Martha and the Muffins alumnus, collaborator with Eno, Daniel Lanois, Robert Fripp, the Edge and other hipsters, all-round clever sonic guy — Canada’s Michael Brook ventures into the solo spotlight for his Cobalt Blue album. Showcasing his aptly named “infinite guitar,” which — thanks to various electronic treatments — seems to come from another dimension, the dozen “songs” on this ambient work are actually different facets of one constantly shifting, undulating piece. A grown-up alternative to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells or an intelligent reappraisal of new age music (if such a thing is possible), this evocative dreamscape evaporates if observed closely, yet makes fine background music. Recorded at the London press party for Cobalt Blue, Live at the Aquarium follows the same strategy, though it features Brook alone, rather than with backing musicians. Repeating many of the same tracks, it ought to be an exercise in redundancy, but there’s a sharper edge to his playing that makes this the more exciting album.
In 1987, Brook and U2 guitarist the Edge scored the film Captive. Their understated acoustic guitar/piano excursions and gripping synthesizer/electric guitar adventures are passingly evocative, but overshadowed by the appearance of Sinéad O’Connor, who makes her first album appearance anywhere singing the theme song.
Brook also produced and played guitar, bass and keyboards on Sleeps With the Fishes, a dreamy set of synth-driven instrumentals, with occasional delicate vocals, by the wistful Pieter Nooten of Xymox (on whose Phoenix album Brook later guested). The perfect soundtrack for pond-gazing on a sleepy summer afternoon. Fans will also want to check out Night Song, Brook’s collaboration with Pakistan’s charismatic Sufi trance singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The tasteful ambient shadings testify to Brook’s restraint, as well as to Nusrat’s overpowering presence.
“Originally the plan was to record a traditional album of Srinivas’ music,” writes Brook in the liner notes to Dream, an album on which he is co-billed with the famed Indian mandolin player. As W.C. Fields once said by way of explanation, “Things happened…” What the resulted from the collaboration (which eventually employed English showboat violinist Nigel Kennedy, Canadian singer Jane Siberry, Brazilian percussionist/vocalist Nana Vasconcelos, American Stick player Trey Gunn and others) couldn’t be further from a world music album if it were recorded on Pluto. The set of four quietly meandering ambient pieces was sampled and shaped in the studio with Enoesque initiative; Srinivas’ mandolin is one of the least prominent elements. So much for the Real World.