What is potential? Raphael Groten’s new album seems to answer that question on many levels. Potential is a creative, playful, genre-defying, and most importantly: an incredibly well-made album that takes the listener on a voyage deep into the wild using a wide variety of instruments. Its meditative, perhaps even hypnotic, qualities are easy to enjoy even if you only listen to a track or two. Groten’s love for nature is also present everywhere on the album. But the most prominent feature must be how Potential inspires us to reflect on the capabilities that dwell in us all. That in itself is a significant accomplishment.
Raphael Groten is a Vermont-based multi-instrumentalist and composer. He was born in 1973 into a true music-loving environment. His musical styles span the globe, from classical and sacred music to the roots of the Americas and the sounds of the East. After his graduation, he launched a ten-piece Latin/jazz/funk ensemble, Saudade. The group performed extensively during the late ’90s in Burlington, VT, and released two albums of Raphael’s compositions.
The opening track is called Wander, which is also an introduction to the title track in many ways. It starts with the sounds of nature and gentle percussion instruments before an electric guitar enters the stage. It is a bit hesitant, then chilled and laid-back – giving the impression of wandering in nature without a worry in the world.
Potential takes off from the very first notes of a three-string tortoise shelled instrument from Senegal. It is, at first, quite an overwhelming soundscape, from percussion to bamboo flute. But as soon as you decipher its free-flowing structure, you are in for quite a ride! It seems to unlock latent qualities both in our concept of music – and how nature can be translated into sounds. Playing this in a forest will make it seem to brim with life, movement, and the wilderness’ own kind of intensity; out there, everything may change in an instant. This goes for us humans, too, if we happen to stumble across the wolf seen on the cover artwork. Potential is a creative and rock-solid piece that takes hold of the listener. Bravo!
At this stage, we are introduced to Great Spirit, a life-giving force. It presents the elements one by one as if calling them into existence. It is a surprisingly lovely and playful melody. Great Spirit is not a vengeful and unforgiving god, luckily.
The journey continues on Within, Care, and Melt – three colorful and vibrant pieces – before we find ourselves at the River’s Edge. It is a 10-minutes-long key track, almost like an EP within the album. It is time to rest, and WOW! – Groten is doing his best to make his fellow travelers feel relaxed. After the short Pause, the second part of the album starts. If this were an LP, you would have turned it at this stage.
The dreamy Percolate takes us into a landscape of magic, spirits, and mysteries. There are so many details, so many gentle textures and levels. I found myself going back and forth between the tracks, ensuring I didn’t miss anything. Each listen feels new and fresh.
I love how Potential makes the listener feel surrounded by nature, making it a fantastic soundtrack for dreaming, reading, or creative work. Listen to Call, Aft, and Bear Cave, and you will understand what I mean. Release is about “opening a door to a new world,” which beautifully sums up the whole album. Twin Eagle has the sound we heard on Wander, something that makes it easy to return to the beginning again. The album seems custom-made for the repeat button.
In conclusion: I don’t know if it is Raphael Groten’s multi-instrumental approach or if it is the genre-defying sound and two-part layout, but Potential makes me think of Mike Oldfield’s platinum-selling Tubular Bells (1973). It might be in the way it flows and effortlessly introduces new and often surprising elements, making it into a very interesting listen. Pieces like the title track, Great Spirit, and River’s Edge are genuine New Age music jewels that will last long in any playlist.
I’m tempted to say that as soon as you see this album’s potential, its magic will manifest itself. I almost can’t wait for Raphael Groten to release more music, hopefully within the New Age music realm!
For more information and music samples, visit raphaelgroten.com.