The recent sudden passing of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven other beautiful souls has been a powerful reminder to millions that while tomorrow is never promised, what we do during the dash between the years of our birth and departure years is everything. It’s our purpose, our legacy, the reason we were here at all. It reminds us each day to ask ourselves, how can we make these hours count – and what will we leave behind that made the world a better place?
A few weeks before the Kobe tragedy rocked the world, the melodic ambient music realm was hit with a great loss - the death of multi-instrumentalist and composer Michael Allison, who from 1992 to the present built what is truly one of the genre’s great musical legacies under the name Darshan Ambient (Darshan is a Sanskrit Hindu term for sight of a glimpse of the divine). Thankfully, he left behind nearly three decades of albums – including 11 on his longtime label, Spotted Peccary - for us to discover and enjoy again and again.
I’ve always felt that musicians, artists and songwriters have something the rest of us don’t – the ability when they pass on to leave behind something quite tangible that can fill the world, and inspire the hearts and souls of people beyond what they could ever imagine long after their earthly journeys are through. Upon Michael’s passing, just days before the release of Darshan Ambient’s inviting, gloriously soulful and inventive parting gift – the ironically titled album A Day Like Any Other – Bruce Gall, programmer of Atmospheres on One World Music Radio, said it all. His quote: “The wonderful thing about music-making and being an artist in general is the legacy you leave, and Michael has departed in the best possible way.”
None of the original promo material shared about A Day Like Any Other mentions his illness or just how hard it must have been for him, weakening daily from his illness, to so meticulously create so that we may enjoy his powerful, multi-faceted and richly textured pieces. We do have a quote from him where he describes it as his “most emotionally driven set of recordings.” The music reveals not the soul of man angry at his most unfair lot, or resigned to sorrow or self-pity - but of someone bursting with hope and optimism, celebrating the vibrant, pulsing energy of each day given to him.
In the week after Kobe, when we were all quite emphatically NOT living A Day Like Any Other, the music became my soundtrack, my source of calm, my center, my spirit energizing resource for hope and uplift. Darshan Ambient will similarly transport you from the get go to the atmospheric, relaxing yet bright and ultimately pulsating “City of Seven Hymns,” whose hypnotic guitar and increasing percussion create visions of rising out of sorrow with courage to embrace the next moment. I’m hardly sure if lifelong fans will appreciate the comparison, but I liken the next track, the bright, perfectly titled burst of dynamic fire “Ah! Sunflower” to some of the classic instrumental sports music John Tesh created back in the day. Allison’s percussive build is like fuel for a weary spirit.
One of the unique trademarks of this collection is its colorful mood swings, which lift us far, then just as quickly bring us down to a time of meditation and reflection that is just as important to the nourishment of our souls. While the gently exotic percussion and offbeat synth musings of “The Echoing Green” and the mystical sonic immersions of “Shadow Lines” give us moments to pause, Allison is quick to pick us up so that we may rock (in a harmonic ambient way, of course) as he soars upon a buoyant sea of “Wishful Thinking” and rise to dance among the stunning wordless vocals, jangly guitars and synth fire of “LightFighter.”
With a title like “He Lamented His Thoughtless Acts” – definitely one of the slower, moodier gems – one wonders if Allison knew he would be facing his mortality and was reflecting on making amends. Perhaps we will never know his intentions behind that song, but for us, the listeners, the living, it’s a powerful reminder that, yes, we should think about how we treat people – and if we have not treated some well, what can we do before it’s too late?
As life affirming and perspective changing as the first nine tracks are, Allison truly saves the best for last with the playfully grooving, bold shimmering electric guitar and electronic percussion driven title track and the warm, ultra-melodic and beat intensive journey to “The Republic of Dreams,” a true invitation to dance and rock out driven by strumming guitars and increasingly propulsive funk rhythms. It’s as close to a jam as ambient new age ever gets.
When we think of that title, let’s all imagine Allison there, out of body before his time perhaps, but free now to create beautiful sounds in other worlds where perhaps everything is ruled by the fulfillment of our dreams. On this side of the veil, no day this January was A Day Like Any Other, but Allison’s magical parting gift made the blows and losses slightly easier to bear.
Listen to A Day Like Any Other here: https://open.spotify.com/album/6SEHXYYxS1osRb8f3nd9hJ
A link to Darshan Ambient's full discography: https://spottedpeccary.com/artists/darshan-ambient/