||Some CDs' music match their cover's "projected image" perfectly, and inhale slowly fits into that paradigm. This is a supremely relaxing recording and if ever music could be said to calm one's breath and slow down one's heartbeat, I would have to imagine that this album would be at the top of the list of CDs recommended to do just that. Tim White (bamboo flute, sitar, guitar, esraj – another Indian stringed instrument but one which is bowed, not plucked) and Joe Paulino (piano, synths, percussion) have teamed together to produce a sublime piece of work. While there is an undeniable air of East Indian musical influence, it would be dismissive to state this is a mere piece of East Indian fusion music. It is so much more.
inhale slowly is the doppleganger (of sorts) to the ground-breaking recording from East Indian fusionist Al Gromer Khan, Mahogany Nights (1990, Hearts of Space). However, where Khan on that recording (and successive ones such as 1996's Black Marble & Sweet Fire) united East Indian sitar music with an overtly electronic ambient aesthetic, tinted with mystery and dark sensuality, White and Paulino have taken their Indian fusion into the realm of serenity, bathed in a warm glow and flowing with peace. Many of the same musical elements are there on both recordings, e.g. long track times (3 songs on inhale slowly are in the 16 minute range), sparse melodies, and an overall minimalist approach to structure. But that is where comparisons inevitably end. White and Paulino lead the listener not into the shadows but into the warm glow and gentle suffused light of a day's ending (see the cover graphic for just what I am referring to with this image). While there are synthesizers present on inhale slowly, they are used more as shading and underlying accompaniment to the flute, sitar, and piano (the three dominant instruments). It's not that the synths are noticed, but they seldom call attention to themselves. In Gromer Khan's music, the synths play an integral role in evoking a darker, more purely ambient aesthetic.
morning chai begins the album with synth shimmers and subtle drones, set against sparse piano notes, sitar, and the wafting notes from White's bamboo flute. Each lead instrument steps into the spotlight briefly, plays a few notes, and then retreats allowing another one to come into focus. This goes on, soothingly, for the full 16+ minutes. Gently strummed guitar is also sometimes heard, but piano, sitar and flute are the principal instruments heard. While occasionally the instruments "overlap" most of the time a single one is heard over the bedrock of drones and shimmering synthesizer tones. For me, one of the smartest decisions that White and Paulino make is to keep the pace of the music at the same level throughout (not just this track but the entire CD). This continuity reinforces the serene nature and calming effect of the music.
hidden oasis opens with a more pronounced Indian feel, courtesy of a tamboura drone, soon joined by sitar, flute and piano. The mood is even more relaxed, if that's possible, than "morning chai" as the flute has a languid air to it and the underlying synths on the track are even more subtly employed than on the previous song. in-joy is ushered in by guitar, piano and flute at a very relaxed pace. A plucked guitar string, a chord strummed, a few piano notes or a chord, short waves of flute melody, and underneath it synth washes which add just the right amount of gentle atmosphere. The more I listened to this CD, the more I found myself becoming so relaxed that trying to write a review while it was playing proved daunting to say the least!
On the fourth track, island pulse, a slow rhythm is introduced and the music creeps up the pace slightly. However, since the instrumentation stays the same, unless you were paying strict, close attention, you may not be that cognizant of the slight variation (the beats come from a large frame-drum played by Paulino but are muted enough to barely intrude into one's consciousness). While this cut does "elevate" the mood somewhat, I can't say it disturbs the flow one bit. The title track, which concludes the CD, is where White brings the esraj into the picture, but he wisely does not allow it to overpower the other "players" so that sitar, flute, and piano still dominate the scene (which is as it should be).
One cannot overlook the ubiquitous presence of East Indian influence on inhale slowly, but unlike many Indian fusion recordings, the album is geared specifically to relaxation, meditation, and inducing a state of calm and serenity. As a result, despite its world beat flavors, I would classify it less as world fusion and more as "new age/relaxation" even bordering on a warm variant of ambient. Unless a listener hates the sound of sitar (and I suppose there are some who do), the minimalist, beautiful aesthetic at work here should appeal to a wide variety of devotees of relaxing, soothing music.