It’s not surprising that the music of guitarist/keyboardist John Luttrell incorporates a variety of different influences, given the diversity of his background. A true world citizen, John was born in Venezuela and has lived in Libya, Nigeria, Switzerland, England, and currently in the US. Described as “Atmospheric Music,” his sound draws from ambient, new age, jazz, and progressive rock. His professional resume includes writing scores and soundtracks for several films, documentaries, and multimedia projects. He is also involved in cinematography, production, and editing and is the founder of multimedia production company BasisMedia Communication, as well as the founder of OtterSong Records in southern California, which dates back to the late 80’s. Balancing all this with his work as a composer, singer-songwriter, producer, and performer certainly keeps John’s creative juices flowing.
John’s newest, and his fifth release on the OtterSong label, entitled Dream Exchange fits perfectly under his self-described “Atmospheric Music” category. Here, John talks a bit about his motivation behind this album: “Throughout our lives we share our dreams with family and friends, and they share their dreams with us. If we’re lucky we’re able to help them activate and achieve their dreams and also work on achieving our own. How wonderful it is to experience and share in this Dream Exchange.” The word “dreamy” is certainly descriptive of the intro to the first track on the album, “Orange Sky,” as a deep analog synth filter sweep and lush string pads set the stage for his Eastern-inflected guitar fills. An interesting and dramatic shift happens as the tempo picks up in a passage of percussion and muted guitar picking that reminded me a bit of Edge from U2 or perhaps Pink Floyd before receding back into dreamland. It wouldn’t be hard to convince me that John has a background in film soundtracks after hearing this piece.
Following that, a number of stringed instruments such as slide guitar, jazzy lead guitar, and violin sound add embellishment to a lavish electronic soundscape called “The Sphere.” There is a lot going on there, as well as with John’s music in general, so I chose to listen to it with headphones for the first time to pick up on all the nuances and textures. On “Dreamcast,” a gentle groove provides movement for this entrancing mid-tempo piece. I particularly liked all the little electronic sounds that accent the composition. Like it’s title, “On Gossamer Wings,” has a lighter than air feel that carries you aloft in its tranquil ambience.
A track called “Interstellar Dust” is a real guitar showcase for John, especially in contrast to a lot of his other more synth-based music. On this one he combines a number of different techniques including fingerpicking, strumming, harmonics, lead, and more. I don’t know how many tracks this song has but there are a lot – kind of like a guitar orchestra. It is quite unique and beautiful. The album’s title track leads off with the sound of rain as it evolves into a sweet contemporary instrumental piece that could appeal to a smooth jazz audience as well. World music and new age electronic influences combine on one of the album’s most unusual tracks, entitled “Ethereal Raga.” Opening with tinkling chime sounds, a densely layered soundscape builds over a polyrhythmic beat that is hard to describe, but easy to close your eyes and groove to. One of the things that impressed me the most on a track called “Away,” as well as on other songs, is the incredible variety of guitar tones John gets out of his instruments. On this one, the rich chiming tone is absolutely gorgeous and creates a magical atmosphere for the piano and orchestration to enter into.
Sounds of nature with chirping birds blend with serene clouds of synthesizer strings accented by light Spanish guitar fills to create an oasis of calm on a track called “Wandering.” An upbeat joyous air is felt on “Inland Returned,” with its airy flute melody that, for me, evoked an image of fairies and elves frolicking in the forest. I liked John’s sense of dynamics here in the way that dropped out instruments in certain sections to focus on more sparse acoustic guitar melodies, before moving back into the main theme. He also showed a bit of his rock roots taking an electric guitar lead later in the song. The album draws to a dramatic and cinematic conclusion on a richly detailed composition called “With You.” This piece has an epic feel that really brings together all the elements found throughout the recording and highlights John’s composing skills. A final touch that further added to the album’s sonic sheen was the mastering done by studio wiz Bryan Carrigan, who is quite a fine recording artist in his own right.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Dream Exchange and especially liked the imaginative quality that John brings to his songs. Each one is like a mystical journey though diverse dream spaces. I particularly appreciated the level of integration between guitars and synthesizers. Often times an album that is guitar-based may have slight accents of synthesizers, and vice versa, but on The Dream Exchange, they share the spotlight equally. And with regard to John’s guitar playing, I was impressed with how well versed he is in so many different styles. Usually a guitar-oriented recording reflects a particular style like finger picking, ambient electric, jazz, rock, Windham Hill-type acoustic, etc. But John brings his creativity to all of these and more. And once again, I must emphasize the exquisite tonal quality he gets out of his instruments and his expertise with the application of electronic effects. John has come a long way from playing in rock bands in England during the 70’s and in LA in the 80’s. In addition to being a talented instrumentalist, John Luttrell is a skilled composer and arranger, with the ability to weave intricate stories in song that carry the listener into dream-like realms of imagination. I’ll certainly be looking forward to hearing more of his superb atmospheric music.