RANDY ARMSTRONG & VOLKER NAHRMANN
Beyond Borders
(UMP Records)

 

Guitarist Randy Armstrong joins forces with bass player Volker Nahrmann on the 2015 CD release of Beyond Borders. More than a collection of tracks, the album is a scenic travelogue covering a range of World Beat music with the accent on Latin, Brazilian and Indian music and those genres are just some of the scenic signposts dotting the album’s sweeping terrain. In addition to his expert synth guitar work and his background in exotic percussion, Randy Armstrong is a seasoned guitarist who is equally gifted on both classical, steel string and electric guitars and he uses all of it to enhance the sound. Volker Narhmann gives the album its tasteful sonic thunder so to speak and he plays a range of different acoustic and electric basses. Also worth noting is the muted trumpet sound of Cuban-born musician, Yaure Muniz. The CD features numerous guest musicians, including some excellent percussionists, ranging from full kit to incidental percussive sounds. There’s a colorful and well done CD booklet featuring track by track details of the wide range of music here, including tracks devoted to Ravi Shankar, George Harrison and Dizzy Gillespie. Surprisingly, instead of being made in Rio or even L.A., Beyond Borders was recorded in Barrington, New Hampshire but if you close your eyes you can feel the music carry you beyond borders indeed. Filled with cool World Beat moods and meditative Global Groove sounds, Beyond Borders will take your mind to far off lands. www.RandyArmstrong.com

 





mwe3.com presents an interview with
RANDY ARMSTRONG
& VOLKER NAHRMANN


mwe3: Your new CD, Beyond Borders is one the finest guitar-based World Beat / Jazz albums of 2015. Is there a good inside story on how the Beyond Borders album took shape and happened and how you met and then worked together? Give us a little history on the meeting of the minds.


Randy Armstrong: Beyond Borders was five years in the making and a labor of love by Volker and myself. With the paradigm shift in the music industry and few major record labels still out there to record our next project, we decided to record a collection of songs the way we wanted to hear them performed and produced by ourselves. We are very proud of Beyond Borders. It represents our highest aspirations as musicians and composers. We had many songs that had been composed over a long period of time, but never recorded. We looked at each other and said let’s just start recording, arranging and selecting musicians to realize and document these songs. It has been quite a journey to say the least. There are 35 musicians from around the world performing on this CD. All the living members of Do’a and Unu Mondo are featured and have contributed to the album.

Volker Nahrmann: I joined Do’a World Music Ensemble in 1986 and recorded on their 5th album, World Dance. We were with Global Pacific Records/CBS back then. My first performance with Do’a was at the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco in front of a crowd of 10,000 and started with a bowed bass solo. Talk about trial by fire! Randy and I have kept an enduring friendship and musical collaboration for all these years and founded Unu Mondo when Do’a disbanded in ’91 to continue the spirit of this music. Both of us have a profound love of musical traditions from around the world as well as jazz in all its forms and western classical music. This has been the glue in our musical pursuits for over two decades. We compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses as musicians and both of us have a bit of a perfectionist streak in our personalities that comes in handy in the studio. However we both love improvising and jamming on a cool groove as well.

mwe3: Would you describe the sound of Beyond Borders as being jazz or World Beat music? I haven’t counted all the instruments you’re playing on the CD but it’s over twenty. You also spoke about how Beyond Borders is a catalyst to uplifting the human spirit. So on the Beyond Borders CD, there’s the musical side, then there’s the healing and environmentally friendly spirit?

Randy Armstrong: It has been always a challenge to categorize our music and especially on such a broad and eclectic album as Beyond Borders. I have always said it is a blend of contemporary jazz with world fusion inspired by the many traditions of music and instrumental colors from around the globe, including indigenous folk and western classical. I have a collection of over 300 instruments and specialize on a wide variety of strings and percussion. I have also studied North Indian sitar and tabla, drumming traditions of the African diaspora and many other world instruments and musical traditions. I have taught North Indian music and served as director of the West African drumming ensemble at Phillips Exeter Academy for over twenty years as an adjunct faculty member. I have been calling our music, “World Jazz” as of late. When I first began creating this style of music and recording in the mid-1970’s, there was no such thing as World Music or World Beat sections in record stores. Most records, on vinyl, were in bins labeled International or some such category. Our world is transforming and we are truly now a Global Village with incredible diversity.

