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By Bryan Carrigan
Label: Peonies Music
Released 11/1/2011
Focus tracks
1. Circle of Sound  
2. Cricket Crossing  
3. Tzatziki  
4. Red Moon  
5. Catalyst  
6. Cirque  
7. Kayak  
8. Alder  
9. Awakening  
10. Summit  
Bryan Carrigan traverses some familiar territory (world beat influenced electronica/chill-out) but in a unique (and entertaining) way on Focus, his second release as a solo artist. The recording is high quality ear candy – tasty, easy to digest, and leaving you wanting more, which is always the litmus test for great music. More than a few artists over the years have merged authentic world beat influences (such as ethnic instruments and percussion, chants, or other elements) with contemporary beats and electronic keyboards. However, Carrigan places less overt emphasis on the world music piece of the puzzle and instead "focuses" on using his assortment of keyboards, rhythm programming, and electronics to create a broader, more accessible (read: mainstream electronic) enjoyable listening experience. I'd go so far as to say Focus is world fusion for people who don't usually like word fusion, owing to the artist's considerable talent for crafting hook-laden electronic music.

Carrigan apparently is a one-man arsenal of talent: composer, performer, producer, engineer, and mastering expert. Production-wise Focus sounds superb, aglow with all manner of electronic wizardry - melody, texture, and beats galore light up the aural sky throughout the album. Because of this, if one were to strip out the world influences on this CD (and these influences can be subtle at times), favorable comparisons could be made to any number of contemporary electronic keyboard artists, such as Dave Mauk or Davol, among many others. Unlike most of these other artists, though, Carrigan and the beats he lays down on Focus are meant to rev you up to a certain degree, not necessarily chill you out.

Specific world beat influences include the Middle East, East India, the Far East (gamelan touches are particularly well-integrated) and at least one instance of Native American, but Focus is less about world music per se and, instead, presents itself as "worldly." While the world beat feel is there, the electronics are predominant. Your average electronic "accidental tourist" who avoids the exotic will enjoy this CD.

Focus engages the listener immediately on the first track, circle of sound, with its ping-pong tones set against a backdrop of East Indian flavors and shuffling rhythms. After this cheery opening number, cricket crossing hints at mystery and shades of shadow, accentuated by gamelan tones and pulsing hand drums. Deep bass rhythms and an increase in tempo gradually chase away the darkness. tzatziki (that tasty Greek yogurt-based condiment) features chants, (what I assume is) balalaika, bell tones, and guitar. The piece's frenetic pace is balanced by its air of heady spiciness and the plucked orchestral string section is a very nice touch. red moon again brings gamelan influence to bear but the presence of a lot of synthesizer "droplets" keeps the song anchored in a contemporary vibe, as well as its bass-heavy beat. cirque explodes with a strong east Mediterranean feel, featuring an abundance of fast beats and exotic musical flavors. alder is the song that features a Native American influence, via a haunting flute, here treated to shuffling midtempo chillage.

There are a few more pieces on the CD, but I will leave you to discover them on your own, which you should do if you enjoy well-produced and expertly recorded electronica, even if you normally shy away from world fusion music. Bryan Carrigan can compose a hook-laden song with the best of 'em and he's no slouch whatsoever at the mixing board, either. Bring this highly enjoyable CD into "focus" and capture it for keeps.
Rating: Very Good +   Very Good +
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 11/29/2011
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