Now well into his incredible fifth decade as a recording artist, Grammy winning Swiss electroacoustic harpist Andreas Vollenweider has worked over the last decade with British producer Andy Wright (Eurythmics, Simply Red, Simple Minds) on the music for a fascinating conceptual trilogy based on musical moods.
In my Music Connection review of his beautiful, intimate and gently relaxing 2020 album Quiet Places, I wrote that the stellar work set the stage for the “next two albums” in the series. Vollenweider has thrown a fascinating creative curveball by releasing Volumes 2 and 3 on a single album titled Slow Flow & Dancer, with six sweetly melodic, easy grooving and lushly orchestrated tracks representing the “Slow Flow” and five vibrant, densely percussive and exotic vocal filled pieces (the “Dancer” portion) reflecting the harpist’s deep, longstanding connection to and relationship with the people and music of Africa.
While the two vibes are distinct from each other in tone, energy and overall them, listening to all 11 tracks consecutively offers a powerful expansive perspective on Vollenweider’s choice musical passions. True to their titles, gems like “As We Sail on By,” “Deep Green Waltz” and “Slow Flow” offer breezy melodic energy that envelop us like symphonic smooth jazz. The bridge to the African-flavored portion of the collection is the sensual and lyrical “Find Me In a Dream,” whose powerful rhythms and percussive strings pick up towards the end, opening the proverbial door for the soaring vocals of Ayanda, Nhlangothi and the South African vocal harmony group Africapella, both of which are prominently featured on the “Dancer” tracks.
As you engage in the plucky tribal energy of “Woa Woa” (truly the African equivalent of a soaring gospel jam) and punchy, wildly trippy, horn tinged fusion jam “Scarabaeus” (with Ayanda and Africapella creating a sly, funky part call and response, part intertwined vocal dance), it might be a good idea to brush up on Vollenweider’s history with the continent. In the early 80s, as the harpist was establishing himself as an artist, the black community of South Africa adopted his music as their own folk music. During the struggle to end apartheid, his songs were sung as anthems by the masses in the street to express the desire for and goal of peaceful change.
Other tracks embodying this key decades long synergy are the whimsical, hypnotic “The Golden Bird,” the soulful, smooth chant filled power ballad “Uthando” (also featuring sly interaction between Ayanda and Africapella) and the sweeping and dynamic adventure of “Up & Out” – the perfect unpredictable sojoun to wrap the larger conceptual adventure.