2005 / Real Music
4-disc set, 247:41 total runtime
Review by Michael Debbage
Much like his fellow pianist David Lanz, Peter Kater is also a survivor of the Contemporary Instrumental scene largely due to his adaptability. Jumping from Smooth Jazz, Native Indian and Classical themes, Kater, this time around tries his hand at a very spatial and ambient theme courtesy of the Elements Series. While each album is dedicated to a specific element, the music components vary yet are still unified and fixated on bringing the listener to a standstill of relaxation and restoration.
No matter what genre Kater explores, the musical exploration always comes with the high quality workmanship we have come to expect from this driven musician. Needless to say, the Elements Series holds up to this fine tradition yet with varying levels of success. Peter is featured on all 4 projects with the intent of providing his listeners with a more ambient approach that allows them a place to rest their body and mind. The most atmospheric and spatial approach can be found on the album Air. It features Paul McCandless on penny whistles, oboe and soprano saxophone complimented with Richard Hardy on bamboo and soprano flutes, the melodies are nominal giving the listener plenty of room to slow their pulse and take a breath of fresh air. This is consistent with the fact that the tracks are very lengthy resulting in only 4 songs on the 66-minute album.
As for Earth, it is a little more grounded conveying a little more compositional structure when compared with the improvised feel of Air. From a thematic aspect this album is the most structured of the entire series. The album’s bookends start and finish with the songs “Sunrise” and “Sunset”. Meanwhile, Kater walks us sequentially through the earthly seasons starting with “Summer”. Each season has its prelude, which is where Richard Hardy is prominent featuring his Bamboo and Native American flutes. Needless to say that this will appeal to those who are fans of Kater’s prior collaborations with R. Carlos Nakai. The listener is also given the opportunity to hear the warm guitar strings of Michael Hamilton who appears to be in utter unison with Hardy best heard on “Autumn”. It is here that Kater is willing to take on more of a back seat via his synthesized string embellishments and short piano bridge about halfway through the season keeping the focus on Hamilton and Hardy. It is the central and monumental portion of Earth, yet “Spring” comes a close second courtesy of Hamilton’s optimistic guitar work.
Moving on, Water is probably the most fluid of the series. Kater sets aside his synthesizer washes and presents us with some primetime pure piano performances. The album opens with “Substance Of Life” that features Hamilton on guitar and McCandless on oboe in utter unison with Kater’s piano. The same could be said throughout this particular project though Kater goes it alone on the very lengthy “Cascade”. Floating and flickering effortlessly over his keys, this particular performance will take your breath away. Though the hauntingly beautiful “Calling You” comes a close second.
Which brings us to the fourth and final facet of the Elements Series in the form of Fire. This is the warmest and most melodic portion of this extensive endeavor with Kater once again taking the acoustic route. Though there is a repeat performance from McCandless on the oboe, English horn and saxophone, the lovely and lively addition comes from violinist Ludvig Girdlang. The duets and counterpoints from Kater and Girdlang are exquisite and intensify the smoldering romantic factor of Fire. This is immediately obvious on the opening track “Eternal Sunshine” though McCandless is equal to the task on “Twilight” with his oboe narration or for that matter the penny whistle on the spatial and yet radiant “Northern Lights”.
From the very ambient nature of Air to the more melodious spectrum of Water and Fire, the simple factor is that Kater has once again prevailed in reinventing himself without sounding pompous or pretentious. With his feet in both camps, the Elements Series will appeal to both the ambient and more mainstream fans requiring a little more melody and composition to their music.
May 5, 2005