"North" CD - Jim Lampi and Michael Manring

Review: Emmett Chapman 

I'm heading North this winter, as far as I can go into the land where form overtakes color, and where color fades to B&W and delicious shades of gray, which in turn take on every subtle pastel shade of the "Rainbow" (last track of the album) - brilliant pink ice, warm yellow bears and blue glacial ridges.

As on a forsaken island, things get simple, almost cartoon like - far less elements to contend with. Same is true in Northern regions where a cover of snow and ice meets the eye. Form is everywhere revealed because the eye wants to see it, following the lines. 

Listening to this CD on a cold California day, "North" has that kind of simplicity, a grand unified concept from start to finish - just the fretless bass in the lead and The Stick in a myriad of accompanying roles, yet both as equals on the sonic stage. Jim creates a rich variety of icy landscapes for Michael, the explorer, to navigate. Jim's crisp dynamic Stick style is the perfect foil for Michael's smooth, horn like expressions. 

Conceptually it's a live album with a minimum of electronic processing, the color and expressive "effects" coming from the players' fingers alone. Michael achieves sustained harmonics from his four bass strings, an "orchestra" of expressive tones, evoking "music of the spheres" (the logic of overtones extending the line). He also explores the extremes in time, from the most elongated, whale like tones (vowels shaped from strings and fingers alone) to intricate, driving passages reminiscent of Jaco Pastorius. 

The Stick in Jim's hands is an extremely dynamic instrument and from song to song he uses it in ingenious ways - huge ranging chords, muted rhythms, plucked psaltery like arpeggios, the bravado of flamenco guitar, chiming bells, high counter-melody against Michael's baritone lead, and of course those two-handed Stick bass-with melody rhythms of endless permutation. 

Of the twelve songs, ten are composed by Jim and Michael distilled from their duo improvisations. The other two are "Naima", a jazz standard by John Coltrane, and "Over the Rainbow", a Broadway standard by Harold Arlen. The feeling is always live, but with polish, precision and discipline. 

How far North shall I go? Look at the cover art. That's where I'm headed, where the bones are bare, the bear is warm and I'm warmed to the bone.

True North by Jim Lampi & Michael Manring on Grooveshark

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