Eric Roberts Summons Music from a Silent Place
Eric Roberts describes his music as "jazzy, non-commercial new age." Technically, these original compositions are contemporary instrumentals in the Segovia classical guitar style. Hard-core jazz fans generally divide into love/hate categories when it comes to "escape music" or "ambient tone poems," but In A Silent Place just may contain something for everyone.
Eric Roberts is a full-time musician, music instructor, and music therapist. He earned degrees from Ithaca College and University of Miami, backed up big-name stars in Broadway musicals and on cruise ships, and recorded extensively in Europe. He recently moved his family from New York City to Denver. As such, In A Silent Place is exactly the type of chill-out music you'd expect.
Though Roberts is best known as a bassist, In A Silent Place proves he is an evocative guitarist and imaginative composer as well. Accompanying him on several tracks by in-demand avant-garde cellist David Darling, Robert Weinstein on guitar, and Ed Conteras on percussion.
Fellow musician David Darling is revered for his work with the Paul Winter Consort, Ralph Towner, and Manfred Eicher, diverse session work for the likes of Johnny Cash, Spyro Gyra, and Bobby McFerrin, his soundtrack for Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World, or his solo projects for ECM and other New Age labels, such as The Tao of Cello, Dark Wood, the Musical Massage series, Cello Blue, and his recent exploration into ancient Taiwanese music Mudanin Kata. Darling co-founded Music for People (www.musicforpeople.org), a non-profit organization which encourages people to make music together regardless of background. Roberts' experience with Music for People directly influenced In A Silent Place, as well as the creation of MusicMagic, an instructional program for underprivileged families in New York City.
The songs most likely to impress jazz fans are "Remembering You" with its almost gypsy-like conception and the transitory "Journey Through Time." Most of the material is slow and reflective, like the title track "In a Silent Place", a tribute to his wife called "Cella's Song," and the mildly improvisational trilogy aptly titled "Reflections." "The River Runs" is the most highly celebrated song in the collection, a finalist at the Independent Music Awards. This song, as well as "New Love" feature Brazilian-tinged beats with darkly shaded cello accompaniment. "Snow" is a musically uplifting moment, portraying the swiftness and lightness of falling snowflakes. "Lullabye" tucks you in for the night with the beauty of a beloved hymn.
To his great credit, Roberts keeps his songs brief, which is somewhat rare among self-styled soloists. He says what he means to say then gets out of your face, giving his message maximum impact. The recording quality is very transparent, complete with fret noise and nasal breathing. Eerily-bowed cello, layered guitar arpeggios and fretless bass complement Roberts' low-key imagination. In A Silent Place is an entirely acoustic affair except for the occasional use of guitar synthesizer or programmed percussion which sound, well, synthetic. Sometimes it works, particularly on the otherworldy Vangelis-esque "Flowing." At other times, the effects distract from the otherwise natural music.
In A Silent Place won't set the jazz world on fire, but Roberts never intended to. These songs are moody and meditative, in a good way. Their point is reflection not revolution; and the fruit of his personal introspection is sure to enhance your own quiet times. For more information about Eric Roberts or MusicMagic Productions, be sure to check out the links below.
-David Seymour is a freelance jazz journalist in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA.