Like vibraphonist/percussionist Daryl Pratt's Sonic Fiction, which has enjoyed greater popularity in its home base of Australia, the group AtmaSphere, led by drummer/percussionists David Jones but also featuring Pratt along with bassist Adam Armstrong (also from Sonic Fiction) and "vocussionist Carmen Warrington, has received exposure at home, but is little-known elsewhere. And that's a shame because once again, as with the Sonic Fiction debut, Powerful Medicine
, the Australian Tall Poppies label has ventured to give visibility to a group of musicians who deserve wider acclaim, both individually and in formation.
As diverse as it is, Pratt's Sonic Fiction can be generally categorized as fusion, but AtmaSphere is more difficult to pigeonhole. Jones and Warrington both make meditation a significant part of their lives, and elements of that mindset come through on pieces including the opening gamelan, "Bells of Happiness, and the tuned percussion piece "Absorbed. Equally meditative are the three tracks featuring Warringtonthe somewhat subcontinental "Unisons Unique, the more peaceful "Ascending, and the similarly tranquil, slightly hypnotic "Music at the Speed of Breath, which also features pianist Mike Nock, who's better known internationally, in a guest spot.
Elsewhere, however, the trio of Jones, Pratt, and Armstrong is more outgoing. The title track alternates between percussion duets and a brightly melodic 7/4 theme that ultimately resolves into a lightly swinging solo section featuring Pratt, who uses MIDI vibes to trigger other sounds and give the trio a richer complexion. Similarly, on the Middle Eastern-inflected "Rise and Fall in an Eastern Fashion, Pratt triggers textures that contribute to the ethnic veracity of the piece.
At over nine minutes, the light minor blues "Blues for Modern Times is the longest piece on the disc, providing ample solo space for both Pratt and guest flautist Don Burrows. "Festival after Victory starts as a complex piece with a fusion touch, shifting gears midway into a Caribbean celebration, while "Sunflower Dance, with Armstrong's busy but never self-indulgent bass work, sounds like something that could easily fit into the Sonic Fiction repertoire. Throughout the eclectic set Jones, Pratt, and Armstrong demonstrate the kind of stylistic capacity that makes their lack of recognition outside their own country more the pity.
While Flying was released in '93, and AtmaSphere would go on to record a followup disc, the more vocal-centric Seasons of the Heart, the good news is that both discs are still available. And the fact is that there's a relatively small but vibrant jazz scene in Australia and New Zealand that's worthy of attention. Flying is as good a place to start as any if you're looking to gain some appreciation of Jones, Pratt, and Armstrongthree artists who, if they were living in North America, would surely be on the radar instead of beneath it.
Personnel: David Jones (drums, percussion), Daryl Pratt (MIDI vibes, percussion), Adam Armstrong (basses), Carmen Warrington (vocussion)
guest artists: Don Burrows (flute), Mike Nock (piano)