For new age music fans somehow unfamiliar with legendary multi-platinum artist, composer, producer and pioneering sound healer Steven Halpern, it could take a few divinely attuned years to fully grasp the vibratory physical, emotional and spiritual impact he has made on the world via more than 100 albums over the past 45 years, a multi-faceted journey that began with Spectrum Suite (1976) and more recently includes his Grammy nominated 2012 collection Deep Alpha: Brainwave Synchronization for Meditation and Healing – which remained in the Top 10 on Billboard’s New Age charts for over a year.
As we surrender our anxieties and take an immersive dive into the transcendent, calming and healing energies (driven by the sonic universe he creates around his Rhodes Mark 7 electric piano - of his latest opus, the super chill but provocatively titled Cannabis Dreams, we learn as well that Halpern, true to his reputation as a maverick in his field, is also a man and artist way ahead of his time. The concept for the project took root nearly 40 years ago, during the social dark ages, when pot was still a mark of rebellion and decades before THC’s medicinal powers were legalized and medically recognized as an important healing agent.
He reconnected with Stephen Levy, an old friend from college who had become an anthropologist, who told Halpern he had been studying with shamanic healers in Alaska. Handing the artist a joint, he told him this is some of their ceremonial smoke called Matanuska Thunderf*ck. One toke in his recording studio and Halpern began hearing music in a very different way. He improvised a piano jam unique from any other he had recorded and wondered if certain other strains might inspire a new composition if it were used exclusively.
The answer was an obvious “yes,” and now decades later, that introductory moment of revelation manifests as the final track (“Matanuska Thunderf*ck”) on the 11 track, nearly 80 minute journey of Cannabis Dreams. Most of the album, starting with the unusually sequenced “Cannabis Dreams, Pt 2” and “Cannabis Dreams, Pt. 3” (featuring the richly soulful, ethereal vocalizing of Kristin Hoffmann of the internationally renowned Bella Gaia ensemble), is awash in sensual and mystical ambient atmospheres – with some subtle deep alpha brainwave entrainment tones incorporated to help induce a deeper sense of relaxation.
Unique in its overall thematic tone and energy, “Manatusa Thunderf*ck” lives up to its powerful title.
Instead of a gentle meditation, the vibrant and robust, fast paced piano nearly 17 minute piano/atmosphere piece rolls through its light and dark chords like a celebration of life in the higher realms achieved (most likely) by a mix of Halpern’s music and a few tokes from this kind of “smoke.” It’s an intense coda that awakens the senses after an hour of de-stressing – an absolutely fascinating contrast. The fact that we live in a time where an album of this nature can not only exist but be accepted as mainstream art is indeed worth celebrating.
The saga leading to the creation of the album picks up in 2015, a year when five states – Virginia, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming – passed low-THC, high CBD medical cannabis laws, and a year before California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts approved ballot measures to legalize recreational cannabis. With the times so radically a-changin’, Halpern was invited to be a Celebrity Brand Ambassador for Natural Cannabis Co. Although his collaboration with them was short-lived, their top shelf strain, Mystic Haze, evoked a meditative, healing and spiritual high that inspired the several variations of the title track of Cannabis Dreams.
Most of the tracks feature hip, clever titles that capture the overall spirit of the project – “OG Sonic Chronic,” “Plant Medicine,” “Joint Venture,” “CannaBliss,” “Maui Wowie Dreams.” The subtitle of two other pieces – the nature sounds enhanced “Cannabis Dreams (Mirayo), Pt. 1” and “Cannabis Dreams (Mirayo) Pt. 2” is rooted in another fascinating piece of the proverbial puzzle.
Halpern writes in his insightful liner notes, “This album was completed in October 2020 when I read in Forbes Magazine that Carlos Santana had launched a new line of premium cannabis products, grown with the intention to support healing/meditation and spiritual growth. (Sounds like my ‘Mystic Haze’ description. Great minds think alike!’ I placed my order and when it was delivered an hour later, I took one toke. Within ten minutes, I felt my consciousness shift. I left my work desk and went outside to meditate under the large redwood tree in my backyard.
“For me,” he adds, “there was ‘green music’ in this strain. I knew immediately I had to record a new composition inspired by Santana’s Mirayo®.”
Though Cannabis Dreams is best embraced as an uninterrupted experience when you’re fully relaxed, the unique production textures of “OG Sonic Chronic” and guest artist contributions make it a track to focus on if your time is limited and you want to sample something amazing before your full immersion into this fascinating Halpern haze. One of the most darkly haunting hypnotic works on the set, it’s a collaboration featuring jazz/new age legends Paul McCandless (Oregon) on bass clarinet and Michael Manring on Zon® fretless electric bass.
One more note: We best heed Halpern’s final words of advice as we open our minds to Cannabis Dreams. Listen with headphones for the full psycho- acoustic effect.
Listen to Cannabis Dreams here: Cannabis Dreams - Album by Steven Halpern | Spotify