the sound is unmistakeable, but the arrangements concentrate more on letting the performances breathe than on creating lightning fast flamenco. The guitar is prominent throughout and is played with technical competence and plenty of emotion. The violin adds texture and the tabla helps to create a slightly broader base for the music. The players are all very experienced and this shows in the way they weave their instruments together.

The music is all instrumental and largely original, although there are three pieces by other composers. Particularly striking is the seventeen minute epic, "Chant," which was penned by Jason Carter. The underlying core of the music remains simple but the various instruments all take turns making strong contributions to the atmosphere. Strongly rhythmical, the overall sound could also be described as "trippy"--no wonder the record label makes the fact that this is drug-free world music so clear in their publicity.

The main criticism of this album is going to be that it doesn't move fast enough. It's not meant to move quickly. But that does mean that the listener will have to be in the right frame of mind to listen to it, and it will often become background music. This album would definitely be well suited to be used as an interesting atmosphere for a meal or for unwinding to, but is not going to be something to put on to stimulate the listener. Nonetheless, this is still an interesting experiment in the weaving together of cultures; world music fans would do well to track this down.
By James Stewart  (1/23/99)