1. A Slow Return [6:05]
  2. Resonant Landscape [8:06]
  3. Stolen Moment [4:02]
  4. Then & Now [2:12]
  5. Innocence Lost [5:28]
  6. Mineola Bay [6:23]
  7. Low & Clear [9:21]
  8. Malay [5:49]
  9. Luminous [6:34]
  10. Endless [5:28]
Built on the traditional ambient foundation set by the early pioneersand masters of the genre, Forgotten Places is filled with warmthelegance and enticing sonic atmosphere. The disc is soft & expansiveminimalism with smooth refrains and solemn acoustic piano.
2002. © Press information Never before did I think that the ambient recording world would ever see music as defining and unique as the collaborative efforts of Brian Eno and Harold Budd.Heralded as the greatest ambient recording of all time, The Pearl from 1984 has been used in countless reviews of ambient music as the measuring stick for all the releases that came after it. Today, I am happy to report that Forgotten Places may well be the album to replace The Pearl in reviewers minds. As the first time collaboration between minimalist composer James Johnson andambient master Robert Scott Thompson, Forgotten Places reminded me that this kind of music can be so completely gripping and emotion-stirring when done just so. The duo has hit upon a formula that absolutely must be heard to be appreciated, as no amount of words can ever possibly bring to light the sheer beauty of this album. Frankly, I'm upset with myself for only discovering Forgotten Places several months after its release.
There are 10 tracks to be found here, and each presents a somber and spacious approach to ambient minimalism. Piano is set to various synthesizer effects, and none of it is difficult to listen to. Robert Scott Thompson brings his interesting computer music skills to the table, and presents it with an amazing and subtle effect. Reading the liner notes, synth, piano, samples and digital signal processingare all present, and to some could indicate a coldly calculated album. This is definitely not so with Forgotten Places as the music here is so completely warm and inviting. I found the listening experience to be comfortably familiar, like wearing a favorite sweater on a cold and gray afternoon."A Slow Return" opens the album with slow washes of synthesizer and gently played piano. I love the way the piano seems so far off, perfectly fading in and out against the electronic soundscape. There is something breathtaking about the way this piece flows, and it caught my attention immediately. I am listening to this track as I write this review, and I just can't get over how fantastic this sounds.
"Resonant Landscape" continues the subtle pacing of "A Slow Return" and again blends piano with synth so well, it's nearly impossible to separate the sounds in your mind. As one of the longer cuts on the album, I never noticed the time slipping by, proof that this music could be described as hypnotizing, and how wonderfully it holds your complete attention.
The shortest track on Forgotten Places is called "Then & Now", and to my ears, reminds me the most of Harold Budd's contributions to The Pearl. "Innocence Lost" follows, and presents a darker, more sinister electronic-based approach, using piano to simply highlight various points in the recording.
The rest of the album is yours to discover, as I really don't want to give away too much. With that said, I will jump ahead now to the last track on the album entitled "Endless". Bringing Forgotten Places to a satisfying, if not somewhat sad end, "Endless" is simply a perfect piece of ambient minimalism. Music of this caliber is capable of bringing forth a huge range of emotions, and I thinkthat "Endless" taps into feelings of regret and a sense of loss that we each feel from time to time.
Reviewing instrumental music can be a daunting task. Every day, the mailbox is full of new and wonderful music to discover, and when albums like Forgotten Places land on my desk, it really reaffirms the commitment to sharing this music with the rest of the world. Don't miss out on this defining album from James Johnson and Robert Scott Thompson...Forgotten Places should not be overlooked.
