Tim Tatum,
Music & the World
(T-Rex Select, 2001)

Tim Tatum is unquestionably a talented musician. He is also business savvy, owning a recording studio and with years of production experience on commercial music enterprises. He has a new CD called Music & the World. And that's the problem. That is one misleading title, Tim.

Now, mind you, I am as liberal as they come when it comes to art. That is why I am going to be understanding of Tim's release. The words that come to mind, however, are these -- "an artist's rendition." For when you use the terms "music and the world" in the same sentence, some people are expecting world music.

They may expect international electronic music. They may expect traditional roots music brought to a level of new interpretation in the studio. Or they may expect that genre known as "world beat." None of this is what you get when your listen to Tim's work. You get floaty, multilayered, drifting and restful watery new age music. So if you see a cut titled "Zambezi," you don't get music OF Zambezi, you get music inspired BY Zambezi.

It all reminds me of Kitaro's India. Now, there is a work that has a cloying repetitive melody line that does in no way remind one of anything Indian. It is, however, an artist's rendition of what he feels and thinks of when HE experiences India in his mind and senses. Such is Tim Tatum's music. Now, don't get me wrong. One reviewer points out that that Tim has said he uses drums and stringed instruments from around the world, in particular Africa, China, India and Indonesia. What you don't know is that those instruments lay atop his compositions like a hint of tastefully hand-rubbed French herbs when the palate craves a gutsy salt, garlic and cumin. Or beneath an overbearing cream sauce if you will.

"Zambezi" -- Yes, there is a drumbeat behind the orchestral sounding artificial string section and the somewhat tropical selection of digital voicing for one of the multiple layers of sound. Oh, and that drumbeat has somehow receded from the importance it would actually have in Zambezi and descended into shades of Vangelis and Yanni. I mean, here the artist has tried so hard, produced a beautiful composition, deserving of praise on its own objective merits. But it is brought into an aspect of subjectivity by its title. At least the next cut cannot be construed to be tied to a territory, per se. Good music. Bad choice of title ... unless we ascribe to the school that says it's OK because the artist has license to render an artist's rendition of Zambezi as an artist sees fit. Must be a card-carrying license holder of that school of art.

"Tomorrow" -- All the bright promise of tomorrow can be said to be embodied in this less misleading title. The melody is sweet and promising, as of a brighter day. Anyone's best wishes for that can't be all bad, and neither is this work. Pleasing, but with an element of Pleasantville....

"Maybe Again" -- A little too much electronic enhancement and effect make this one miss the mark a tad, but other than that, there is an actual sensation of hopefulness that something might happen again embodied in this melody. That takes talent. This is an elusive mood to capture -- a feeling of -- well, like the song says, maybe again. Here we have a taste of what Tim is quoted as saying in his promotional materials: "My greatest strengths are channeling energy into the mood of that (the) concept." At this point let me say, because this review is going to get a little rough, that this is, indeed Tim's greatest strength -- he is able to translate complex emotional experiences into music that evokes them.

"Secre Topia of Thimpu" -- Is that sampling of a hand clapping? And is that one hand or two? It seems as if a hand clapping has been used as a rhythmic element in this orchestral, drowsy, floaty ... where was I? And where the hell have I been? Was I in Thimpu (Bhutan, near Nepal)? Or the washroom of the local philharmonic's auditorium. And just what is a "secre topia," anyway? Wait ... wait ... I think I hear an acoustic guitar. No ... a harp, maybe? Is it one of those famous Mexican folk harps? Naaaaaaaaw! Probably just another neat voicing. I mean no disrespect, Tim, just trying to tell people what your music sounds like. Wait ... wait ... what is this disruptive sudden transition to jungle music. Hey, the song ended! And after only a few seconds of that other stuff that sounded sort of like WORLD MUSIC.

"Son Arise" -- Is the title a double entendre? It would have to be. Now, entendre No. 1 would be that the sun rises. And another would be that one day, in the Christian faith, it is believed that Jesus, held to be the SON of God, will ARISE again. Then there's that possible alternate second or even third entendre. Tim may have a baby son. He may musically have been inspired to urge that son to arise. We'll never know which entendre or grouping of them is correct -- if we listen to -- you guessed it -- more of this floaty, drifty, electronic "studio as instrument opus." Wow. Wonder what repetitive electronically produced theme will come up again. Surprise -- same as the last one. Machines are like that. Yeah, they are!

