Despite being one of the most innovative musicians of his generations, Laraaji still remains one of music’s best kept secrets. That’s despite releasing nearly thirty albums. Many of these albums showcase Laraaji’s unique ambient sound. Best known for playing the zither, Laraaji’s music is best described as a fusion of ambient, experimental and psychedelia. Hypnotic, mesmeric and meditative also describes Laraaji’s music. That includes the album that launched Laraaji’s career, Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance) which was recently reissued on vinyl by Glitterbeat.

Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance) was produced by Brian Eno and released in 1980. It was Laraaji’s third album, but the first released by a record label. This was a coming of age for Laraaji, who over the next four decades, released nearly thirty ambient albums. However, growing up, the music that inspired Laraaji was very different to the groundbreaking music he went on to create,

The Laraaji story began in Philadelphia in 1943. That was where he was born Edward Larry Gordon. At an early age, Edward and his family moved to New Jersey.

That was where he studied violin, piano, trombone and singing. At high school, Larry played in the school band and orchestra. Music was part of Larry’s life. He was exposed to an eclectic range of music.  His family attended the local Baptist church, so Larry heard choral and gospel music, as well as negro spirituals. At home though, Larry heard very different music.

He sat and absorbed everything from jazz, R&B and rock ’n’ roll. The great piano players inspired Larry. This included Oscar Peterson, Fats Domino and Ahmad Jamal. So it was no surprise that having graduated from high school, Larry decided to study music.

Having won a scholarship to study piano and composition, Larry headed to one of the most prestigious universities in America, Howard University, in Washington D.C. He spent the next few years immersed in music. It seemed that Larry was destined to pursue a career in music. That wasn’t the case.

After graduating from Howard University, Edward decided not to pursue a career in music. Instead, Larry decided to pursue a career as a standup comic. His love of comedy began in college. Then when he left University, Larry and his comedy partner decided to head to New York to audition at the Bitter End,  who regularly held talent shows. This was where Bill Cosby’s comedy career began. For an aspiring comedian, this seemed the perfect place to launch their new career. However, the night Larry and his comedy partner were meant to make their debut, his partner never turned up. Having been left in the lurch, he had to make his debut as a solo artist. He was well received. That was the start of Larry’s comedy career. Soon he became a regular on the New York comedy circuit. Comedy wasn’t the only career Larry had.

Through his exploits as a comedian, Larry came to the attention of Ernestine McClendon, who was a respected theatrical agent. She took Larry under her wing and guided his nascent career. Larry was sent to auditions, and soon, was appearing on television commercials, in theatre and even in films. One of these films Putney Swope. Much of the film was improvised. When it came out, it inspired Larry to look at the role of the mass media. Looking for answers, Larry read books and learnt to meditate. 

To help him, he turned to teachers who taught Larry how to mediate. He soon was practising meditation and calisthenics. Larry was also using piano exercises as an outlet. This is how he discovered spontaneous music. Everything was improvised, off-the-cuff and experimental. Straight away, Larry realised the possibilities were endless. However, meditation was key to this. He could do with music and art now he’d discovered meditation.  Discovering meditation was akin to a spiritual awakening. Before long, the next part of Larry’s Meditation spiritual awakening took place.

Around 1974 or 1975, Larry living near JFK airport. One night he had been out walking,  and on his return home, he started hearing what he describes as “the music of the spheres.” This was akin to a cosmic symphony. The music was joyous and celebratory. Larry became part of the music. He was at one with the music. The whole experience had a lasting effect. It was a spiritual and cosmic awakening. Suddenly, he understood things that had puzzled him. Things made sense after what Larry refers to as “a trigger for a cosmic memory.” It was as if Larry had been enlightened. However, he wanted to know more about what had happened. So, he embarked on a course of study.

To further understand what had happened to him, Larry embarked upon a study of Vedic teachings. Part of the Vedic teachings is that the yogis hear music in layers. This is what Larry had experienced, and why he was able to describe the music so vividly. His teachers told him he’d reached such a high level of consciousness that he was able to see things differently from most people. It seemed his spiritual and cosmic awakening was almost complete. Now he wanted to recreate the music he’d heard.

At last, Larry was able to put his musical education to good use. He’d always played music, even when he was working as a comedian and actor. Latterly, he’d been playing the Fender Rhodes. However, Larry was fed up having to transport such a heavy instrument. One night as he was preparing to go onstage, he told his “cosmic ear” he would “like a lighter instrument to share his musical consciousness with the world.” A few days later, he found himself in a pawn shop, ready to pan his guitar, when out of nowhere, a voice told Larry to swap his guitar for a stringed instrument in the shop window. This was an autoharp. Now all Larry had to do was master this new instrument.

When Larry took the instrument home, he tuned it to his favourite piano chords and open guitar tunings. The effect this had, was to return it to what was essentially a zither, whose roots can be traced back the the ancient, traditional instrument the kithara. Gradually, through a process of experimentation, Larry discovered what the autoharp was capable of. Then when he added an electric pickup, this was a game-changer. The possibilities were endless. He was able to begin creating the music he’d heard that fateful night, albeit with a little help from a friend. 

