Gary Stroutsos' meditative flute music has often drawn from the lands and cultures he has studied over the course of his prolific career. With a mission to promote stewardship of diverse traditions and the natural environment, his evocative music draws listeners into a shared contemplative space that resonates with a distinct spirit of place. His 2018 album, Reflections of the Taj Mahal: A Tribute to Paul Horn, was no exception, as it honored his late friend and mentor's groundbreaking Inside the Taj Mahal half a century after its creation.
Horn created an intimate glimpse into the mysteries of India with that historic recording, and Stroutsos' tribute was an aptly serene, ambient album featuring fresh interpretations of Paul Horn classics and originals, performed with various flutes – including a long Hopi one that Horn had especially loved. The tranquil, haunting sound of that Hopi long flute shares the stage with guitar, sitar, dilruba, harmonium and deeply atmospheric percussion on a new EP, Taj Mahal Reflections: Savasana Yoga & Healing Meditations (Hopi Long Flute) – a set of fresh collaborations by Stroutsos and renowned guitar stylist and White Swan label-mate Stevin McNamara, whose longtime love for North Indian classical music infuses his distinctive work.
McNamara discovered Indian music in the 1970s and studied sitar with Ram Chakravarty. The South Africa native's exposure to a broad spectrum of sounds helped him hone the unique guitar style that celebrates India with subtle elegance as he crafts meditative, relaxing sonic worlds. Producer and White Swan label head Parmita Pushman sensed McNamara's perfect synergy as a collaborator with Stroutsos in re-visiting the Taj Mahal project, and McNamara was delighted to participate. He set about sourcing and interpreting raga themes suited to the scales and moods of each of Stroutsos' original songs.
"The challenge was to keep the purity and integrity of Gary's performances while blending them into new musical compositions, instead of just adding 'sounds' to an existing recording," says McNamara. "At first I was fascinated to learn about and hear the ancient Hopi long flute; one can feel the immense power and heritage that Gary invokes by playing it. This has been hugely inspiring; although not a traditional Indian instrument, it still evokes the feeling of India like the bansuri."
McNamara enlisted his longtime collaborators – percussionist and sound healer Christo Pellani and Indian classical singer Mala Ganguly (whose voice graces the beautiful opening Invocation) – to create shimmering counterpoints to Stroutsos' poignant flute. All sounds on the album were played on real instruments, with no synthesizers or samplers of any kind. Gary Stroutsos says, "Improvised music is back! Stevin used open tunings on 12-string guitar on Turquoise Skies – which is a first, to my knowledge, in our genre of music – bringing an innovative new sound, along with the voice of the oldest wooden flute ever found in North America, to the songbook of meditation music."
The result is a serene, spacious recording that invokes both the exoticism of India and the vast openness of Hopi lands in a remarkably multi-dimensional, crystalline sonic experience that is perfect for yoga, meditation, sound healing and deep relaxation. Due for release June 26th from White Swan Records, Taj Mahal Reflections: Savasana Yoga & Healing Meditations (Hopi Rim Flute) is the first in a trilogy of EPs, each featuring a different flute from Gary's collection.
1. Invocation (Rag Darbari)
2. Prayer Song (Rag Darbari)
3. Saguaro (Rag Malkauns)
4. Rain of Life (Rag Bhimpalasi)
5. Turquoise Skies (Rag Jaijaiwanti)