STEVEN HALPERN AND PAUL HORN
Connections
(Steven Halpern Music)

 

Recorded live 38 years ago, Connections is a classic example of what happens when two pioneering New Age musicians get together in the studio for an album of improvised and meditative music magic.

Steven Halpern and the late, great Paul Horn weave a hypnotic flow of cosmic sounds, highlighted by a series of five duets featuring their combined musical telepathy. A good example is the album’s lead-off track, “Shared Secrets Revisited”, a mesmerizing duet between the two artists that sets a perfect tone and mood as well as being an appropriate song title that reflects just how effectively these two musicians tuned in to each other and the same music at the same time.

Although the original 10-track, 47-minute LP version was considered state of the art sound-wise, in 1984, it was limited by the evident time constraints of vinyl. The 2022 CD version of Connections: 38th Anniversary Deluxe Edition utilizes modern state of the art sonic restoration technology, creating a 24-bit audiophile album that sounds even better than the original. This 14-track, 68 minute CD edition includes bonus tracks, some with new overdubs and new liner notes by Steven Halpern. These include cool period piece photos of Paul Horn with the Beatles and Donovan in India as well as a 2000 photo taken with Sri Swami Satchidananda, who was a fan of both artists.

The instrumentation throughout Connections is very inspiring. Paul Horn performs on his iconic solid gold flute, which produces an incredibly rich and healing tone. He also plays alto flute, bass flute, soprano sax and Chinese bamboo flute. Keyboardist and producer Steven Halpern orchestrates many magical sounds on a range of keyboards including his signature Rhodes electric piano, grand piano, ambient synths as well as trumpet. Filling out the ensemble tracks and providing sensual rhythmic grooves are Marc Van Wageningen on fretless electric bass, and George Marsh on drum kit, congas and additional percussion.

Among the album highlights is track 3 entitled “Fantasy Flight”. A fascinating work of art inspired by Paul Horn’s recordings made inside the Taj Mahal, in Tibet and with Haida the killer whale, “Fantasy Flight” is entirely improvised in real time. With the help of his looping pedal, the track is a fitting testament to the late artist’s improvisational genius. As producer, Halpern’s magical touch created the uplifting studio ambience that inspired Paul Horn to go where he had never gone before on any of his own solo albums.

This new CD revisits the title track “Connections” and “Shared Secrets” by adding additional textures of angelic choir and atmospheric sonic textures that amplify the energy of the live recording, and which were recorded on the 35th anniversary of their studio date. In the liner notes, Halpern states that he was actually hearing these layers as he was playing live with Horn, but obviously did not have enough hands to do make them audible. Check out “Shared Secrets Revisited” and “Connections Revisited” to hear and feel the difference.

Connections introduced many listeners to New Age music when it was first released. Connections: 38th Anniversary Deluxe Edition is now poised to introduce new generations of new and long-time listeners to this all-time classic, as well as their individual recordings.

 


 

mwe3.com presents a new interview with
STEVEN HALPERN

mwe3: Steven, your new release, Connections: 38th Anniversary Deluxe Edition features two artists that the Los Angeles Times acknowledges as ‘the pioneers the New Age genre, Steven Halpern and Paul Horn.” You are still actively recording and releasing albums, and have a huge presence on Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming platforms, but many of our readers may not be familiar with Paul Horn, who passed way in 2014. Can you give some historical perspective on how did this album first came about, and why release a new deluxe edition now?

Steven Halpern: Paul Horn and I became lifelong friends while recording together, bonding on musical and spiritual dimensions. In 2013, I called him up to suggest that we do a 30th anniversary edition of Connections, as many famous bands and solo artists often do. Of course, there are only a handful of artists who even have a career that stretches 30 or 40 years as we both had. The plan was to record a few new tracks to add to the original. Unfortunately, his illness precluded any new recording, and when he passed in 2014, I put the project on hold.

I then planned to release a 35th Anniversary edition, but that got postponed by Covid. On the anniversary of our original studio dates, I added additional layers of choir and atmospheric textures that deepened the resonance. In point of fact, as we were recording in 1984, I was hearing these sounds in my inner ear as I was playing the piano and listening to him improvising exquisite melodies over chord changes I had composed that he had never seen until that moment. I wanted to share these enhanced duets with our existing fans, and especially, to introduce Paul Horn to new generations.

mwe3: Is there a difference between the original Connections vinyl Lp release and the 38th Anniversary Edition on CD? I know changed the running order of the tracks too. What other revelations came to you while you were preparing this updated anniversary release?

Steven Halpern: Here’s another important point, Robert. The original Lp was set up with Side A, duets; Side B, quartet, adding bass and percussion. For today’s world, the first three songs need to be key tracks, and that’s how I re-sequenced the album.

There’s another major reason that I begin the new album with “Shared Secrets”. There was a moment when we were recording when we both tuned into the same current. When it happened, our eyes locked, and I felt a bolt of white light in my third eye.

