Dramatic yet dreamy, Gandalf’s latest creation lingers between the world of accessible commercialism and meditative benefits. As a result, Between Earth And Sky could not be more appropriately titled, residing between the tangible and the intangible, compelling it to become a regular visitor on my CD player.
While Gandalf is new to the shores of the States, this self-taught Austrian composer has been gallivanting around the continents of Europe, Asia and South America since the early eighties. It was then that he released his freshman effort Journey To An Imaginary Land. Since then he has created a multitude of solo material, as well as involvement with many side projects. This has included an appearance on the former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett’s album Gallery Of Dreams in 1992.
As a result of his worldwide trekking, Gandalf amalgamates multiple musical cultures and creates a sweeping, yet not an overstated, musical tapestry that makes his musical style familiar yet still unique. Equally adept on guitar, keyboards and percussion, Gandalf needs little outside assistance on this project, though the musical duties are rounded out by the assistance of White Horse on cello and Peter Aschenorenner on flute and saxophone with both of them assisting on vocals. Those of you that despise vocals on instrumental albums, the arrangements are limited to the occasional chants and embellishments to bring the album a little variety.
Musically, the majority of the arrangements are keyboard based and dance between mellow meanderings and a random dramatic mid tempo composition. On many occasions, the songs flow right into each other with little or no break between each track, giving it [the album] a sense of continuity and unity sustaining a focused center point. This will be of assistance to those who may prefer the contemplative values of the project.
While this may be a valuable meditative tool, I get the impression that this secondary benefit plays second fiddle to the commercial benefits. While Gandalf has his own musical signature, there are influences of the sound-scaping you find courtesy of Mars Lasar and 2002 along with some of the sweeping visual dramatics you would find during the early electronic days of David Arkenstone.
One of the more outstanding tracks and probably the highlight of the album is “A Seagull’s Tale” that flows and soars effortlessly much like a seagull gliding in a firm gentle breeze. There are some gorgeous string arrangements embellished with the cleansing sound effects of the ocean waves and gulls quietly chirping in the background. Equally as dramatic is the surging “Love Is An Answer” that builds gently and includes the flutes of Aschenorenner and the electric guitar work of Gandalf. It is never overbearing, but I would say this [is] one of the more sonically intrusive compositions of the album. However, it is not out of place with the remainder of its cohorts.
Generally, the songs present low-key melodramatic themes that are best exemplified by the opening track “Just A Heartbeat Away.” Facilitated with some gentle percussion work replicating a beating heart, this song has some very strong Arkenstone features, best seen courtesy of the chorus arrangements. Gandalf’s closing track “Floating Down The Silent Stream,’ continues the irrefutable visual interpretations that parallel his expressive song titles.
Between Earth And Sky has unquestionable horizontal and vertical values. Despite this juxtaposition, there is no conflict, bringing a cohesive, consistent and complimentary listening experience that I look forward to enjoying over and over again.