Tom Eaton: Abendromen
Riverwide Records

That Abendromen sounds fantastic shouldn't come as a major surprise, given that the past six years have seen Tom Eaton co-producing, engineering, mixing, and mastering recordings in the company of Will Ackerman at the Windham Hill founder's Imaginary Road Studios in rural Vermont (in fact, the number of recordings the two have collaborated on exceeds fifty). And for the record, that half-decade constitutes but a small portion of the total time Eaton's spent refining his craft, as his first recording studio opened in 1993, seventeen years before his association with Ackerman began.

Even more interesting is the fact that after having committed a quarter-century to helping others complete their own musical projects, Eaton only recently decided to release his own material, Abendromen (‘Abend' and ‘Dromen' are Dutch for evening and dreams, respectively) being one of two full-lengths issued in 2016, Indesterren the other. On the former, Eaton is credited with piano, keyboards, guitars, basses, and percussion on a set that one would find in the ambient/New Age section of a record store, if such a thing still existed. Don't mistake Abendromen for wallpaper music, though: its seven so-called “evening dreams” repeatedly stir the soul with graceful melodies and luscious arrangements.

In a typical setting, piano is the central instrument, the nucleus around which the other sounds constellate, and the mood of the recording is largely melancholic. Synthesizers and guitars are included in generous amounts to add lustrous, atmospheric enhancement to the elegant piano melodies. As ravishing and multi-dimensional as the sonic presentation is, it's the melodic component that ultimately distinguishes Eaton's material and lifts it above the ambient/New Age norm. In that regard, certain tracks stand out: in “Tuesday / The Compass,” for example, a haunting synthesizer motif in the background punctuates the soothing, crystalline sound mass Eaton crafts from piano, guitars, synthesizers, and a relaxed drum pulse, whereas the quietly uplifting “Friday / Patience” is elevated by a particularly lovely piano performance. Variations on the theme and presentation emerge in the other pieces, with the ponderousness of “Wednesday / In Stillness” contrasting markedly with the spirited, guitar-fueled animation of “Thursday / For Orion.”

Three bonus tracks—ambient guitar material Eaton incorporated into the “Wednesday” and “Saturday” pieces plus an unused guitar sketch called “The Eighth Day”—show up after the seventh setting, but, truth be told, the album's formal tracks constitute such a perfectly satisfying and complete statement on their own that the inclusion of bonus material is unnecessary. Refined over the course of many years, Eaton's talents as a multi-instrumentalist, arranger, producer, and composer serve him well throughout this excellent collection.

January 2017