CD: Beyond Borders
Artists: Randy Armstrong & Volker Nahrmann

Beyond Borders CD cover (Armstrong & Nahrmann)I must say that I was thrilled to hear about this new release by Randy Armstrong and Volker Nahrmann. When I began my career as a new age music journalist back in 1982, writing a monthly review column for New Frontier Magazine, guitarist Randy Armstrong was one of the first artists I wrote about. At that time he was part of group called Do’a that was one of the original ensembles to mix new age, jazz, folk, and classical with world music instruments and rhythms. At first, the group was a duo with Randy and Ken LaRoche and later expanded to include other members, one of them being German bassist Volker Nahrmann, who joined Do’a on their fifth album, World Dance (which went to #7 on Billboard’s World Music Chart). I had the pleasure of seeing the original duo and writing about them early on (so early, in fact that their music was on vinyl records) as well as seeing the ensemble later. I had never experienced anything like it at the time, the way they integrated so many diverse instruments from around the world into their compositions and performances. But, not surprisingly, world unity has been and continues to be a major theme in Do’a and now with Randy and Volker’s new album, Beyond Borders.


The connection these two musicians formed in Do’a has endured through the decades and they have collaborated on various projects and recordings including the formation of a contemporary jazz/ world music ensemble called Unu Mondo around 1992. Over the years, they have toured the globe, absorbing international musical traditions like a sponge. With the release of Beyond Borders, Randy and Volker have taken their rich musical fusion to new levels. The album includes an impressive list of global musicians and cultural influences. And as always, it is dedicated to the belief that music has the power to uplift the human spirit and be a catalyst for change in the world.


Before delving into a discussion of the music, I must comment on the packaging of the CD. The artwork is exquisite and the album comes with a full-color 16 page booklet of photos and info about the songs and the project overall. This is something you don’t see often these days, and adds greatly to the experience of Beyond Borders. The digital download version also includes a .pdf of the booklet as well.


The sound of Brazil fills the air as the album takes flight with a lively propulsive track called “Ciao Bella.” RandyBeyond Borders features an extensive roster of international guest musicians – too many to list them all, however a significant element of this song is the scat vocalizing of Olga Roman from Spain, who reminded me a bit of one of my all time favorite Brazilian singers, Flora Purim. I also greatly enjoyed Randy’s tasteful jazzy guitar work. Although guitar is his main instrument, throughout the album he also plays sitar, flutes and a huge variety of world music instruments. The same goes for Volker, who in addition to acoustic and electric bass adds his considerable talents on piano, keyboards, sound effects, and horn arrangements. They both contribute vocals as well.


VolkerUp next is the interestingly titled “Fear Not Fear,” which they describe as “reflecting the triumph of human hearts over the many fears and challenges that all people experience through the journey of life.” Volker’s pulsing bass over Latin percussion rhythms power this upbeat tune. A nice touch was the unison melody line played by Randy on guitar and former Unu Mondo member Ken Gable on sax. The album contains several tributes to well-known musicians who have influenced Randy and Volker. The first of these is entitled “Unidad – Tribute To Dizzy Gillespie.” According to Randy: “I remember when Do’a opened for Dizzy at a jazz club in 1976. We were just getting started, but Dizzy was very positive and supportive and generous with his encouragement and advice. He suggested adding percussion to our sound and that spurred us to study and incorporate more world rhythms.” Although Randy composed this song in 1978, it was never recorded until now. Dizzy was a big fan of Latin rhythms and that fiery influence is beautifully captured in this loving tribute to him.


The next homage on Beyond Borders is entitled “Shanti Om – Dedicated to Ravi Shankar and George ravigeorge2Harrison.” I was especially interested to hear this track, having had the honor of interviewing the great Indian master musician Ravi Shankar for a magazine article back in the 1997, and discussing his relationship with George Harrison. Not surprisingly, this track begins meditatively with sitar and tamboura before moving into a more rhythmic passage with guitar, Carnatic violin, keyboards, vocals, various percussion, and tabla drums played by former Do’a drummer Marty Quinn. On this track, in addition to co-writing the song with Randy, Volker plays bass (including a stand-out bass solo), keyboards and a bowed Indian stringed instrument called a dilruba.


The next track, “White Cloud Black Thunder” pays tribute to a very different “Indian” tradition that is worlds away from the India of Ravi Shankar. As Volker shares: “This song celebrates the power of the natural world and of the Native American culture.” The track features the Native American Music Award winning Black Thunder Singers along with Randy on the Lakota courting flute and other instruments. Volker, the song’s primary composer plays upright bass, keyboards, and sound effects, and is joined by accompanists on alto sax and drums. This piece is a fascinating fusion of traditional Native American singing and drumming with contemporary jazz elements.


Evoking a more new age ambience than most of the songs on the album is a lovely piece entitled “There’s Always Hope,” which features Grammy winning cellist Eugene Friesen of The Paul Winter Consort. Their connection with Eugene goes back to the late 70’s when Do’a shared the stage with the Consort. At the time the members of Do’a were impressed with the way Paul Winter’s music was used to promote environmentalism. This piece is an inspired blend of various instrumental elements and vocal choir that lifts the music to lofty realms. While almost all of the songs on Beyond Borders feature an ensemble, a track called “Love Letters – The Story of Abelard and Heloise” is a poignant duet between Randy and Volker that tells a tragic love story dating back to medieval France, in a style reminiscent of the café music of France and cinema music of Italy. It is a wistfully touching piece that provides a contrast to much of the other music on the album, including the next track, “Fun In The Sun.” This decidedly celebratory song reflects the vibrant Afro-Caribbean music and rhythms of West Africa and features a number of percussionists and vocalists from that part of the world. It’s hard to sit still while listening to this one! The recording draws to a soulful conclusion with short piece called “Unidad Epilogue,” that completes the tribute to Dizzy Gillespie with Randy and Volker being accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful muted trumpet solo played by Yaure Muniz.


world peaceBeyond Borders certainly lives up to its title, providing a veritable melting pot of world music influences that transcend cultural boundaries. The album was five years in the making and represents a unique collection of songs created over a span of four decades. I could not help but reflect on this musical mélange and the harmony created by these diverse elements, and wonder what the human race could achieve if we could only work together as one. Perhaps the powerful and inspiring music created by Randy, Volker, and various artists from around the world can serve as an example for the strength of mutual respect and unity as we strive to build bridges to a better world for all. Beyond Borders is a stunning statement from two consummate musicians who have dedicated their lives and artistry to the betterment of humanity and the planet we live on.