CD: Touched By The Sun
Artist: Todd Boston
It was just about a year ago when it seemed like every time I turned around I was hearing the name Todd Boston being mentioned. Whether it was as a recording artist, solo performer, a member of an ensemble, a recording engineer, a co–producer, or the numerous accolades for his previous CD, Alive, which was named CD Of The Month for October 2010 and chosen in the Top 25 Listeners Choice Awards for 2010 by Public Radio International’s syndicated Echoes radio program. Echoes host John Diliberto called the CD, “An auspicious debut from a soulful musician.” After hearing his album and having the opportunity to see him in concert, I realized what all the buzz was about – Todd is definitely “all that” – an awe-inspiring guitarist, performer, and composer! In addition to guitar he also plays flute, bass, and a number of Indian music instruments.
His hybrid style, which he categorizes as “World Acoustic Music heavily inspired by Nature and Life,” draws from a variety of influences. Todd not only studied guitar with Windham Hill virtuoso Alex DeGrassi, but he was also a student of North Indian Classical music with one of its masters, Ali Akbar Khan – who often performed with Ravi Shankar. Todd’s music combines the distinctive sound and spirituality of the East with the guitar innovations of the West such as the use of electronic effects, alternative tunings, and the advanced fingerstyle techniques of people like Leo Kottke and Michael Hedges, to whom one of the tracks on Todd’s latest release is dedicated. He has also studied voice with sound healing pioneer Sylvia Nakkach. Todd believes music is healing and continues to explore the deep relationship that exists between music and movement. He is also an educator and believes that music is an important part of our communities and offers his time to schools, hospitals, institutions, and healing centers to share and spread the powerful healing effects of music.
The term “world-class” gets thrown around a lot these days, yet in some cases it is well deserved. Todd’s new release, Touched By The Sun, is certainly one of those cases. In addition to his jaw-dropping guitar work, the CD is a collaboration of some of the top talents in this genre of music. The album was recorded at the studio of Grammy-winning Windham Hill Records founder, Will Ackerman, who helped produce the CD along with Todd and Tom Eaton. Adding to the mix is Tony Levin who plays bass with Peter Gabriel, as well as fellow bassist Michael Manring of Windham Hill fame, percussionist Jeff Haynes from the Pat Metheney Group, and Grammy winner Charlie Bisherat on violin who has played with Yanni, John Tesh, and dozens of other well known artists. Another Grammy winner on the project is cellist Eugene Friesen – alumni of the Paul Winter Consort, along with Todd’s long-time music partner – percussionist Ramesh Kannan, and vocalist Snatam Kaur, who recently performed with Todd in a private concert for Oprah Winfrey at her home on Maui.
Even more so than his award-winning debut album Alive, which garnered critical acclaim and extensive radio airplay, his new release, Touched By The Sun incorporates extensive and intricate ensemble playing and a diversity of world music influences. The production on this CD is a work of art in itself, although not surprising coming from the studio of Will Ackerman, an undisputed master of recording and producing acoustic music. Will characterizes Todd and his music as: “The work of a mature artist who has come of age and who has given us a great recording of singularity and value. A brilliant guitarist, the world’s a better place for his gift.”
Todd’s background in Indian music is evident from the start as the CD opens with a short introductory piece called “Alapana” that rolls out the red carpet for listeners to enter this magical mystery tour of an album. Track 2, entitled “Twilight” is a showcase for Todd’s distinctive acoustic guitar playing accompanied by cello, tabla drums, dotar (a lute-like Indian stringed instrument,) and more. The piece has a heartfelt quality and maintains a mellow pace up until just past the midpoint when it takes off like a hang glider pilot leaping from a cliff to soar on the wind – very uplifting. A different world music influence is heard on “Celtic Heart,” a rhythmic tune that features Todd’s more percussive style on the acoustic guitar and the passionate cello playing of Eugene Friesen. A luminous irrepressible groove lays the groundwork for “Sol Rising,” which is enlivened even more by the high-spirited violin soloing of Charlie Bisharat. On “The Brightest Night,” violin and cello intertwine in the wake of Todd’s lovely acoustic guitar intro on a sweet serenade that builds in intensity as it evolves.
On “Surya,” the album’s most meditative and minimalistic piece, an Indian drone instrument conjures a mystical atmosphere for the haunting female vocal chanting of Snatam Kaur to resonate in. Incidentally, Todd is part of a group that is accompanying her in a number of high profile performances around the US and Canada. A track like “Full Moon” shows off Todd’s compositional abilities and his wonderful sense of dynamics as it cycles between more subtle sections and driving polyrhythmic passages punctuated by unison melody lines and searing solos. In contrast to the elaborate orchestration on so much of the album is a spontaneous guitar piece called “Waves,” that was created in response to the images Todd witnessed on TV on the day of the Japanese tsunami. This is also the aforementioned track that is dedicated to the memory and music of Michael Hedges who has been a great inspiration to both Todd and producer Will Ackerman. A bit of a wistful air pervades the title track, which brings the album to a close with folky feel and ethereal female vocals.
In the brief year since first encountering the name and the music of Todd Boston, I’ve seen his career grow exponentially. From recording with world-class musicians and producers to releasing award-winning CD’s, and performing at large concert halls and festivals, Todd is on a trajectory for well-deserved and widespread international recognition. Touched By The Sun is a pan-cultural musical masterpiece that I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend.