Hearts of Space, 1997
artist website, label website
Why review a 6-year old album? Because a few months have come and gone without any Blue Moon recommendations. This leaves readers using them to build out their libraries in cliffhanger limbo. Practicality was called for. If the current crop of releases wouldn't unearth any solid candidates, why not enter the time machine in reverse gear? With ongoing availability confirmed, now make room -- all of 3/8th inches wide -- in your CD collection. Welcome Øystein Sevåg's cannily named Bridge, a true reference caliber album on all counts: Concept and execution; musicianship and production values; compositional splendor and recording quality. Garnering the "Best New Age Album of the Year" US Indie award in 1998, this doesn't exactly make today's reminder news, granted. But, if you missed this jewel then, here's your chance to discover it now. Trouble procuring it through your usual channels? Sevåg's entire oeuvre can be purchased through his website.

Norwegian-born, Sevåg studied piano, flute and composition at the Music Conservatory of Oslo but also played in a Rock band as a teen. The outgrowth of five long studio years, his 1989 debut album Close Your eyes and See explored the new opportunities afforded by synthesizers. Recognition in Billboard's New Age charts was followed by a recording contract with Windham Hill where he released Link (1993) and Global House (1995), a quasi-precursor for 1997's Bridge in that it heralded a return to the acoustic milieu further explored on the intervening Visual, a collaboration with guitarist Lakki Patey. Now living in Freiburg/Germany with his violinist wife Maria, Sevåg is currently at work on a string trio while preparing other sheet music releases.

What makes Bridge unique is how seamlessly it blends neoclassical instrumentation and compositions with the dreamy ambience of space music plus choice elements from Rock, WorldBeat and Jazz using a constantly shifting palette of 68 musicians that include a complete string orchestra, Grand Piano, acoustic, electric and bass guitar, various flutes, recorders and saxophones, Indian, Latin and regular percussion, and synthesizers.

With languid and circular melodies as unapologetically gorgeous as bassoonist-turned-New-Age composer Bill Douglas; with misty atmospheres reminiscent of landsman Jan Garbarek; with the Metheny-esque opening "Seed" sustaining an endless arc of development suggestive of Pat's concluding Offramp track; with Grand Piano interludes recalling Raphael's celebrated Music To Disappear In II; Bridge condenses classically-honed sensibilities into bite-sized capsules full of magic and romance, perfect for listeners who prefer the adagios of most symphonies to their sizeable remainders.

Now add ambient percussion grooves, throat singing, soaring e-guitar solos, didjeridoo growls, lyrical cello ballads, smooth-Jazz saxophone against string chorus while envisioning Claude Monet's blue bridge spanning the famous lily pond in Giverny. Today's Bridge is similarly impressionist to the core, albeit hip to the cosmopolitan influences which, in Monet's days, would have been represented by the pleasure quarters in Paris, now upscale night clubs.

Heartfelt, buoyed on silence and space, Bridge also delivers on pure sonics. Recorded in Sevåg's own Siddhartha Studio as well as Abbey Road, various German and Norwegian studios and on location in the Ebringen Berghäuser Kapelle, all instruments exhale with elongated sustains, Øystein's Grand Piano is velvety voluptuous, his wife's violin surrounded by cavernous spaciousness, the bass guitar taut yet warm. In short, an album of many happy returns, for both your raw listening pleasure as well as proud occasions of audiophile camaraderie when showing of truth of timbre and ambient retrieval becomes -- temporarily -- more important than following the embedded emotional threads into utter oblivion.