While East meets West collaborations are nothing new, it is
rare that such joinings actually transcend both sensibilities, creating a new and greater whole. With Selwa
, guitarist/soundscapist Steve Tibbetts returns to Tibet for another meeting with singer Chöying Drolma, last heard together seven years ago on Chö
(Hannibal). Expanding on ideas developed with their first recording, Tibbetts, along with long-time musical partner and percussionist Marc Anderson, creates an even richer tapestry of music to accompany Drolma's songs and chants.
It's really quite remarkable to consider that Tibbetts and Anderson recorded Drolma's vocals in Tibet, and then returned to the more, well, secular surroundings of St. Paul, Minnesota to build layers of acoustic and electric guitars, samples, loops and percussion around her work. The result is so integrated that one could imagine these recordings being made live. Tibbetts and Anderson's support is undeniably organic; for all the studio wizardry, obviously involved in creating the final result, it sounds neither forced nor overly considered.
Tibbetts' body of work, largely recorded for the ECM label, including '02's A Man About A Horse , has always retained a certain ethereal spiritual quality, something that he shares with labelmate Stephan Micus , albeit in a completely different context. But his work with Drolma brings out an even more mysterious quality. Gentle and tranquil, dramatic at times but never overstated, Tibbetts and Anderson create a warm foundation for Drolma that is without ego yet not without personality. The profundity of this collaboration rises above mere musical consideration, becoming something meditative and enigmatic.
While Selwa examines a specific musical and spiritual space, it manages to reflect a diversity that gives the entire recording a broader arc. The sounds range from the peaceful calm of "Chendren," where Tibbetts layers ambient washes of sound beneath Drolma's rubato prayer, to the delicate forward motion of Anderson's treated percussion on "Palden Rangjung," and "Vakritunda," which combines a more insistent rhythm with Tibbetts' acoustic guitar and Carnatic-tinged electric, taking an essentially simple melody and developing ever-shifting harmonies around it. There may be silence between the individual tracks, but rather than separating the pieces, they serve more as moments for reflection that actually tie the entire cycle together as a single work, something to be experienced as a whole.
Elegantly conceived and with deep reverence for a thousand year-old tradition, Selwa is as musically contemplative and searching Drolma's texts. On this journey as much spiritual as aural, Drolma, Tibbetts and Anderson have collaborated to create an album of clear and unequivocal beauty.
Visit Steve Tibbetts on the web.