REVIEW: Laraaji - Day of Radiance residency at Cafe Oto

Laraaji at Cafe Oto, May 2016
Drawing by Geooff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved

Laraaji - Day of Radiance
(Day one of a two-day residency at Cafe Oto, 24th May 2016; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The backstory to this event started in 1980, when Day of Radiance by Laraaji was recorded as the third of the four outstanding albums which comprise Brian Eno's Ambient Series. Eno had stumbled across the musician, who originally hailed from Philadelphia, busking in Washington Square Park in New York and left a note for him asking if he'd be interested in making a record with him. The recording's intensely ethereal qualities were achieved on its three Dances on the LP's A side by the concentrated application of mallets to a dulcimer, giving a high-pitched, flowing metallic sound, and, on the two Meditations on side B, a floating, spiritual feel, using amplified zither.

Laraaji opened his two-day residency at Cafe Oto by revisiting Day of Radiance. Refreshingly, this was not the standard re-enaction of a well-known album, but in effect a new piece. In an intensely absorbing set, Laraaji expanded on the album's original concept to create a lush, layered sound world that used the original album as its starting point.

Laraaji's first port of call at Cafe Oto, after an extended tuning session, was a percussion piece played on a suspended metal gong using mallets, from lollypop size to large soft-covered beaters, assisted by electronic sampling and amplification, to explore its natural sound washes and waves. With a brief spell of vocal sampling and the whirling of a lasso d'amore above his head, he paused to slowly, smilingly survey the audience before embarking on the main piece.

This live version of Day of Radiance was based around his use of two amplified zithers, one tuned higher than the other, with the judicious use of electronic devices to trigger subtle, incremental layerings and deviations from the zither's raw sound. In a constant process of gathering up the sound layers, allowing them to recede and then rebuild, Laraaji plucked and gently hammered the fields of strings before him, evoking celestial atmospheres, adding chimes and dark, echoing drips to draw in the audience on a meditative journey that ended with a tiny, metallic, ringing chime.

A true, practiced craftsman, the all-enveloping sound was as much based on Laraaji's ability to precisely control every aspect of its mellifluous flow, as upon his expansive vision, and being able to witness this at close quarters added to the understanding of the underlying complexity of its part-improvised performance.

'Thank you so much - happy eternity to you,' was Laraaji's grinning sign-off, before he encored with a few steps in to his world of 'seriously playful laughter' with its word games and therapeutic audience engagement.

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