2002. © Jimmy D / Instrumental Weekly The more I listened to the collaborative album between Robert Scott Thompson and James Johnson, Forgotten Places, the more I tried to isolate what it was that Robert "brought to the party" which made this CD such an astounding piece of work. I heard definite elements of James Johnson's trademark minimalist ambient piano and keyboards (some which were new on this CD), but I also knew there was a musical element that represented a marked, if not a drastic departure, for the man (Johnson) I once referred to as the heir apparent to Brian Eno.It was, perhaps, the twelfth or fifteenth listening. I was preparing Sunday dinner for an (quite ill) Kathryn, who was asleep on the couch. The setting sun was streaming into the kitchen from the back sun room's windows and Onyx was outside harassing squirrels on a perfect early autumn evening. I felt a sense of calm brought on by the combination of hearing this music I loved along with performing an activity that I loved (cooking). Wham! That's when it hit me!James Johnson has always worked in long-form music, including his destined-to-be-classic effort with Stephen Philips, Lost at Dunn's Lake (an album-length piece of music). Robert, on the other hand, is consummately talented at piecing together shorter songs, unified by an intangible feel, yet still quite varied (if one breaks down the music technically). That was the key to this unique album! And that is also why I'm prepared to make a statement that's quite bold, even for a critic like me (who's prone to wax eloquently about many album I enjoy).Forgotten Places may well be The Pearl for the new millennium. If you're not familiar with The Pearl, it's a considerably older recording, a collaboration between Brian Eno and Harold Budd (two musicians more or less credited with creating the genre of minimal ambient music). The Pearl is considered, by many, to be one of the finest and most influential albums ever recorded in this genre. And yes, I'm now fully aware what I have written about Forgotten Places. And yes, it's that good.Ten tone poems, each unique and suffused with an amazing balancing act of emotional impact - serene yet brimming with tension, tragic yet achingly beautiful, mournful yet content, and melancholic yet hopeful. This truly is the perfect union of two superlative musical talents!The music on Forgotten Places can be as restrained as gentle minimal piano notes suspended over a soft whisper of synthesizers, or it can carry strains of synth strings, synth choruses, overt electronic effects, or even synthesized woodwinds to flesh the sound out until the music is like a miniaturist piece of neo-classical music. Like an assorted collection of fine gems, e.g. jade, opal, sapphire, onyx, ruby, and, well, pearl, each song on the album sparkles in its own individual way. The opening number, "A Slow Return", will sound instantly familiar to Johnson fans, with minimal piano accented by both a solitary synth string and string section, along with hushed synth choruses. The sound is so fragile and delicate, yet so beautiful that it fills the room with a warm glow. "Resonant Landscape" starts off with a cello-like sound, soon joined by other strings (a viola, perhaps), evoking comparisons to Tim Story, until the subtle dissonance of what sounds like a flute briefly flits into view. As the song develops, it becomes a duet of sorts between floating synth chords and piano, with occasional contributions from a solo violin. The piece has a fuller sound than the first cut, yet the comparison to Story's brilliant miniaturism is right on the mark. As stated above, the music deftly maneuvers between polar opposite evocations - peaceful yet with a thread of regret running through it...an unasked question or a word of comfort not offered in a time of need perhaps. Heavy duty stuff? Well, my emotional response to the album was pretty intense, but the music on Forgotten Places is not in the least bit oppressive. That's the genius of these two musicians, i.e. their combined ability to weave such complex and deep emotions into music that can be heard as something relatively simple (this is, of course, the very essence of minimalism when it's done right, as it's performed here).While I have only described two songs, I'm aware that I have to rein in my enthusiasm somewhat or no one will finish reading this review due to its length. Again, I want to stress that the individual selections on Forgotten Places brim with individuality, yet the common thread of piano, synth, and a minimalist approach winds its way throughout all ten cuts. There are moments of dissonance and atonality, but never in the least are these harsh or obtrusive. Instead, these occurrences (and they are rare, believe me) serve as brilliant counterpoints, effectively undercutting any possibility (remote as it would be otherwise) that the listener would feel the music is too warm or too "pretty." Cuts like "Innocence Lost", which approach a darker texture, with more overt spacy synth effects, still retain a core of humanity, the same way that Tim Story does likewise when he eschews piano (such as on "Eyelids of the Sea" from Beguiled).Favorite songs for me would be the opening number ("A Slow Return"), "Stolen Moment", "Then & Now" (with gorgeous use of synth choruses and synth woodwinds - or so they sound to me), "Low and Clear", which contains brief environmental sounds (water lapping at the shore) amid a less melancholic use of keyboards and synths, the lovely but quite sad "Malay", with cello, violin, piano and keyboards, and the album closing "Endless", which ends the CD on a somewhat optimistic, yet not necessarily cheery note.Fans of The Pearl should (obviously) order this CD immediately! So should fans of either of the two artists (Budd or Eno) who recorded that album. In addition, lovers of Tim Story's work, and those of you out there who own (and love) the late Dan Hartman's New Green Clear Blue will also find this CD to your liking, I'd wager. Unless you are almost zealously committed to only long-form ambient music or are loathe to listen to piano mixed in with electronic keyboards, I would be amazed if you don't enjoy (to put it mildly) Forgotten Places as much as I did. Whether or not you feel it deserves to be compared to The Pearl I can't say. In my opinion, if it doesn't equal that masterpiece, it comes as damn close to it as anyone ever will. Kudos to James and Robert. Need I say it? My highest recommendation.
© Bill Binkelman