Two intriguing questions occur to me when listening Autumn Monsoon, an intricate, hypnotic-exotic, soul-transportive collection showcasing the lush melodies, globally expansive rhythmic flow and stunning aural tapestries of New Mexico based husband and wife Suzanne Teng (flutes) and Gilbert Levy (world drums, percussion).
The first pertains to discography. Teng released a flurry of releases in her first ten years as a recording artist, but her last work before this latest epic was Enchanted Wind in 2006. Logic tells me that it’s because of her frenetic work schedule that incorporates work on hundreds of other albums, video games, film and TV soundtracks and commercials, as well as her life as an educator who has sat on the Music Education panels for the National Endowment for the Arts.
Yet more whimsically, I visualize Teng trekking gleefully yet methodically around the world, stopping just long enough in each place to accumulate an arsenal of flutes that include the Chinese dizi, bawu and hulusi, Turkish ney and zurna, Indonesian suling, panpipes, penny whistles, Native American flutes, ocarinas, the West African fulani, Egyptian reed mijwiz and Bulgarian dvoyanka. Ditto Levy, who stirs the percussive global fusion magic via African and Middle Eastern hand percussion, the metal melodic Hang and Rav drums and stringed instruments like the Turkish saz, African ngoni, bass dulcimer and hybrid guitar Inuk.
The other query that comes to mind concerns the provocative title Autumn Monsoon. It’s a provocative yet lyrical musical journey throughout the globe, full of rhythm and movement, but also deeply relaxing and spiritual. So just how does the concept of “monsoon” connect with those transcendent, peace-promoting elements?
Then the thought comes – it’s a heavy storm of sounds, a maelstrom of passionate soundscapes, but one that sweeps in and cleanses the soul, giving birth to fresh “Suenos,” or dreams, as we meet, among others, some mystical “Indian Sisters,” those whose souls reflect the brightness and enduring genius of the “Maya” people, and others who identify as “Traveler” on this road to better understanding our place in the universe and the commonality between cultures.
To that point, as they venture to India, the American Southwest, West Africa, the Sahara desert and even to another galaxy, Teng and Levy challenge us to identify just where each track is rooted spiritually and geographically. Along the way, they – and by extension, we – encounter the deep haunting echoes of “Canyon Ghosts,” explore the subtle seductive mysteries of the “Blue Ngoni” and breathily imagine soar beyond the confines of earth to the Andromeda Galaxy – which for the uninitiated is a spiral galaxy approximately 2.5 million light years from Earth. Its name stems from the area of the Earth’s sky in which it appears, the constellation of Andromeda.
Closer to home, the duo creates a sparse overall reflection on the “Journey of Life” and the mystery we are caught up in, and sends a beautiful parting “Prayer for Claire,” which wraps the set with heartfelt grandeur.