Angel Air 2015
Spiritual gems from a new age submergence of one fantastic rhythm section who let go of the groove to embrace the heartbeat.
It might seem strange, given their thunderous approach in, respectively, THE YARDBIRDS and STEAMHAMMER, but drummer Jim McCarty and bassist Louis Cennamo shared a lot of hushed ground. There was a lot of quiet moments when the two joined forces for the RENAISSANCE debut album and regrouped later on for the first LP by ILLUSION; however, the old friends’ next common project, STAIRWAY, shifted their dynamics completely. Started in 1986 and running on and off for less than a decade, the band, basically a duo, focused on mystic and texture, rather than exquisite edifices of yore, yet the players’ songwriting core made the end result less abstract than the new age idiom required, as this compilation of tracks from their four records demonstrates.
As dramatic swells and flamenco runs lull the strings-drenched “Beautiful Changes” while baroque organ carries the flow of “Moonlight Skater” – where the artists’ former colleague Jane Relf delivers a vocal – it’s up to Louis’ acoustic guitar to tell a story on the piano-led epic “Light On A Dark Road” whose floating transparency is enchanting. With Jim providing a synthesizers layer throughout and singing softly on “Looking Inside,” whatever beat there is delicately propels a melody, so pieces such as the tribal-tinctured “Eagle” are only deceptively static. The ebb and flow give even more prominent momentum to “Bird Of Paradise” which, again with Relf’s voice, wouldn’t feel out of place on the veterans’ earlier work, yet “Aquamarine” finds the eye of the hurricane in a pop song, and the buzz gets fleshed out in polyphonic fashion on the “Base Chakra” chant from a platter the band laid down with psychologist Malcolm Stern.
It’s as relaxing as the calm before the storm, then, and as captivating: in other words, a tranquil wonder.