Product Review | Roots of the Pacific

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Article Rating
 
Electronic Musician Magazine Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 5
 
This sample CD of sounds, rhythms, and ambiences of the Pacific is clearly a labor of love for its producer, David Morgan Russell. Roots of the Pacific (audio CD, 99.95; Akai S1000 CD-ROM, $199.95) is part of Big Fish Audio's Roots series, which also includes Roots of India and Roots of South America. The Pacific collection is huge, beautifully recorded (mainly at Steely Dan man Walter Becker's Hyperbolic Sound studio), and never less than great fun. These are not sounds and sensibilities that just anyone can cook up.

Each groove starts with an ensemble recording followed by individual loops of its component parts. This works fine, although I found the main grooves so infectious that I wanted more; individual drum loops tend to be less compelling. Some grooves, such as the Raratonga come complete with vocal chants, while others are drums only.

Grass Shack Studio
The recordings are totally dry, promoting the somewhat uncomfortable thought of a group of scantily clad Polynesians freezing their tushes off in an air-conditioned studio complex, but that's the right sound for source material like this. For the most part, the recordings are close-miked and clear; the vocals are particularly in-your-face and breathy. Tempos vary enormously, from the normal rock span of 90 to 120 bpm all the way up to the giddy heights of 200+ bpm, and one or two cuts are out of strict tempo entirely.

Standouts range from the aforementioned Raratonga, which features lots of high bongo-type rolls interwoven with chants and grunts; to the superb driving Polynesian loops that bowl along at about 185 bpm; to Ori Tahiti, which I can see as the basis for a massive club hit; to the amusing Samoa Kasala grooves, complete with body slaps. Some of my favorites are in the Fijian collection - electrifying stuff. There are 33 individual grooves, each including several component parts. The grooves vary in length but are generous. There's no count-in and no audio guide, just the grooves, which is fine.

Other sounds featured are 25 individual drum loops and hits. These include stones, gourds, bamboo pipe drums, conch shells, and coconuts, all of which combine to form a definitive sound picture of life on a Pacific island. Standouts here include the Small L'pu (gourd drum), Kaeke (bamboo pipe drum), with their deep-pitched overtones, and some truly terrifying conch blasts. Different strengths of hit/blow are offered, along with appropriate variations (rolls, flams, short/long shakes, and so on).

Luau's End
I have one minor quibble: a faint clicking rhythm can be heard in he background of one track. You don't have to be a digital audio power user to clean up this material, but you really shouldn't have to.

Two short sections close the disc:"Voices" features a number of sung and spoken chants, words, and phrases , and "Natural Ambiences" includes Hawaiian birds, a rippling stream, and gentle surf. (Finally, we get to emerge blinking into the sunlight).

Even if you're not a die-hard surer or an aficionado of Hawaiian/Pacific music, you will certainly appreciate the love and attention to detail that has obviously gone into making this disc. Authentic, honest content is what everyone needs these days, and Roots of the Pacific has bags of it. I recommend it highly.
 

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