Not long after Larry begin playing the autoharp, he was strumming and plucking it like a guitar. That seemed the way to play the autoharp. That’s until he  met Dorothy Carter. She was hammered dulcimer artist and encouraged Larry to play his autoharp with hammers. The other thing Dorothy did, was invite Larry to the Boston Globe Music Fest. That’s where Larry met another innovator.

At the Boston Globe Music Fest, Larry met Steven Halpern. It’s no exaggeration to say, that he is a pioneer of new age music. Meeting Steven exposed him to music that he never new existed. It changed Larry’s way of thinking. He realised that music didn’t need to follow the structures that he’d been taught. Music didn’t need to have a beginning, end or even a melody. Instead, it could be a freeform stream of consciousness. There was room for experimentation and improvisation within music. For Larry this changed his approach to music. Inspired and confident in his ability to play the autoharp, Larry was ready to make his debut.

They say all the world is a stage, well that proved to be the case for Larry. He made his debut as a busker on the streets of New York in 1978. A year later, Larry was still busking. However, he was playing in a different location. This proved fortuitous. Some would say it was fate.

Larry was now busking in Washington Square Park. He sat on top of a blanket, cross-legged and with his eyes closed, played his zither using the open tunings he favoured. So he never saw Brian Eno standing watching him. The Godfather of ambient music was transfixed. He’d been walking through the park with Bill Laswell and came across a fellow innovator. Recognising the potential that Larry had, Brian Eno wrote a message to Larry on a piece of paper.

This message asked whether Larry would be interested in working with him on a recording project. For Larry this was kismet. A few weeks previously, people watching Larry play suggested Larry might like Brian Eno and Robert Fripp’s music. Here, lying at his feet when he opened his eyes after playing, was a message from Robert Eno. This Larry felt was an example of cosmic synchronicity. So he contacted Brian Eno.

The next day they met and spoke about ambient music and electronics. Straight away, they got on. Three weeks later, Larry now calling himself Laraaji, headed to Apple Studios, in Green Street, New York. That was where Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance) was recorded.

When Laraaji arrived at Apple Studios, he brought with him his zither and dulcimer. He also brought the five songs he had composed. Along with producer Brian Eno, they recorded the five tracks.

As the session got underway, Laraaji’s 36-stringed open-tuned zither was treated and amplified. Then when played his dulcimer, he used a series of hammers. Brian Eno added a variety of instruments and effects, which added the all important layers to the five tracks. Once the five tracks were recorded, they became Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance). It was released later in 1980 and was the latest instalment in a groundbreaking series.

The story started in 1978, when Brian Eno had released his ambient classic, Ambient 1 (Music For Airports). This was one of Brian Eno’s finest albums of the seventies. However, it was another two years before he returned with the next instalment in the series. 

Ambient 2 (The Plateaux Of Mirror) was released earlier in 1980, Brian Eno had collaborated with Harold Budd. It was a tantalising prospect, two of ambient music’s pioneers collaborating on an album. On Ambient 2 (The Plateaux Of Mirror)’s release, it didn’t disappoint. With the two colossi of ambient music pooling their resources, it was a fitting followup to Ambient 1 (Music For Airports). This must have left Brian Eno with a dilemma, how do followup Ambient 2 (The Plateaux Of Mirror)? Then fate intervened, and he encountered Laraaji busking in Washington Square Park.

He was the perfect person to record the next instalment in the Ambient series. So Brian left a note asking Laraaji to call him, and the rest was history. They had recorded an album together, and later in 1980, Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance) was just about to be released. Before that, the critics had to have their say.

For many artists this is a worrying time. Especially, with a left field project. There’s always the possibility that critics won’t understand the music. In the post punk days, the snarling angry young gunslingers in the music press weren’t exactly accommodating to music that didn’t fit their particular agenda. However, some critics gave Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance) a chance, and realised that this was a groundbreaking album. Elements of ambient, electronica, folk and world music combined on Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance). Thirty-seven year old Laraaji’s debut album was on its way to becoming an ambient cult classic. No wonder.

Opening Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance) The Dance #1. Spacey, flourishes of Laraaji’s hammered dulcimer add a dreamy, meditative sound. Then it’s all change. Laraaji plays with a degree of urgency. It’s as if he’s determined to get his ideas down on tape. His playing is impassioned and relentless. Soon, the music takes on a rhythmic, mesmeric quality as it washes over the listener. They bathe in its glistening beauty as the arrangement literally dances, and captivates. Subtle, distant, washes of synths, and later a zither is added. They’re the perfect foil for the relentless energy. Together, they’re responsible for what’s akin to a cathartic outpouring of ideas and energy from Laraaji. It’s is been waiting years to take listeners on his magical, mesmeric, rhythmic and meditative musical journey. 

