Raphael Groten Journey Home
(2015, Silent Wing Records)
A recently published quantitative study of half a million songs documented the decline, practically the disappearance, of dominant seventh chords in popular music. It was widely interpreted as evidence of a dumb-down, a loss of refinement akin to the passing of the subjunctive in grammar. That's a stretch, but the rarity of seventh chords does speak to the vanishing influence of jazz and blues. In this sense, the New Age genre (a classification roundly rejected by those so classified) was ahead of its time. New Age's typically tension-free harmony derives from two streams: transatlantic folk, denuded of all bluesiness and blurred in its resolutions; and the tonal minimalism of Reich and Glass, composers who made a combative point of challenging serious music's obsession with difficult harmony. On "Sweetness," the lovely first track of the Will Ackerman-produced solo guitar outing Journey Home, Raphael Groten announces that his vision of a luminous new age is not averse to a blue note here or there, nor to a pop turn inspired by the Beatles or Simon and Garfunkel. You know it is New Age by the title and by the spirit-directed liner notes, but Groten's folk-based musical vocabulary is inclusive. Windham Hill founder Ackerman's production catches every glance of Groten's unflashy, nuanced touch and his sweet time-feel. Journey Home revels in the characteristics of Groten's instrument every bit as much as in his mature compositions. You can hear the windings of the strings. Raphaelgroten.com.