Choying Drolma and Steve Tibbetts
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Choying Drolma and Steve Tibbetts
Six Degrees Records (

cd cover Steve Tibbetts can make a guitar do some pretty incredible things. For over two decades his penchant for creating bold, sonically adventurous soundscapes with a combination of technical wizardry, freewheeling compositional skills and sheer chops has made him seem like the musical equivalent of one who creates impressionistic paintings or sculptures. The artistry is there for you to admire, while the deeper meaning is more elusive. Unfortunately, Tibbetts' eclectic approach has made his string of albums for the ECM label a mixed bag. Sometimes he seems more intent on messing with your mind than producing actual songs. Still, his creative vision and his obvious leaning toward global music (most obvious in his expanding use of sounds from all over the globe and his retaining of wide-ranging percussionist Marc Anderson as his frequent musical partner) keep him worth listening to. I must admit I know nothing of the 1997 CD Cho in which Tibbetts teamed with a feisty but deeply spiritual Tibetan Buddhist singing nun named Choying Drolma, but the pair's current release, Selwa, is stunning. Even as it comes across like a soundtrack for gazing meditatively at misty Himalayan mountains, it stirs a deeper restlessness and longing that seems to put hope just within reach. The serene quiver of Drolma's singing perfectly suits the enlightenment-seeking chants and prayers that she intones without ever overreaching or overdramatizing. It's clearly the voice of an indomitable spirit, one who saw fit to challenge the male-dominated status quo of Buddhism (and has now founded a school to humbly empower other nuns to do the same through a curriculum that goes beyond the tenets of the faith). Tibbets and Anderson provide a cohesive musical backing that radiates with layers of guitars, drones, distant percussion and a spatial quality that invites you into a wide open space where solemnity and celebration go hand in hand. I'm not sure what the Buddhist concept of heaven is, but Choying Drolma and Steve Tibbetts are surely a match made in it. -Tom Orr

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