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Mani Neumeier + Friends — Terra Amphibia: Deep in the Jungle
(Prudence 398.6686.2, 2003, CD)

Mani Neumeier — Terra Amphibia
(Think Progressive no#, 1998, CD)

Terra Amphibia: Deep in the Jungle Cover artTerra Amphibia Cover art

Man this guy never quits, does he! For every two CDs that come our way, Mani jumps into two more projects, that is not counting his collaborations with Engler and Moebius on the incredible Other Places from a couple years back, and God knows what else. Last time it was his percussion driven explorations; but on these two CDs, he couches the idea in an ensemble setting, which will appeal to more listeners. The way these are credited it is difficult to tell whether Terra Amphibia is a group, or the CD titles — perhaps it’s the moniker with which Mani has dubbed the project as a whole; certainly representing the most subdued side of his work. And though it may not sate the Guru Guru fiend, a guy has to move on at some point in his career. Terra Amphibia 1 finds Mani exploring the primal edges the globe’s girth, stopping off in Tibet, Africa, Australia, and other far-flung locations. Liner notes credit all but one offering to the man himself. Slit drums, kalimba, and various percussives mix with environmental and natural sounds, adding sax and a trio of didgeridoo players, with just a splash of extra electricity for color. At times the CD seems intentionally recorded at low level, as if you are hearing the music from a distance. There has been a lot of music like this over the past 15 years; most often a mere style conglomeration; at rare occurrences transcendent enough to actually speak in its own voice. Most of the material here belongs to the former category.

Terra Amphibia 2 however is another story! I really like how he has done this — not slapdash or trying to throw everything into the pot, but very selective in its instrumental format, and subtle in its execution; with a clear method behind each piece, and none of the self-consciousness of TA1. This time the project has settled into a definite direction, in how it applies concepts learned in the past. Guitarist Luigi Archetti does a beautiful job and is pivotal in creating the bizarre but excellent kraut / ethnic blend, with his minimal and spare playing style. There are a few leftover ideas from the first effort — field recordings of singing birds, which mix with didgeridoo loops, and gamelan what not. Admittedly contrast is a bit too thick here and there — provided at times by his use of Tibetan bells, in a weird humming ambience; at others by rain sounds and subtly spooky atmospheres. A few of the best moments however recall what some of the source inspiration for Crimson material like “The Sheltering Sky” must have been. And at its apex, this CD presents an uptempo but low-key, and quietly repetitive rhythmic approach which is unlike anything else. Nicely done!

by Mike Ezzo, Published 1999-11-01

Terra Amphibia is the project which occupies Mani Neumeier during time away from Guru Guru. World music and East Asian culture appropriation are Mani’s hobbies, which find him jamming and flirting with the natives and wildlife in Nepal, Bali, and other sundry hot Asian climes. Deep in the Jungle is the latest in this series of recordings that sees him surrounded by a vast percussion array, soaking in ethnic moods and having what seems a genuinely joyful time. While the instruments are native to the region, the compositions usually conform to Western preconceptions of structure and form. Mani shows an admirable sense of orchestration in forming these collages, where just the right cymbal or gong is placed in just the right spot. But there is more than drumming here. Guitarists and flute also add a welcome contrasting character, and a very necessary slice of melody (something surprisingly lacking in efforts like this). A few cuts feature chanting as well, and Mani often splices in natural sounds to deepen the sonic scope. It works splendidly. As does his penchant for shaking up the scene by exploring a different rhythmic mood and musical culture on each piece. A well-informed ethnomusicalogical listener might possibly pick out the influences from gamelan, Tibetan chant, and other sources. Some vocals in English tend to be somewhat jarring on a work like this, but they are kept to a limit. Probably not for all ears, this CD is nevertheless a good statement of Neumeier’s craft, and recommended.

by Mike Ezzo, Published 2004-09-01

Filed under: New releases, Issue 18, 2003 releases, 1998 releases

Related artist(s): Mani Neumeier


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