Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Spirit Cannot Fail: A Quick Look At The New Cherry Red Records Reissue Of Bill Nelson's Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights

Originally released in 1987, but more familiar to listeners on these shores thanks to its appearance on Enigma Records (via a licensing deal with Cocteau Records) in 1988, Bill Nelson's double-album Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights remains one of the musician's most important instrumental albums.

Consisting of 63 tracks, and more than 2 hours of music, this new edition of Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights, out now on Cherry Red Records, presents Nelson's music in splendidly-fine fashion. The tunes here, all brief and composed in moments of "intense stillness", to quote Nelson's note in the original LP, are little snippets of melodies stretched out and expanded in slight and subtle ways. A track like "The Spirit Cannot Fail" on Disc 1 is built around a vocal sample that anchors the wisps of piano and keyboards that encircle the cut, while the spare "Gnosis" uses the faintest hint of a vocal chorus in the keyboard sound that ebbs and flows in the center of the track. Like so many moments here, the effect is one that is casually spiritual. Bill Nelson on this record seems to have perfected the sort of instrumental music he was making in the Eighties and, in doing that, he's stripped things back. Even slighter than some of the soundtrack tracks he produced in the decade, the "songs" here on Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights all are nearly over before they've begun, a brief keyboard figure in something like "The Dove Consumed (The Serpent Slumbers)" gaining its momentum as a listener contemplates that greatly evocative title as the minute or so of music unfolds. The best stuff here, like "Hastening The Chariot Of My Heart's Desire", sounds like the sort of thing that Bill could have expanded into a conventional song earlier in the Eighties. That he chose, instead, to strip things back to their very essence, and allow so much of the weight of this material to be carried by the titles of the songs themselves, is an interesting approach that yielded his most affecting set of instrumental tracks. Bill Nelson managed to somehow make deadly serious music here on Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights that is, oddly, shockingly free of pretension. The songs arrive, you read the song title, contemplate the meaning, and then there's a fade-out. I can think of no other album that's made me look inward as much as this one has, so many times, over so many years.

Chance Encounters In The Garden Of Lights is out now in a wonderful deluxe reissue from Cherry Red Records. The label's re-packaged this one in a nice fold-out case with a quality booklet that largely reproduces the original liner notes in a nicer fashion. And the sound here is superb, as the tunes sound more expertly mixed and a bit clearer.