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By Michael Brant DeMaria
Label: Ontos Music
Released 11/1/2010
GAIA tracks
1. Gaia
2. Anima Mundi
3. Alchera
4. Asase Yaa
5. Sarasvati
6. Amazonia
7. Ja-Neb'a
8. Xiaolin
9. Zazen
10. Kuan Yin
11. Balinasia
12. Tarani
13. Kishar
14. Danu
Gaia from multi-instrumentalist Michael Brant DeMaria is an ultra-ambitious release and it's not a stretch to state that listening to this evocative and richly rewarding album in one sitting is akin to taking a musical trip across the diverse lands and cultures on planet Earth. As I delved into it on my first playing, I found myself transported, one track after another, to locales all over the world, whisked into cultures wholly different from my own, yet all united by a peaceful and soothing resonance which permeates the entire CD. As good as his previous two releases were (Siyotanka and Ocean, and they were both very good indeed), Gaia belongs on a whole other level of greatness. Frankly, I can't recall the last time a single artist, with no help from any accompanists, released this type of far-ranging music.

Gaia is global music, taking its musical influences from such diverse places as Australia, Africa, India, Japan, Indonesia, Native America, and Ireland, and finding a common ground for each while allowing each culture to retain its own unique sound. Throw in the fact that DeMaria plays all the assorted world flutes (assorted Native wooden, shakuhachi, and xiao, all with tremendous artistry) plus piano, keyboards, didgeridoo, ethnic percussion, and sampled instruments such as a great kalimba on Asase Yaa and you can hopefully see why I am so impressed with this recording.

The title track starts things off in a pensive mood with its quiet, subdued Native flute and somber piano duet. Anima Mundi ramps up the drama with spoken word narration and chanting (I believe it's a Native American language), kinetic percussive electronic textures, and haunting lower register wooden flute, but the track retains a pervasive haunting quality nonetheless. Starting with Alchera our real travels begin, this time to the Australian outback amid the buzzing and barking sounds of the digeridoo and pulsing beats from hand drums, accented by wooden flute and high pitched whistle. The melodic sound of the kalimba kicks off "Asase Yaa" along with lively drum beats and lilting flute. The track is highly reminiscent of the more uptempo pieces on Robert Rich's landmark release, Rainforest, and that is high praise from me since I consider the latter to be an absolutely essential album. The cheeriness of "Asase Yaa" is immediately counterbalanced by the ages-old mystery of Sarasvati which presents its Indian influence via sampled sitar, tamboura drone, and flute (probably a wooden flute tuned to sound like a bansuri).

From there and throughout the remaining nine tracks, the listener traverses other exotic locales, such as the rainforests of South America (Amazonia), the frozen, forbidding northern terrain of Siberia (Ja-Neb'a), the mystical mist-shrouded forests of China (Xiaolin), the contemplative, peaceful gardens of Japan (Zazen) and the soothing island magic of Bali (Balinasia). Still more selections pay musical tribute to Indonesia and Mesopotamia before our travels deposit us at Ireland on the Celtic-influenced album closer Danu which concludes the CD amidst soothing sampled harp and gently lilting flute, set off by warm washes of electronic keyboards.

As I wrote this review, I realized that my words can't do justice to what Michael Brant DeMaria has wrought on Gaia. That the artist has found a way to craft so many diverse world music soundscapes and also unite them into a singular musical vision showcases just how talented a performer and composer he is. DeMaria has obviously poured every ounce of his creative soul into Gaia and it shows. It's a stellar achievement and stands as a fitting portrait which captures the expansive nature of Mother Earth herself and the many peoples who populate her surface.
Rating: Excellent   Excellent
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 12/3/2010
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