Sometimes we find the warmest tones in the “coldest” music. A prime example of this is side two of David Bowie’s Low album. In 1977, the four-song suite of “Warzawa,“ “Art Decade,“ “Weeping Wall,“ and “Subterraneans” seemed designed to put as much distance as possible between the artist and his fans. These songs would never be played on the radio, or in the clubs for that matter. For some, it seemed that the music was a deliberate slap in the face. It was only with time that we began to understand what Bowie was doing, and how strongly he was influenced by German bands such as Cluster and Neu.
Those who stayed with Low would discover the beauty of the melodies, and come to understand the depth of his artistic vision. This is the path Christiaan Virant has taken for his solo debut, Fistful of Buddha. The nine instrumental tracks that make up the disc combine for a very effective East-meets-West amalgamation. There is the tangible, or the “fistful,” and there is the intangible, or the “Buddha.” By combining them, Virant has produced a work of marvelous complexity.
The artist was born in Beijing, but has spent a significant amount of time in Europe. His compositions reflect the two cultures, but not in ways that are always obvious. There is a calm, “Zen” quality to the album, but outside of “Do Better,” I do not hear much of what one might consider “Chinese music.” It is the sound of the drone that predominates, a tone which is mostly associated with Indian classical music, yet has been used to great effect here.
The disc opens with “Title Sequence,” which gives one the mistaken impression that this is to be something of a “space-rock” excursion. “Title Sequence” had me thinking of the quieter moments of Pink Floyd classics such as Dark Side of the Moon or Wish You Were Here. To be honest, if the album had continued in that vein, I would not have complained. But there is much more to come, and “Title Sequence” is just one of nine very distinct pieces.