||Erik Scott is ridiculously talented, as both a musician and as a composer. In The Company Of Clouds is so chock full of interesting, cool, and unique music that I know my review won't do it justice. I thought Spirits (his previous release) was inspiring and brilliant, but he was just getting warmed up, obviously. I know his pedigree is amazing (check his website to see all the cool folks he has played with over the years), but even so, where the hell does music this gorgeous and fascinating and melting-pot-of-genres come from?
Scott plays, of course, his signature fretted and fretless basses, as well as (per liner notes) "bass generated sound fx, keyboards, drum and percussion programs, some wee vocals, and that one mandolin." He is joined throughout the album by steel guitarist extraordinaire John Pirruccello, who matches Scott's magic step-for-step. Before I list the additional artists, I need to say one thing off the bat. You better like the sound of steel guitar because it features prominently here. Now, for those of you out there who think any amount of steel guitar will send you scurrying for the hills, associating the instrument with a country music vibe, well, that will be your loss. For me, most (if not all) of the time, Pirruccello's playing puts me more in mind of warm tropical breezes than anything else, and this "chill" element fits in squarely with the overall laidback nature of Scott's compositions. Also featured on the album are Larry Batiste, Sandy Griffith and Bryan Dyer (vocals) on "Nine Lives," Steve Hunter (guitar), Shawn Christopher, Yvonne Gage, and Renee Robinson (vocals) and John Mader (congas and cymbals) on "Women of Avalon," Jeff Pearce (guitar) on "Breathing Room," Kevin Hayes (drums) on "Victory," Chris Cameron (piano) on "Open Door," Phil Miller (electric guitar) and Hank Guaglianone (toms) on "Waves," and Rick Barnes (acoustic guitar) on "The Long View."
Now comes the unenviable task of describing this beautiful music. Well, I will start off by once again emphasizing that the mood these luxuriously languid melodies create is one of supreme relaxation, but not so much in a new agey "aum" way, but more in a "it's all good, man, just let those care float away on the tide" way (I purposely avoided using the Jamaica-cliché of "mon") and this mood is co-created by what I hear as an unmistakable island/quasi Caribbean influence, particularly in some of the percussion used and their tempos. Often there is a gentle swaying, softly sensual quality to the music. I would imagine that In The Company Of Clouds would be about perfect for sinking into a hammock and watching the sun set on a warm beach somewhere as waves lap the shore. Sometimes, a sly funk vibe wends its way into the music, as on "Seven Veils," but this doesn't disturb the overall mood, instead it heightens it (by the way, the reverb on the percussion on that track evokes a nice comparison to Patrick O'Hearn).
The vocals on "Women of Avalon" are something special, laced with a mixture of ethereal beauty and sultry primal energy. "Breathing Room" marries hand drum rhythms with ambient washes of melody and long drawn out steel guitar notes with Scott's delicious bass right alongside, while "Victory" subtly dials up the energy just a notch with a bouncy beat and catchy melodic refrain. The presence of Kevin Hayes' trap kit drums elevates the energy level a little higher, elevating the tune into something approaching rock fusion, but of a laid back variety.
In The Company Of Clouds is one of those albums that flat out refuses to be pigeon-holed. Is it jazzy? Yeah, kinda. Is it new agey? Yeah, kinda. Is it ambient? Yeah, kinda. Is it chill-out, yeah…you get the idea by now. More than anything else, it's music that no one else is making. That it is also some damned enjoyable is a bonus. Hell, if it puts me in a good mood, imagine what it will do for someone who isn't a cranky curmudgeon!
From the opening moments of the first track, you know you are in good hands with Erik Scott There's more cool stuff going on in any one of the nine tracks than in the entirety of many other instrumental releases. I know me some great music, and In The Company of Clouds contains some fantastic music and has to be considered one of the best albums of 2016 by any critic who knows his or her stuff.