Erik Scott: In the Company of Clouds
Anyone coming to Erik Scott's music for the first time will likely concentrate first on his rather incredible background—after all, how many musicians can lay claim to a recording career dating back to 1969 and that includes associations with Flo & Eddie, Pops Staples, Carl Palmer, Kim Carnes, Sonia Dada, and Alice Cooper? Still, one hopes that after having absorbed such details the listener will then attend to what Scott's doing now, specifically his four solo recordings, of which In the Company of Clouds is the latest. Currently in remission from a two-year bout with cancer, Scott's a survivor in more ways than one, and consequently the recording assumes an enhanced gravitas in light of that recent health scare.
In the Company of Clouds exudes the smooth sheen and polish one associates with New Age and ambient music, but musically speaking it would be too limiting to affix a single label to the forty-minute set. While Scott is credited with many instruments on the recording, it's his melodic fretless bass playing that's front and center, and consequently any listener with an especial appreciation for the instrument will be thoroughly satisfied by the result. Even better, Scott doesn't muddy the waters with needless grandstanding but instead keeps the focus on the tracks' melodies, artfully embellishing them but without compromising the clarity of the compositional design (witness the opening statement he voices in “Women of Avalon” as an example).
He's joined on all nine tracks by pedal steel guitarist John Pirruccello, a combination that makes for a truly distinctive presentation. Two of the pieces are performed by the pair, while the others bring vocalists, guitarists, and percussionists into the fold. Some are musicians Scott played with in Sonia Dada (guitarist Phil Miller, drummer Hank Guaglianone, pianist Chris Cameron); others include guitarists Jeff Pearce and Steve Hunter, the latter well-known for his playing with Lou Reed and, like Scott, Alice Cooper. On the tracks featuring Scott and Pirruccello only, the bassist enhances their playing with synthesizers and programmed drumming.
The album's life-affirming, uplifting tone is established early on by the hymnal meditation “Nine Lives,” where Scott's supplicating bass and Pirruccello's delicious twang are deepened by keyboard atmospherics and the gospel-tinged sweetening of vocalists Larry Batiste, Sandy Griffith, and Bryan Dyer. Similarly pitched is “Women of Avalon,” though this time it's the soulful murmur of Shawn Christopher, Yvonne Gage, and Renee Robinson that accounts for the gospel effect. Tasty too is “Seven Veils,” where dub bass lines that Robbie Shakespeare would be proud to call his own waft over a haze of luscious synthesizer swirl and pedal steel like a gently rolling breeze.With the simplest of bongo patterns as rhythm support, “Breathing Room” captures a stirring series of interactions between Scott's bass, Pirruccello's pedal steel, and Pearce's electric shadings, while drumming by Kevin Hayes adds a considerable degree of oomph to “Victory,” which otherwise aligns seamlessly with the radiant ambiance of the other tracks. On the fold-out package's inner sleeve, Scott expresses hope that “these offerings will lift some hearts, warm some souls, and smooth some edges.” That they assuredly do—and then some.