We had connected on a higher vibration. We recognized each other on a soul level. This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. We’d go on to do many concerts together, both in the US, at New Age expos, spiritual conferences and even in Moscow in 1987.

mwe3: You mention in the liner notes that this is a very special album among the one hundred albums that you have recorded. Can you explain some further thoughts about that?

Steven Halpern: Connections marked the first time I had recorded with a famous jazz artist of an earlier generation rather than New Age musicians of my own age. Not only that, most of my collaborations were one on one. Until Connections, I had never taken on multiple roles of recording artist, composer, producer and mixdown engineer.

For the first day, we decided to bring in bass and percussion. I had met George Marsh years earlier, when he played drums with Denny Zeitlin. I had never met Mark van Wageningen, a bass player born in Holland and new to the Bay Area. Mark has gone on to play with Sheila E., Tower of Power, and many other great artists.

As is often the case, when musicians get together, they usually play a blues to get warmed up. It’s a very familiar and comfortable format. I suggested we stretch out the basic progression… and leave a lot of empty space, like a Zen Space blues.

mwe3: You said Connections helped you develop your production skills. Did you feel comfortable in the role of album producer? Did it come to you naturally?

Steven Halpern: Suddenly, here I was giving directions to other musicians. But they got it. Somehow, I channeled ‘producer chops’ and just knew how to do what needed to be done. And that includes setting the vibrational environment to allow heightened creativity to manifest.

At the end of the first take, which was a good warmup, I requested a second take. And I gave the bass player directions, based on understanding African drumming, which I studied at University of Buffalo in 1968. Marc picked right up the concept, and we were on our way.

The track begins just with Paul and me, trading opening statements. Then we bring in the band. I had never been in a live recording where I am playing my part, listening to everyone else, and creating a fine live mix. In fact, we did record the band live.

When Paul and I recorded our duets, we recorded live. For me, it was a bit like tightrope walking, but without a net. If I couldn’t hold up my end of the rhythm section and lead solo voice to balance with Paul, there would not have been an album.

But there was. The next year, when New Age music made it to Time magazine and Newsweek several A&R guys from major labels mentioned that they were impressed with my skills as producer and arranger, as well as composer and keyboardist.

mwe3: How was the album received when it was first released in 1985? It’s great for music fans to gain exposure to the music nearly 40 years later.

Steven Halpern: Connections was an immediate hit, and Paul and I were often invited to perform solo and together at the same New Age expos and spiritual conferences. Paul always appreciated how much I helped him get introduced to the New Age marketplace in the early 1980s, and it’s again my honor and privilege to keep the music of my dear friend available to listeners who deserve to know about his creative genius.

When Paul Horn passed in 2014, his website was still online for a few years. But as I discovered when finishing the Connections 38th Anniversary edition, that site is now longer viable. I did, however, obtain PaulHornMusic.co, and will build that site for him in the near future. There is a special energy...

mwe3: Can you reflect on what the music industry was like in the mid-1980s? With the advent of the compact disc, things changed so drastically by 1985.

Steven Halpern: I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the mainstream music industry. I was not heavily involved. Most of my distributors and store accounts were in the alternative market, which I helped create. One of the reasons for this was that, in order to sell my own albums, stores wanted to add other artists to their fledgling music sections. So I created the first multi-artist distributor network.

The big tech news was the introduction of the compact disc. However, the early sampling rate was 8 bit, and the music sounded tinny. Not until the sampling rate doubled to 16 bit did the format make musical sense to me. As I was to discover, it was not just the technology, but the CD mastering engineers who were often to blame.

The most important thing you need to understand is that at the early stage, major labels owned all the CD pressing plants. As an independent record label, I was shut out of producing my own CDs.

mwe3: I know many other independent labels that couldn’t press a CD in the US in 1985. Some labels were destroyed by giving their masters to unscrupulous distributors just as New Age music was starting to thrive.

Steven Halpern: In 1985, however, New Age music made a breakthrough into mainstream consciousness. There were featured articles in Time and Newsweek. I was approached by several labels, who promised that they would make pressing CDs of my existing albums, which I had already released on LP and cassette, would be their first priority.

mwe3: Plus, very few people knew how to master and later mix albums for CD in 1985.

Steven Halpern: So… I signed a P&D deal, i.e., pressing and distribution deal. Things didn’t work out as they promised, and I was soon back in business as an independent. But not before a remarkable, life-changing moment. Most artists on a major label never get to be in the studio when the CD is being mastered. I was in the room with the Grammy winning engineer, George Horn, and he was assigned to master my Connections album with Paul Horn… by the way, no relation!

He began cranking up the treble on every track. I said, “What the fuck are you doing, man? You’re making the music sound tinny. You are destroying the beautiful warmth of Paul’s golden flute. He entrusted me with producing this album, and he’s not going to be happy. Neither am I.”

He replied, “Don’t tell me what to do, son. I have years of experience. You don’t”. I replied, “True, but I know what the music should sound like. I was in the room when it happened. And you, sir, may have years of experience, but you also have lost some of your hearing. You have high frequency threshold shift.” And with that, I grabbed my masters and ran out the door.

mwe3: You started talking about how the original Connections album was planned out and recorded.

