A NEW NEW AGE: Dump "new age" in your unused vocabulary file next to "mellow," "Reagan Democrats," "doobie" and "major league baseball."
Artists who make the kind of music that people generally stick a new age label on are uncomfortable with the term.
"I've become that way," William Eaton says. The maker of what some critics, fans and artists now call "contemporary instrumental music" recorded his first LP (another old-fashioned term--it refers to long-playing vinyl albums) back in '78.
"I remember one of the distributors asking, 'What should we call this music?' They were struggling to find some niche so that record stores would have a title to put to this. I remember them asking, 'What do you think of the term new age?' It sounds a little pretentious and I guess other people object to it because it's associated with certain self-help groups or crystals or psychics, whether that's valid or not."
Whatever you call the music is irrelevant. It's more important to know whether this is your particular cup of herbal tea (possibly another negative association there).
The William Eaton Ensemble released Where Rivers Meet last fall, and if you're looking for contemplative examinations of the conundrums linking time, space and the mind, you'll want to take a long, lingering sip of the music. You'll also want to explore Eaton's recordings with flutist R. Carlos Nakai and his recent collaboration with Nakai and percussionist Will Clipman called Feather, Stone and Light (all on Canyon Records).
Eaton picks out simple, supple melodies on fascinating, beautiful instruments of his own design and making. He built his first guitar more than 20 years ago and teaches guitar making at the Roberto-Venn school in Phoenix. He uses those years of accumulated knowledge of the sonic properties of wood, air and strings to create instruments that look like things Leonardo DaVinci might have made had he been a luthier (guitar maker).
His newest instrument, the lyraharp guitar, is made of Koa, a Hawaiian hardwood he carved into a shape that would make any art museum proud to include in its collection. The fretboard of the guitar is flanked by a graceful crescent-shaped, nine-string harp on one side and the smaller sweep of the six-string lyre on the other. The strings converge so that Eaton's fingers can move easily from one instrument to another.
The lyraharp guitar is then plugged into a synthesizer which allows him access to sampled sounds from almost every other musical instrument ever created.
"I'm really satisfied with this instrument," he says. "I'm still learning to play it but I am pleased with the possibilities that are there."
The possibilities are almost infinite, but what he's able to do with the instrument now is on the amazing side of reality. On the title track of Where Rivers Meet he plucks out a fragile guitar line while Rachel Harris' cello and Allen Ames' violin swell and moan above and below it. The lyre and harp add sparkling bits of celestial texture, making the listening experience a drug-free expansion of the mind.
Most of the material the ensemble will perform in concert on Saturday, March 25, at the Southwest Center for Music, 2175 N. Sixth Ave., will come from Where Rivers Meet. The group will also do an improvisational piece built around a theme Eaton will generate.
The six-member Eaton ensemble will include Tucsonan Clipman on congas, gourd water drums, chimes, and other percussion instruments, as well as didjeridoo; Keith Johnson on djembe, cocoons, bamboo xylophone and water drums; Claudia Tulip on silver and bamboo flutes, ocarinas and Pima flutes; Ames on his hand-made violin and mandolin and Harris on cello.
Eaton will play at least his lyraharp guitar and a couple of harp guitars. He may bring along his spiral clef guitar (design of the spiral clef is based on the sign at the beginning of musical staffs indicating pitch) and the o'ele'n strings (a double-fretted instrument that looks like it was dreamed up by J.R.R. Tolkien).
Tickets are $14 in advance. Call 884-1220 for more information.
LAST NOTES: If you've wandered through the Fourth Avenue Street Fair anytime over the past couple of years, you're probably familiar with Mark "Saxwell" Maxwell.
Maxwell attracts crowds by playing his Kokopele CD through a P.A. and accompanying it live on saxophone. The music is Blade Runner jazz via the Caribbean and Africa. Distant dreams suddenly become percussive moments of immediate cool.
He'll be accompanied in concert on Friday, March 24, by a local group of all-stars called the Desert Dream Band: the omnipresent Will Clipman on drums, percussion and didjeridoo; Jay Trapp on bass; Karl Moeller on keyboards and didjeridoo; Steve Granek on percussion and Amo Chip on keyboards and saxophone.
The show starts at 8 p.m. at the Southwest Center for Music, 2175 N. Sixth Ave. Tickets are $7 in advance.
Club Congress hosts an AIDS benefit concert this Sunday night featuring Dan Stuart, Chuck Prophet and J.D. Foster (all of Green On Red), Howe Gelb, Rainer, Paula Jean Brown and Robert Machet, David Slutes and Rich Hopkins (!), Al Perry and a trio made up of the core of the defunct River Roses: Caitlin Von Schmidt, Gene Ruley and Chris Holiman. A donation of $5 will be suggested at the door. Proceeds go to the People With AIDS Coalition of Tucson (PACT) and LIFEbeat Celebrities.
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