"Ascension" -- As it follows "Son Arise," this could be yet a vestigial entendre from the previous track. After all, the ascension is one of the mysteries in the Catholic faith. It is also a place in South America, which would go right along with that world music theme. I meant, music and the world. This gives us a broader canvas on which to paint from our rarified, electronic studio palette a picture of the world as we, the artist, see it. A touching melody, a moving melody. Lots of effort, work, feeling, depth and substance here, but I sure wish I knew which entendre to which the title refers.

"This Time" -- Hey! A conga drum ... maybe? Hopefully? Or some tabla-like beats? Yeah! I like that. Kind of like the music of traditional cultures around the world. And notice how you can still pick it up through the wah-wahed layers and blanket after blanket of orchestral strings, plinkety squibbers* reminiscent of tubular bells in the theme from The Exorcist. Again, hard work, a music concept worthwhile, even a the muffled rumbles of anger to satisfy the theme of "This Time" as if to say "this time things are gonna be different, sucka!" (Yeah, right. Just as soon as I get up off this couch....)

*(newly coined word for sound like a dollop of toothpaste squerbing out onto a brush)

"Caribbean, Your Touch" -- A transition here, a break in the general sound ... to another ... well ... general sound. You probably think it's fun putting down this music. No. I hate myself for it because this is an artist who knows how to make this kind of music. Just don't let those plant-covered stone ruins on the heights of the mountaintop on the cover of the CD fool you. A two-note theramin-like theme predominates this track and some different drumming akin to a jazz quartet, i.e., brushed high hat effect combine amid snakelike oscillations of sound.

"Quiet Place" -- Literally, Tim Tatum seems to be a musician whose mind is stuck in a quiet place. Real quiet. This is elevator music for the corporate headquarters of Miss Cleo's Psychic Hotline or something. Beneath that wall of studio sounds do I hear the strumming of an acoustic guitar? Probably not. Excuse me -- I'm going in to the kitchen to get a glass of orange juice. No. Better make that milk. Safer with milk. OK, I'm back now. Where was I? Hey, is this the same song? Tim. TIM! Wake up! You left the machine running.

"Fire Loop of Thar" -- A dark, ominous beginning with lots of neat drum tones and an engaging rhythm back a quasi-Peruvian pan flute-like melody. Interwoven with it is another such melody with echoing bursts of other sounds. Hey, a human voice? Must be an indigenous person. South American. But suddenly a sitar-like riff comes to the ear. A melange of jungly, equatorial ear candy with ... guess!! You got it! Orchestral beds for the rock-weary to lay down on. At least the drumming theme continues, entertains and engages one's mind long enough to keep one from falling asleep on the music bed.

"Mediterranean Sun" -- Could those be castanets? Could this be the south of Spain near Gibraltar? Or, perhaps, Malaga? Flamenco suggestions in the melody lines played quite well actually on an actual guitar behind the general electronically produced tones are, in fact, outweighed by them in the balance, overshadowing them to a point of obscurity.

"The Walk at Kimberly Plateau" -- Harps and water tones. Skidding downscale on such melodies, this enjoyable melange brings one deep into one's own mind in a gentle, meditative sort of way. Herb tea, anyone?

"Twine of Waikato" -- Whine of what? Oh, twine! That means either string or two of something. Wait, I hear something. "Thank you for calling. Your call is important to us...." Waikato is in New Zealand. Must be a long distance call.

"A Healing Heart" -- Again, Tim seems to do better with bringing this kind of complex and meaningful theme -- that of a healing heart -- from concept to reality. This music gives one a good feeling, makes one feel as if someone cared about has been or is being healed by a heart that is able to heal. A feel good melody, a poem well written, a from the heart expression through music. Good work, Tim. And the title is the most appropriate of them all. I sincerely hope your heart heals from all my criticisms and in a Gandhi-like fashion we can become something more than the adversarial artist-critic evil axis and evolve an understanding that you are not welcome in India and you will just leave. Er, I mean that your music is not world music, not music of the world, but something else. And that that something else is good -- just mismarketed and inartfully titled.

"Dusk in Nassar" -- The way bagpipes sound until you get all the air into them. I love bagpipes so I love that sound, too, even though it makes some people smile at the instrument's initial awkwardness. That is the way the initial tones come forth in this dusky (pun intended), murky, almost submerged melodic interlude. This open has artificial insects as one might hear at dusk whether at the old lake in upstate New York or in Nassar. Fluid waves of water melody and trippy, echoing melodeon or trumpet-like melodies are interspersed as we explore the underwater world of amateur scuba diving. See you next week when we'll talk about avoiding the bends.

[ by John Cross ]
Rambles: 23 March 2002