Mark Nelson's latest CD

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Pan American

White Bird Release

Kranky CD 128


A dozen years in, Mark Nelson’s Pan American project is still with the same label (Kranky) and still creating fascinating ambient soundscapes. But one shouldn’t mistake continuity for stagnation!

Indeed, there’s a combination of novelty and comfortable familiarity to be heard on the LP. Joined by bassists Jim Meyering and William Lowman and percussionist Steven Hess, Nelson pursues a more collaborative sound scheme than on some of his more soloistic recent recordings.  Hess’s co-authorship of two of the cuts, as well as his tasteful vibraphone playing and drumming, lends an organic quality to “For Aiming at the Stars” and “Dr. Robert Goddard in a Letter to H.G. Wells, 1932.”

At the same time, there are echoes of Labradford, Nelson’s other outfit, to be found amidst the reverberant soundscapes here. “There Can Be No Thought of Finishing” and “Literally and Figuratively” feature deliciously sepulchral (and ever so well-recorded) bass drones; akin to bass-lines found on some of Labradford’s most winning work (E Luxo So, Fixed: :Content). Indeed, Meyering’s strummed chords provide a beautiful counterpart to Nelson’s treble-register harmonic pads.

“Is a Problem to Occupy Generations” demonstrates a capacity to be simultaneously ambient and experimental; its questing melodies are awash in reverb, arching towards an endpoint never quite to be reached. Conversely, the folk-like pentatonic phrases that inhabit “There is Always the Thrill of Just Beginning” seem to give the lie to much ambient-inspired “World” music, by eschewing its easily palatable background designs in favor of a more enigmatic – and far more interesting – hypnotic blurring.

Pan American remains a hardy, worthwhile endeavor; White Bird Release features some of Nelson’s most beautiful music to date.

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