In his new full-bodied release, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma positions himself in a ghostly curatorial role in which the presence of collaboration foregrounds the content. A host of guest musicians lend their relatively definable instruments to a prismatic soundscape that recalls the randomized algorithms of early dynamic programming languages. The compositions flutter along in nuanced stasis, with sounds replacing others purely to continue the underlying tone. The tone of Tracing Back the Radiance is decidedly meditative and composed.
Cantu-Ledesma has expressed a desire to bring conversation into his often solitary ambient music, so the cast of characters is meant to eclipse— or at least hide— his own puppetry. The musicians involved include Mary Lattimore, David Moore, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Roger Tellier Craig, and Marilu Donavan. With such a variety of figures, each piece uses a grab bag of instruments to produce a soothing sampler of transcendent calm. The behind-the-scenes role of the composer seems to stem from his inquiry into the components of healthy meditation. Cantu-Ledesma traces back the radiance of something ill-defined and unattainable in a procedural attempt to uncover and salvage its roots.
“Palace of Time” begins this experiment with juxtaposed snare drum, organ, pedal steel, and piano. “Joy” does the same with vibraphone and flute, steering the project toward a more definable classical tone. The title track is the most nebulous and ethereal; its syrupy processing and vocal blips provide the final impression. The tracks differ enough as to seem from separate projects, but their experiential nature binds them together more concretely than does their timbre. The carousel of Instruments spins around a central, undefined spire. Whether this phantom limb is Cantu-Ledesma or not is tangential. The project is an examination of unspoken assumptions about the relationship between sound and peace, and it succeeds in execution as well as in concept. (Josh Hughes)