We believe that the Earth is one country and we are all citizens of that country with our abundance of amazing cultural diversity, which is the beauty of living in this time in human history. Musicians have been seizing the day and experimenting and blending musical traditions for decades. I look at this phenomenon as "Unity with Diversity". As frightening as the news can be, I have great hope for humanity. Many artists, musicians, dancers, inventors, humanitarians, activists and forward thinking people all over the world are leading the way. As one of our songs says in the title, “There’s Always Hope”.

Volker Nahrmann
: Putting our music in a genre shoebox has always been problematic. It seems that music sellers and marketers need that type of categorization but our music is precisely the opposite of being a genre: it is all genres. Like the title of this CD says it goes beyond the borders of conventional CDs that might be in one style only. We profoundly respect and study the various musical styles in depth that we might use for our songs and then use musicians that are from those cultures to genuinely represent the various styles. The result is a song that can stand up to anybody’s scrutiny when it comes to authenticity.

mwe3: How was Beyond Borders recorded? Was it mostly done live or with overdubs and even internet files to connect with musicians in the far flung corners of the globe? Tell us about Beauty Hill Recording Studio up in New Hampshire. The album recording sounds state of the art so the studio must be a great place to record in right? Tell us about New Hampshire. I’ve never been there, it’s way up north!

Randy Armstrong: Beauty Hill Recording Studio is nestled in northern New England in the small rural town of Barrington, New Hampshire in a restored farmhouse built circa 1840.

It has been a great place to record and compose in our digital project studio. The way the house was built, we achieve great sound recordings. We use Ableton Live as our DAW and have some very nice mics and of course, many incredible sounding instruments. In the middle of the winter you get a great hush with blankets of snow bafflingly any outside sound. What better way to spend a snowstorm just so long that you do not lose your electricity. In this digital world you can also send audio files to musicians around the world. Olga Roman who sings on our album recorded in a studio in Madrid with the audio files we sent her. It is a New Age in recording. Exciting… and very Global.

Volker Nahrmann: We recorded all of the basic tracks ourselves in the studio and then brought in the featured guest musicians for overdubs. In this digital world you can also send audio files to musicians around the world. Our friend Olga Roman who sang on our album Hand In Hand recorded in a studio in Madrid with the audio files we sent her. It is a New Age recording. Exciting and very global.

I still think about the session when we recorded the 11 members of the Black Thunder Singers in the fireplace room at Beauty Hill studio and feeling the power of their beat shaking the house.

mwe3: How many albums have you made including all your overall titles, solo, and with the bands Do’a World Music Ensemble and Unu Mondo? I remember the Global Pacific label that you recorded on earlier. Are the members of your earlier bands on Beyond Borders too? Did you have a short list of all the players you wanted to join you on the album? There must be at least 20 musicians on the CD.

Randy Armstrong: I personally have recorded on over 40 albums, film, dance and theater scores through the years. My first 4 records were on Philo / Rounder Records label. Philo was based in Burlington, Vermont and Rounder in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The 5th album was recorded for Rounder but Global Pacific / CBS acquired the master and released World Dance in the mid-1980’s. After Do’a, Volker and I formed the group, Unu Mondo and released our Hand In Hand album with Global Pacific Records that went out of business in the late 1990’s. I have also recorded for Ellipsis Arts and the Domo Record labels as well as our own label, UMP Records, a division of Unu Mondo Productions.

The CD jacket has a list of the 35 musicians on Beyond Borders, including the 2011 Native American Music Award winning artists, Black Thunder Singers.

Volker Nahrmann: We wanted to honor our relationships and great times performing this music live, so we invited all the living members of Do’a and Unu Mondo to record with us again for this project.

In the mid 2000s we bought back all the masters of Do’a and Unu Mondo from Rounder/Philo and Global Pacific and they have been rereleased on our own label UMP Records.

mwe3: There is a tribute to George Harrison and Ravi Shankar and Dizzy Gillespie on the Beyond Borders CD. I also read that your band Do’a actually opened for Dizzy way back in 1976, which is very cool. What do you remember most about Dizzy? He really endorsed you big time back then so it’s nice to see his influence on the “Unidad” track.

Randy Armstrong: Dizzy Gillespie was a great musician and humanitarian. He was very generous in spirit and was influential with his encouragement to add percussion on the early Do’a albums. He is a wonderful Baha’i brother and endorsed the first album by Do’a, Light Upon Light.

mwe3: In the Ravi Shankar / George Harrison tribute song on Beyond Borders, “Shanti Om” you play a number of instruments. It’s a brilliant melody as I never heard it before. But the vocal and then the rock edge springs the song to life. Tell us about your sitar sound and what do the words “Shanti Om” mean to you?

