CD: Imaginings
Artist: Paul Adams

ImaginingsI remember doing coloring book exercises in art class back in elementary school, where everybody tried their best to color neatly within the lines. However, there was always one kid in the class for whom those lines were irrelevant and presented boundaries to be transcended. I think that Paul Adams was that kid. While I say that jokingly, I believe that idea of transcending boundaries has infused Paul’s music over the years. I’ve been a fan of his for two and a half decades and remember reviewing his earliest recordings starting around 1990. One of the most fun things about receiving a new Paul Adam’s release is that you never know what kind of music or fusion of elements it will be, considering that he has had nine critically acclaimed albums in five different musical genres.


In my recent interview with Paul, I asked about his perspective on the many colors of his musical spectrum. In his words: “Music is an art form where you are encouraged to stay in one genre and continue to release music that fits within those boundaries. I’ve never thought a painter would want to be limited by having to paint in ‘oils’ or ‘watercolors’ for an entire career. Consequently, I enjoy pushing outside the envelope. So whether New Age, Jazz, Folk, etc I am comfortable. My first album Various Waves was New Age. My second Wonder Dancing On Global Bop was world fusion. A View From ThePaul Adams Plain was my “ode” to the prairie by focusing on finger style guitar; The Property Of Water was ambient. In The Land Where I Come From, my most adventurous, was a mix of everything…even vocals. BUT, I do understand it confuses an audience, and consequently limits sales. So, at this point in my career, I am trying to make adjustments where I take the audience in to consideration. After all it seems unkind to thumb your nose and insist everyone should just accept you or else!!! This adjustment has been helpful in reaching a wider audience. For example at Pandora I have almost 43 million streams. So this adjustment has helped!”


Its not surprising however, that there would be such variety in Paul’s musical expression considering the wide range of styles and genres that have influenced him over the years. As he describes: “My first musical experience was Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. Dad was a jazz trumpet player and had a grand collection of old 78’s I would listen to constantly. I could feel the genius and the emotion even at an early age. Then of course came Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, John Fehey, John Coltrane, The Soft Machine, etc. I absolutely loved progressive rock as they were trying to push things and make the pop music of the day interesting. One can never downplay the importance of Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin and their East Meets West albums. I think it was interest in this music that lead to discovering Mark Isham, Robbie Basho, Andreas Vollenweider, Brian Eno and what is now classified as New Age.”


 Handcrafted guitar

Handcrafted guitar

But this theme of diversity extends beyond the variety of musical styles that Paul plays. In addition to being a musician he is also a photographer, writer, poet, and builder of exotic instruments, including crafting instruments for well known musicians such as Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates, and members of Stevie Wonder’s band. Interestingly, as an instrumentalist, some listeners know Paul for his flute playing, and others for his fingerstyle guitar. And speaking of guitar, a tragic accident years ago resulted in the loss of fingers on Paul’s fretting hand, which caused him to develop a whole new style of phrasing that has actually drawn critical acclaim for its uniqueness. As he puts it: “Limitation sometimes has a way of pushing one beyond barriers.” But he credits his early study of ethnomusicology for a deep love of all kinds of instruments.


So let’s see how Paul and company blend these various instruments and musical styles on his Paul Adams & companynew album, Imaginings. When I say, “and company” I’m referring to the three collaborators Paul worked with in the creation of this album. According to Paul, “Elizabeth Geyer played piano throughout the album and was a very essential structural part of the entire album. Although trained as a Jazz trumpet soloist in Australia, her piano was perfect here. I met Pravin Godkhindi (who plays the bansuri flute) on YouTube. We got along well and chose to record to see what would happen.” The ensemble is rounded out by the amazing David Hoffman on trumpet, who played with Ray Charles for 13 years, as well as with Willie Nelson and other major artists. David and Paul have played together in various constellations for years and are close friends. I’ve been a big fan of David’s tasteful and sensitive horn playing for a long time as well, ever since reviewing his own From Energy To Stillness CD in 1994.


On the opening track entitled “Just Such Beauty,” the above-mentioned East meets West fusion, and echoes of Ravi Shankar are heard on this dreamy ambient soundscape that features the Native American flute of Paul Adams and the bansuri flute of Pravin Godhindi. Paul also plays guitar and an electric sitar he made. Elizabeth’s spacious piano accents add to the ambience. True to its title, the next song, “Giggles & Grooves” starts off with the smile-inducing sound of childlike laughter. According to Paul: “I can’t forget the giggles provided by me holding my daughter upside down and shaking her in front of the microphone.” The “grooves” part comes from earthy percussion instruments that blend perfectly with the jungle sounds creating a cool tropical vibe. An interesting touch comes later in the piece when group members sing the melody line in unison with the flute along with subtle trumpet accents in counterpoint.


One of the first things that impressed me about Imaginings before I even heard the music was the textured look of the cover art. The album’s title track is also resplendent with sonic textures; some bubble quietly underneath while others are more on the surface, such as the exquisite trumpet solo that graces this piece. The enigmatically titled “Panda Bears at Breakfast” is a laid-back toe tapper with a contemporary down-tempo chill vibe set to an electronic rhythm track and fretless bass. I thought it was interesting that Elizabeth played acoustic piano in the song’s extended intro and then switched to electric piano when the groove hit, adding a nice jazzy atmosphere to the piece. Although it is unusual to have two flute players on a song, as heard here and throughout the album, they have a different sound and work well together.


David Hoffman

David Hoffman

With eight more track to go on the album, there isn’t room to go into depth on each one, but I’ll provide a few of the many highlights that caught my interest. But first, Paul points out some highlights of his own: “A few of the songs such as “Dawn,” “Upon Early Rising,” and “For Two Lovers” showcase the improvisation between flute and piano. I really wanted to try to keep things emotional and content rich and not just a gentle atmospheric outing. David played his Conch Shell for the last cut. It was so beautiful and haunting for me.” As I got deeper into the album, there were a number of places where I heard the unison and counterpoint arrangements mentioned above being used very effectively. This, as well as many other aspects of the recording, reinforced my perception of Paul’s formidable abilities as an arranger, as well as a composer and multi-instrumentalist.


A track called “The Mysteries of Mood,” is certainly appropriately titled, as it is both mysterious and moody, taking the listener deep into an enchanted dreamscape. This type of ambience extends into the next four songs, right up to the end of the album. There is a drifting-on-a-cloud kind of feeling that is serene and sublime, leaving behind the rhythmic elements heard earlier. Listening to this series of tracks with headphones, put me right into the zone, and left me with a peaceful glow that lingered for some time.


As I mentioned at the beginning, Paul has been somewhat of a musical chameleon and you never know what to expect when you put on a new release from him. Imaginings had a bit more of an archetypal new age sound than I’d heard from him before, with a good deal of ambient synthesizer pads and lush electronic textures helping to enhance the soundscape. Although there are a variety earthy world music elements such as sitar, percussion, and ethnic flutes woven in as well which expand the tonal pallet of this diverse recording. And while there is diversity, both from track to track, as well as within a track, it all flows together perfectly and feels like a unified body of work.


Paul Adams is a true original – something that is increasingly rare in the world of music these days. While I have always Paul and friendbeen impressed with his many albums over the years, with Imaginings, I’ve found a new favorite. But beyond the actual notes of his compositions and the skill in his playing and arranging, there is an intangible energy that permeates his sound. And on that, I’ll leave the final words of this feature article to him: “This life seems a playground where we grow from our experiences. I am connected to something bigger than myself. And this ‘connection’ proves to me that there is order in the universe… and I am a part of that whole. My inspiration comes from coordinating the spirit with the music.”