With no pun intended I have to say Air & Rain is a breath of fresh air. The trio consisting of Meg Cassell (oboe/English horn), Stan Cassell (piano) and Max Benoit (percussion) make instrumental music on their recent release when faraway is here which is worlds away from the ubiquitous standard of guitar, bass and drums combo. One thing that makes this music so enjoyable is the technical mastery of the musicians.
Meg Cassell is a professional classical oboist who is a Professor of Oboe while Stan Cassel is an accomplished pianist that is self-evident when you hear him play. Most of the songs revolve around the oboe and piano. The music on when faraway is here is crisp, serene, tranquil and I feel like throwing refined in there as well. It feels incredibly open as if silence is the third element that was taken into account when making the songs. There were times I thought it would make for great music to play during an acupuncture session or something to put on while gazing at the sunset.
The album starts with “Bird Story” and the first thing you hear is a lone oboe. It whisks around like a whimsical fairy that is gently gliding through the air. At about the one-minute mark a piano enters into the mix which creates a coat of melancholy across the song. It’s an engaging striking dichotomy. You immediately get the sense that they can go anywhere they want to in the song almost as if it was improvised.
The title track “When Faraway Is Here” is one of the tracks that contain percussion. There is a bit of an Eastern vibe to this song almost Persian. The percussion is presented through bongos or tablas that feel incredibly dynamic and organic. I enjoyed the undercurrent of kinetic energy the percussion provided against the veil of atmosphere and mystique the oboe provided.
“A Peacock Wedding” and “Surface Tension” are engaging piano pieces while “Passing Go” revolves around percussion and oboe. “Crypsis” was a personal highlight. The oboe cries on this song making it one of the most dynamic and emotionally resonant pieces on the album.
I think it's fair to say when faraway is here will resonate with a niche audience. These songs aren’t pop in any sense of the word. The melodies aren’t particularly easy to hum along with and there aren’t any hooks. Perhaps the most impressive aspect is that the album is truly one where you don’t need to skip tracks. It feels best served by pressing play on the first song and then guiding you to a pleasurable journey through technical mastery and creative intuition.
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