Randy Armstrong: The melody for the song came from an improvisation many years ago. The song was recorded and performed live for the finale dance of a production of the epic poem, "The Mahabharata" for Phillips Exeter Academy. Shanti is the word peace in Hindi. I have spent my whole musical life promoting the concepts of peace through music. It is the central theme of all the songs on Beyond Borders.

Hearing George Harrison play sitar with the Beatles and subsequently being introduced to Ravi Shankar and the music of India opened up a whole new universe of sound to me. It led to years of studying sitar and tabla and several trips to India. "Shanti Om" is my way of giving thanks to that process. One of my favorite moments in "Shanti Om" is Volker’s bass solo.

Volker Nahrmann: Thanks man, I loved doubling the melody on Dilruba as well.

mwe3: The guitars Randy plays on Beyond Borders sound very impressive. Are those your favorite guitars or are there others in your collection too? How has your choice of guitars changed over the years? Is the acoustic cutaway guitar on the inside cover pages of the booklet the Michael Jackson-Hardy 6 string? Tell us about the other guitars on the CD?

Randy Armstrong: I play two six string and one twelve string handmade acoustic guitars by Michael Jacobson Hardy. I also played a beautiful 1948 Gibson cutaway jazz guitar for many of the solos as well as a G&L Telecaster, 1970’s Electra ES-335 model guitar, Godin Multiac Jazz, a handmade classical guitar by Puerto Rican maker, Guillermo Del Pilar, 1980’s Fender Strat Plus and a 1971 Radha Krishna Sharma sitar, I have 14 guitars in my collection including a Jerry Jones Electric Sitar, Cordorba Flamenco, 1930’s Armstrong Dansant acoustic and 1954 Gibson ES-125 among others.

mwe3: “There’s Always Hope” is another key moment on the CD. You say it harks back to the late 1970s sound of The Paul Winter Consort and this Beyond Borders version of “There’s Always Hope” also has Eugene Friesen from the Winter Consort. With the Swingle Singers like backing vocals, the song kind of has an upbeat late 1960s feel too. You both were into Paul Winter as well because of his environmentalism. How did Winter’s environmentalism affect your own approach and overall musical sound?

Randy Armstrong: Do’a shared the stage with the Paul Winter Consort several times. One of our early booking agents also worked with Paul Winter. Paul spent so much of his life supporting environmental issues through music and was inspirational with his approach in sharing his music. I was also a big admirer of the early Consort with guitarist Ralph Towner, percussionist/sitarist Colin Wolcott, cellist David Darling, oboe player Paul McCandless and bassist Glen Moore. Subsequently, Eugene Friesen took over the cello seat in the Consort and we had the opportunity to play the song with him. The song was first played by Unu Mondo in the mid-1990’s and written by Volker. We created the new arrangement that appears on the CD featuring Eugene Friesen on cello and Unu Mondo member, Charlie Jennison on soprano sax.

Volker Nahrmann: Having been a very early supporter of the Green movement in Germany, I fell in love with Paul’s music and mission when we met. I was especially inspired by Paul’s Canyon album and the rolling rhythm of the "River Run" song during the time that the theme of "Hope" came to me.
The song was first played by Unu Mondo in the mid-90’s and featured Eugene in that concert. We created the new arrangement for Beyond Borders featuring Eugene Friesen on cello and Unu Mondo member, Charlie Jennison on soprano sax.

mwe3: There’s so many different genres of music covered on Beyond Borders. Are there other styles or sounds you’d like to go in next and will there be a Beyond Borders 2 in the future? Would you consider doing a DVD at some point, to fully capture your colorful music or a possible CD compilation and what can you tell us about your plans for the rest of 2015 and even into 2016?

Volker Nahrmann: I am sure our association will bear many more fruits down the road. Where do we travel next?...

Randy Armstrong: There are so many more musical styles and instrumental colors to explore for the future. We live in a wonderful time of discovery. I have been commissioned to record and compose an original score for a dance and theater and production of the epic Persian Sufi poem, “The Conference Of The Birds” to be performed by over 10 dance troupes of many traditions from around the world. The soundtrack will be released in March 2016. I am sure Volker will be involved in the production. We also plan to release and publish a remaster edition of our Hand In Hand album with two additional bonus songs written by Volker that never made it on the original release. Let’s just say, the beat goes on…




 

 
   
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