This is pushing so many buttons for us right now; recordings of flutes and electronics from Brooklyn’s John Also Bennett aka JAB on his debut solo album ‘Erg Herbe’, echoing a fine tradition of loft-based, downtown NYC minimalism and new age ambience that references classic work by La Monte Young and Laurie Speigel as well as quieter intimations of Dominique Lawalrée or Takehisa Kosugi and Bennett’s regular collaborator Jon Gibson. The results are deeply beautiful, in a manner everyone has by now come to expect from the wonderful Shelter Press.
A decade in the works, ‘Erg Herbe’ follows 2018’s enchantingly elusive CV & JAB album as John Also Bennett’s 2nd release for Felicia Atkinson and Bartolemé Sanson’s widely adored label. It finds the Brooklyn-based artist in gentle pursuit of a sound which best represents his sense of self, using an array of flutes and synthesisers to imbue a distinguished sense of character into his music in much the same way as the original downtown heroes whose footsteps he follows, with the humble yet ambitious goal to, in his own words; “…create nice, strange, and thoughtful music that reflects a genuine inner vision of self.”
In a patient and patently soulful manner befitting of those minimalist and ambient pioneers, Bennett physically breathes life into the album on a C flute, Alto flute, and rare Chinese dizi flute, suspended in space with the gaseous tonal hues of a Yamaha DX711-D, Yamaha CS Reface and Roland Super JV-1080, plus Farfisa Organ. The effect is intoxicatingly rich yet modest, eliding new age spiritual concerns with minimalism’s more scholastic approach - using modified Aphex Twin presets played with a just intonation tuning system, and oscillators “tuned to intuitive structures using intervals of 30Hz” to generate warm and deeply heady harmonic sensations.
Underlying and tying this all together is the album’s title, ‘Erg Herbe’, an invented turn of phrase - erg meaning a sea of desert sand dunes, and herbe being french for grass - mirroring the music’s dreamy imagery of rolling green landscapes and blue/pink/orange skies. From the radiant warmth of the opener, to the pastoral waltz of ‘Jacob’s House’, thru the 12 minutes centrepiece of ‘Distant Patterns’ with its raga-like flute and pillowy pads, to the chance midnight meeting of flutes in ‘Chanterai por mon coraige’, recorded in a decrepit mill near the Shelter Press HQ, we’re left zoned out and deeply tuned in to his gorgeous, transcendent music.