||When travelers used to visit forbidden kingdoms in Asia, the exotic country known as Siam was a frequented destination. Today, what we call Thailand is a bountiful land of beauty and mystery. Chiang Mai is a land of ancient temples, flowers, night time safaris and historic palaces. It is also home to one of Thailand’s most precious commodities, Thai elephants. The sanctuary at Chiang Mai is a haven for elephants that have been mistreated. For centuries elephants have been forced to go through the ritual of Phajaan, a torturous treatment that coerces them to carry men and goods on their backs, something they are not naturally suited to do. Bill Wren’s music glorifies the not only the plight of these creatures, but also the freedom of the elephants, the natural beauty of the land and the spirit of the Thai people.
I have to tell you, after hearing visionary composer Bill Wren’s newest album, Road To Chiang Mai, I will always yearn for a live performance. This neo-symphonic epic is exhilarating, invigorating and oh so satisfying. I’m not surprised, his previous album with partner Frank Ralls, Journey Around the Sun: A Mayan Odyssey was a prodigious release and Road To Chiang Mai will fare even better. The album which has thirteen tracks of exuberant contemporary music is a like opening a book. The first page or in this case, the first track sets the stage for adventure, excitement and discovery. The music is a group effort, that is Wren invited a wonderful assembly of artists, true talents that eat and breathe music and the result is gift for those that love instrumental music with a theme and that includes me. I’ve tried repeatedly to find a comparison to the album, but nothing comes to mind.
Siam is often called the Enchanted Kingdom and Bill’s initial song of the same name throws open the gates of discovery for this inscrutable domain. Micah Gilliam’s banjo is unexpected, but completely welcoming. The theme is strong, breathtaking and charismatic with help from Jim Farrelly’s pennywhistle. I can’t wait to hear what is next.
I have to admit that to me, Ponder Dust had a Celtic feel to it, but it became one of my favorites. Ann Marie Calhoun’s violin takes center stage in this ambitious work of wanderlust and fantasy. The title tune, Road To Chiang Mai with a touch of mandolin is jaunty and fun. It is as if we are actually walking down that dusty road with lush jungle all around us and in the distance we can see blue sky. We are about to have a great encounter. There they are, those timorous giants, the gray elephants. They have small ears, but everything else about them is magnificent, powerful and awe inspiring.
Harmonia is wondrously cinematic in scope making it all a bit thrilling, but the simple vocal by Aubrey Logan keeps it earthy and transcendent. It is the balance, the confluence if you will of creatures, the land, and man’s responsibilities to both. When all is respected, it sounds like music.
, a song from a previous release, has a superb guitar melody wrapped around a dramatic keyboard score. The experience will be warm and bright, but innocuous. You will be a witness to fantastic tings, some easy to explain, some never understood. But the joy is in the journey. John Gibson offers up some solid bass on this one.
An agonizing cello solo (Ben Lash and Nick Curry) is featured in the tune Longing. The music suggests a melancholy without hope. It sounds like a day without colors or a night without stars. What kind of circumstances tore apart these tender hearts? What has eclipsed this promising future? And when will they ever be reunited? The music may be somber, but the questions must be posed. Perhaps it should have segued into the song The Way it Was. It is one of the more lighthearted tune on The Road to Chiang Mai with a passionate ensemble mix. The lonely pennywhistle and the orchestral dance together in a memorable pas de deux.
Bill Wren’s album has everything you could want in a thematic collection and I for one never got tired of listening to it repeatedly. The passion for the subject balanced with the sophisticated melodies is perfect aural pleasure.