Lori Scacco: Circles
Eastern Developments

At first glance, the nature photography and ‘60s-styled typography that adorn Circles suggest that it might be some earnest collection from a Californian singer-songwriter in the Laura Nyro or Joni Mitchell mould, but first impressions, as they so commonly do, mislead. It's an instrumental album from classically trained pianist Lori Scacco, one-time co-founder of indie group Seely and lately a touring member of Savath & Savalas; coincidentally, Circles finds its home on Scott Herren's Eastern Developments label.

Its nine tracks are generally becalmed, meditative, and bucolic. Scacco cites Brian Eno and the Coltranes as formative influences and there's certainly an ambient quality to some pieces that suggest ties to the former plus spiritual qualities in the overall sound and song titles (“Moving Through Meditation,” “Love's Reprise”) that characterize the music and philosophies of John and Alice Coltrane. But Scacco's music is hardly ambient and it's certainly not jazz. Thoroughly through-composed, there's no soloing in the normal improvisatory sense, although numerous solo passages do appear.

Aside from being very pretty, her music is often stately and ruminative, qualities nicely showcased in the opener “Reeling Then Again” where her overdubbed guitars and pianos (acoustic and electric in both cases) are enhanced by the warm tones of Tim Delaney's acoustic bass. Scacco's an impressive instrumentalist, too, as she adds percussion and bowed strings to the dramatic piano flourishes and guitars of “Imitation of Happiness.” Elsewhere, she restrainedly performs “Love's Journey” as a reflective and ruminative piano solo. A few tracks emphasize a different, more electronic side. On “A Quiet Light,” electric pianos create a child-like, lullaby sound that recalls Lullatone, while “Meditation” moves even further into ambient electronica with its blurred electric pianos and clicking patterns.

Describing her approach to Circles, Scacco commented, “I played the piano freely for hours, recording everything, trying to get to the point of complete openness, to the threshold of what was really inside of me.” However, this gentle set of minimalistic pieces succeeds by reigning in the emotional qualities of the material with an admirable reserve in the performing style. The resultant album isn't earth-shattering by any means but still music refreshingly free of irony, cynicism, and sentiment—no small accomplishment.

September 2004