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Todd Mosby's 'Aerial Views' succeeds on its own artistic terms, evoking the beauty and clarity of the open skies / the arts fuse

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St. Louis–based Todd Mosby's Aerial Views flies toward the pastel sunset horizon where world music meets New Age and smooth jazz. Mosby is an unusual guitarist who makes relatively conventional records. He comes from a bluegrass background, but he has studied closely with Indian sitar master Imrat Khan and learned classical North Indian technique. Mosby draws on both in his acoustic performances by playing a hybrid "Imrat guitar" he helped design, a half guitar and half semi-sitar.

"This is as brilliant a recording as I have ever been associated with," states Will Ackerman, the founder of Windham Hill Records and producer of the CD. This is high praise from the man who essentially established the genre of New Age music. Ackerman brings his familiar Windham Hill touch to this disk, and it is as brilliantly engineered as you would expect. Ackerman doesn't overdo it with the reverb or hissy digital sound. It's difficult to effectively mix melodic acoustic guitar over a rich instrumental background, as Pat Metheny and Earl Klugh know well, but it is accomplished here with delicacy and immediacy.

Mosby brings a touch of bluegrass to the proceedings, so there is more folksy appeal here than you'd expect in slick New Age music. He's not hesitant to outright strum. The guitarist also tastefully adds some fretboard and string effects that remind me of the late (and greatly missed) Windham Hill guitarist Michael Hedges.

The compositions, according to the notes, are "influenced, in part, by Mosby's childhood co-piloting experiences with his father." The concept "depicts a journey across the skies." The opening track, "Gliding," is indeed bright and airy - it exhales a cool exhilaration. "Aether" proffers a slow, gradually unfolding melody that is picked up by Premik Tubbs on soprano sax via a solo of long-held notes. "Earth & Sky" has a nice groove that includes an unexpected sonic blend of the Imrat guitar and snare drum, although I could do without the spa-soundtrack wind synth Indian flute (can't Tubbs play a real wooden flute?). "Into Starlight" is music for the hot tub, especially when Lola Kristine enters with echoey wordless vocals. Still, a strong backbone of rhythm guitar and percussion keep it tethered to earth. A taste of Tony Levin's melodic fretless bass arrives, but it soon becomes lost in the wordless ooh-ahh vocals and that lame wind synth Indian flute again.

Charlie Bisharat's violin is featured on several tracks, adding some classical dignity. Other effective sonic touches are Tubbs's lap steel guitar, Levin's powerful fretless bass, Kristine's George Winston–like piano, and Jeff Haynes's consistently tasteful percussion. The sonic palette isn't as wide here as it is on the Pat Metheny Group records, and the soloing isn't nearly as ambitious. But there are similarities in the careful layering, airy spaciousness, and carefully arranged entrances and exits of instruments to vary textures and enhance emotional impact.

Aerial View may not be for all tastes, but it succeeds, on its own artistic terms, in evoking the beauty and clarity of the open skies. This is lovely and relaxing music. It may not be challenging music but, if you let your guard down, you might be uplifted.

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