Al Fraser, Sam Leamy, Neil Johnstone: Panthalassa (Rattle)

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Bathysphere
Al Fraser, Sam Leamy, Neil Johnstone: Panthalassa (Rattle)

Some weeks before the release of this new album by taonga puoro artist Al Fraser (who has previously appeared at Elsewhere, and here with yet another ensemble of contributors), I mentioned to Rattle's great helmsman Steve Garden that I imagine Maori filmmakers and television producers would be beating a path to Fraser's door for soundtrack work.

Seems that is increasingly so and, now signed to Songbroker, more opportunities for his contemporary sound of the traditional Maori instruments should come his way.

Good. His work has been fascinating, and this especially so.

Fraser has performed with everyone from Stroma and the NZ String Quartet to Trinity Roots and David Long.

And of course was on the albums Shearwater Drift and Ponguru, as well as presenting Toiti Te Puoro under his own name.

This time out there is an ambitious concept at work with guitarist Sam Leamy and Neil Johnstone providing synths, soundscapes and sonic manipulations.

(There are also others including singer Ariana Tikao and bassist Phil Boniface who Fraser has previously recorded with, but that is the core group.)

The overarching concept is that of the title, the ocean which once surrounded the massive Southern Hemisphere supercontinent of Pangaea – the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia and tiny New Zealand joined together – hundreds of millions of years ago.

So here is impressionistic music which evokes the ancient ocean through the mysterious sound of taonga puoro calls, atmospheric underwater soundscapes of ocean movements and the voices of whales (some sourced from recordings made for NIWA), echoes and descents into the dark depths (as on the eerie Bathysphere with Erika Grant on waterphone (aka ocean harp).

Tikao sings on the dreamy Hinatore in te reo (from an abstract but evocative poem in English by Johnstone, lyrics in both languages reproduced in the booklet) and Glacial Imprints alludes to the sheer power of the oceanic forces in its menacing and tumultuous swathes of sound.

This is the aquatic world of the mysterious and the unknown, the habitat of the unfamiliar, pre-human Leviathan, the abbysal and cold waters of a place beyond our conscious comprehension.

The Mesozoic era ended badly – if you consider the mass extinction of dinosaurs and a bunch of other creatures unfortunate – but the final piece here Mesozoic Extinction is less a surface bang than a sub-aquatic evocation of whatever was happening above the surface.

This is another ambitious but quite exceptional album from Fraser and his fellow travellers here who create pictures in sound of the kind which should have equally inventive and creative filmmakers wondering how they could create visuals to equal them.

Tough call I would think. The sounds seem to be saying it all. 


You can hear this album at Rattle here, but as always given the high quality of their CDs in hardback covers and enticing booklet design, the solid artefact is the way to go. Follow the “buy” link.


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