Quietly unmissable for new age and folk types, Michael Masley’s iridescent expo of Hungary’s national instrument lands gently lysergic on the 3rd eye, somewhere between Laraaji and Michael O’Shea
Dug out for its first vinyl edition with Morning Trip, ‘Cymbalon’ follows an ’85 tape, and a CD in 2000, to radiate its rhythmelodic and harmonic beauty for a new generation of ears who probably weren’t even born when it was made. Working out of Berkeley, California since ’82, Masley made the ancient Hungarian cymbalom - a sort of dulcimer or zither dating to 3500 BC and played with mallets in both hands - the object of his fascinations and his employment, playign for personal purposes and street busking around Berkeley when he needed to. This is where he met Barry Cleveland, a producer who became snagged on one Masley’s street performances (just like Dome with Michael O’Shea in Covent Garden) and proceeded to work with him on this sublime collection, recorded with minimal overdubs but subtly benefitting from his timely studio technique - and also in the same year that Cleveland recorded Kat Apple & Bob Stohl, who would later be reissued on Dead-Cert Home Entertainment.
Where the cymbalom is traditionally played with two hammers, or mallets, Masley innovated with a remarkable technique of what he called “bowhammers”, small mallets fitted to the end of each finger (not sure about thumbs?), each with a small 3” section of violin bow attached. The resultant sound shares much in common with Michael O’Shea’s complex, shimmering tones, but the difference lies in O’Shea’s use of electric pick-ups, where all Masley’s intricacies come from his finger work on both the cymbalom, and xylophone, kalimbas, panpipes, flute and clock chimes. Piece to piece he dextrously weaves aspects of Eastern-European classical, 20th century minimalism, celtic/folk and kosmiche into fluid streams of consciousness, naturally channelling a sort of music of the spheres with his lissom touch and collapsing centuries, even millennia, of practice into a refreshed new form.