Again, washes of dulcimer ring out in The Dance #2, giving the track a spiritual sound. It’s like some cosmic call to worship, in a 21st century temple. In the background, there’s a almost industrial sound. It has a mesmeric, machinelike sound, as if saying: “chop that wood and carry water.” Later, a wash of celestial sound arise from the arrangement. They wash over the listener, soothing their weary soul. By then, the industrial sound is much more prominent. Despite that, it’s still melodic, celestial  and like The Dance #1, has a mesmeric and rhythmic sound.

Stabs of shimmering, glistening dulcimer open The Dance #3. Soon, the music grows in power, and begins to jar. It threatens to become discordant. That’s because Brian Eno has slowed the tape down. This has the effect of the sound vibrating and become deep and distorted. It’s worth it though, when an ethereal and celestial sound shines through. From darkness, there’s light and ethereal beauty, on this three minute soundscape where contrasts are omnipresent.

Meditation #1 is a nineteen minute. Understated, dreamy and spacey, gentle washes of zither ripple slowly. They wash over the listener, and have a meditative quality. It’s a case of less is more. Space is left between the notes. A chiming cheeping sound resonates, before there’s near silence. Many artists fear silence. For them, it’s the elephant in the room. It allows the listener to reflect, before the arrangement glistens and shimmers. There’s a hypnotic quality. Mostly, though, the music’s serene, ethereal beauty washes over the the listener, allowing them to bathe and cleanse their weary soul.

Closing Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance), is Meditation #2. Slowly and thoughtfully, the zither reverberates into the distance. This is the result of Brian Eno treating Laraaji’s zither electronically. His treatment and the zither’s long decay-rate creates what can only be described as an ethereal sound. Washes of synths and dulcimers are added, creating a shimmering soundscape. One minute there’s an element on drama, the next there’s near silence. From there, the arrangement meanders along, glistening and shimmering. The music is ethereal and elegiac. Sometimes, it hypnotic, and always is captivating. Briefly, Laraaji springs a surprise when dramatic flourishes of his zither add a contrast. Later, the arrangement returns to its understated, spacious and elegiac sound. By then, Laraaji’s music is reminiscent of Brian Eno’s classic seventies ambient music. It seems the pupil has learnt from the master, as Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance) is an ambient classic.

That’s why Glitterbeat’s recent reissue of Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance) is to be welcomed. It’s an ambient classic, that for far too long, has been overlooked. Especially, when compared to other albums in the Ambient series.

Brian Eno’s Ambient series started with Ambient 1 (Music For Airports). It’s an ambient classic. However, it was another two years before he returned with the next instalment in the series. 

Ambient 2 (The Plateaux Of Mirror) was released earlier in 1980, Brian Eno had collaborated with Harold Budd. This was a tantalising prospect. Here were two of ambient music’s pioneers collaborating on an album. They didn’t disappoint. Not only did the two colossi of ambient music produce a fitting followup to Ambient 1 (Music For Airports), they whetted record buyer’s appetites for the next instalment in the series.

Rather than bring onboard one of the big names in ambient music, Brian Eno brought onboard an unknown. It was Rocky-esque. 

Laraaji had been in training for this opportunity for years. This included years spent busking on the Big Apple’s streets. Then fate brought Brian Eno and Laraaji together. The result was Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance), the album that introduced Laraaji to a wider audience.

When they dropped the needle on Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance), they heard music that was variously beautiful, dreamy, elegiac, ethereal, melancholy, mesmeric and rhythmic. Other times it’s challenging, meditative, otherworldly and spiritual. Always, the music on Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance) was innovative. It was a fusion of ambient, Arabic, avant-garde, electronic, experimental, neo-industrial and world music. However, just like so many musical innovators, many people didn’t understand Laraaji’s music.

It wasn’t just Laraaji’s music people didn’t understand. They didn’t understand ambient music per se. Ambient music was very different to most commercial music. Throughout the seventies, it had been overlooked by most people. Instead, Philly Soul, disco and punk proving the soundtrack to the seventies. This was formulaic, disposable music at its worst. However, this music for social dopes was filling the charts and polluting the airwaves. Sadly, ambient, Komische and progressive rock were all being overlooked. That was music for the mind, rather than the feet. However, thankfully, times have changed.

Over the last few years, a new generation of record buyers have rediscovered Laraaji’s music. Somewhat belatedly, Laraaji’s music has found the audience it so richly deserves. This includes Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance), Laraaji’s collaboration with Brian Eno. 

With Brian Eno’s guidance, Laraaji blossomed on Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance). Soon, he came to be regarded as one of music’s pioneers. Since Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance), Laraaji has released nearly thirty albums. It’s innovative, cinematic and ethereal music. It toys with the listener’s emotions, and takes them on a journey, all the time, painting pictures in their mind’s eye. Sometimes, Laraaji throws a curveball, taking the listener somewhere they never expected to go. However, it’s a case of trust in Laraaji. This musical visionary takes the listener by the hand on Ambient 3 (Day Of Radiance), and takes them on an ethereal, mesmeric and captivating journey.



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