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Binkelman's Corner by Bill Binkelman
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Mystic
By Al Conti
Label: Shadowside Music Publishing
Released 10/7/2016
Mystic tracks
1. Mystic
2. Trance
3. Prayer
4. Visions
5. Pilgrimage
6. Contemplation
7. Ritual
8. Devotion
9. Anima Aeterna
AL CONTI - Mystic
After traveling around the world musicals, with stops in the Arabian Desert (Scheherazade), the birthplace of the Vikings (Northern Seas), and the Far East, (The Blue Rose), Multi-instrumentalist Al Conti took a recording break and moved his personal life geographically from the north USA to the south. Coinciding with this change of locale was a desire to journey inward and explore a different aspect of his music. This led to examining the life of the Hildegard Von Bingen, a remarkable woman from the ninth-tenth century - a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, and visionary Christian mystic. While the album Mystic was supposed to be centered around her life, it ended up, in organic fashion (as happens many times with musicians), going where it will. The album’s focus widened to include the entire concept of the "mystic," which according to dictionary.com is " a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect."

What this translates to in Conti's capable and talented hands is his most ambitious, deeply textured, and well-actualized album to date. It would not be a reach to call this his masterpiece, except since his career is still relatively short, it might be premature to assume he won't someday top it. Conti enlisted the artistic help of a fair number of folks, including (but not limited to) vocalist Charlee Brooks, harpist Pamela Copus, guitarist Jeff Pearce, and Grammy-winner Ricky Kej. Also along for the ride are some notable world beat artists playing assorted global instruments, e.g. esraj, santoor, darbuka. Conti wields the piano and keyboards and programming with contributions from Kej and Yanil Veigas.

Trying to describe Mystic in usual terms proves to be difficult, as the nine tracks each offer something different, and sometimes an individual song will morph through various phases, such as the nearly nine-minute long opening title track which opens with church bells and choirs and Charlee Brooks’ angelic wordless vocals but then transitions into a rhythmic chill-out tune about 3 minutes in with both programmed and ethnic beats. If you have heard or purchased previous Conti albums, you will find the production quality has taken a sizable step forward (and that is saying something because previous releases were all very well produced). You will also find the music to be broader, less focused on a specific motif or influence. However, two things are retained. One is Conti’s absurd attention to detail which is among the best in contemporary instrumental music. The other is that no matter what style or influence is present in the music, it is always not just accessible but enjoyable, with a strong sense of melody and an abundance of infectious rhythms.

With a title like Mystic, you can imagine that the mood of the music will be, well, mysterious and spiritual (not in any specific religious way, but in a way that feels, I suppose, ancient and reverential). This is quite a feat given there is also a contemporary (i.e. world fusion-centered with rhythm programming and keyboards) aspect to the music too. Conti’s done this kind of balancing act before, of course (Scheherazade is a great example) but here it’s even more pronounced.

As I stated two paragraphs above, describing in detail the actual songs on this album would be daunting indeed. While there are moments of high energy (the latter half of “Pilgrimage,” for example), the closest the album gets to being joyous may be on “Devotion,” and while the assorted musical elements still retain some sense of the haunting quality of mysticism, here the Eastern European/Mediterranean influence colors the atmosphere with at least the appearance of good cheer. I hesitate to use the word “heady” in describing the music on Mystic, but this is not your garden variety world/chill-out mixture. Because of this, Mystic is an album to delve into deeply, and listening with headphones is preferable. There’s so much going on here, but make no mistake, the album is cohesive and presents a unified musical vision, despite the variety of styles scattered throughout the nine tracks. I must say I don’t know how Al Conti will top this amazing feat, but I know he is going to try. Maybe he needs to move again? (just kidding Al, you can stay put for a while).
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 3/6/2017
 
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