Steven Halpern: The original LP was set up with Side A being duets. Side B was a quartet, adding bass and percussion. None of us had ever played with each other before, and we had no rehearsal. We met in the studio, and bonded quickly. All the tracks were cut live. I did additional overdubbing on my own after we finished all the basics.

mwe3: Going back to 1985 and the CD making problems. It did start to improve in the ensuing years.

Steven Halpern: By this time, independent CD pressing plants began to spring up, and I began to immediately manufacture CDs of all of my major albums, including Spectrum Suite, Comfort Zone and Ancient Echoes.

When new generations of ProTools mastering software became available, I remastered Connections in 2009. Ten years later, even better software made it possible to make the CD sound even better than the original LP master tapes, and that is what you’ll hear on the 38th Anniversary Edition.

mwe3: You mentioned in our last interview there is a connection between Connections and what became your 2021 album Cannabis Dreams. Can you tell us more.

Steven Halpern: I’m saving the entire story for the chapter in my upcoming memoir. But what I can share is that I experienced a mind-blowing confirmation of the power of cannabis to enhance musical telepathy with another musician, to literally get on the same wavelength.

The shift began at the end of the Connections track “Windwalker”. It blossomed in fullness as Paul felt an extra surge of inspiration, even though I was in the control room and he was isolated in the soundproofed studio.

mwe3: Tell us about some of your favorite tracks from Connections.

Steven Halpern: My favorite tracks include our first duet I Paul and I recorded, which became the title track. No rehearsal. We meditated in silence for about 30 seconds, then I said, “Let’s start out in D minor. Follow me.”

mwe3: “Fantasy Flight”, a solo track, is an amazing highlight of Connections.

Steven Halpern: “Fantasy Flight” was recorded live, with the aid of his looping pedal. I believe it is the single best flute solo ever recorded. Paul adds layers of melody on top of drone tones, more symphonically than he had ever done before. This track was never properly promoted back in the day. But with digital streaming and individual tracks being able to be highlighted, I want everyone to check out this amazing musical manifestation.

mwe3: You said the Connections track “Thigh Chi” was a pun on Tai Chi? You say it’s based on a Nigerian fertility rhythm? Among the tracks with the other players, you also said that “Thigh Chi”, “Tao Home Blues” and “Touchstone” are kind of precursors to World Beat grooves that came later in the 1990s. I know you are also well versed in African drumming.

Steven Halpern: For our third groove, I asked George Marsh, the percussionist, for a sensual groove. He kicked off a Nigerian rhythm. I had him slow it down a tad, and then we all locked in. It was based on a Nigerian fertility rhythm. That’s why it’s call “Thigh Chi”. Lots of good energy moving through the lower chakras.

mwe3: “Tao Home Blues” is another highlight of Connections.

Steven Halpern: The day of recording, we met in the studio for the first time. As musicians often do, I suggested we warm up with a blues. “But,’ I said, Let’s really stretch out the time… and leave lots of space.”

mwe3: “Touchstone” is a great track featuring all the musicians.

Steven Halpern: Paul and I wanted a groove with more energy. The drummer switched to congas, and we jammed in G minor. It was good, but not great. So we did two takes. After the first take, I sang a rhythmic bass riff I learned when I studied African music in college. This was the foundational part, usually played by the tribal chief. He dug the concept, and even though it was new to him, tuned right in.

Marc Van Wageningen was new in the San Francisco Bay area then. He went on to become a premier player gigging with Sheila E. and Tower of Power. Marc has played on four subsequent albums and always brings his ability to lock into the pocket. And for me, every once in a while when he’s playing in other bands, I hear the phrase I sang to him and smile.

mwe3: What else can we expect from you this year into 2023?

Steven Halpern: A lot, including updating and releasing my “Golden Oldies” series and my “Lost Tape” series; some of the masters were lost in the fire but I found pieces in other reel to reel boxes.

Also Ocean Of Bliss Vol. 2, including an extended track featuring Paul McCandless. Ocean Of Bliss 2 has more grand piano plus two tracks with Kristin Hoffmann. Deep Bamboo, featuring master Shakuhachi and Bansuri bamboo flute player Jorge Alfano. The album will include a few tracks from Deep Alpha 2.0 and some brand new duets no one has ever heard...

They have all been in the process. Some were remastered years ago, just waiting for the right time… after the rebirth of Spectrum Suite, that started the process.

mwe3: Tell me more about the Golden Oldies series. You said these tracks were never promoted, as they were ahead of their time.

Steven Halpern: There was no genre and no sections in retail stores for this kind of music. With the unlimited deep catalog available in the digital domain, many of these titles will be available again… and some for the first time. All will be sonically improved, too. Titles include my space music / synth/ electronic keyboard series from the late 1970s and early ‘80s including Rings Of Saturn, Corridors Of Time, Hear To Eternity, Rain Ragas (with Dr. Sunill K. Bose) and, never before released as an anthology: Strings, my guitar album, bringing together all my guitar tracks on albums that most people never heard.

 

 




 

 
   
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