Label: Numero Group
Format: 4LP Box + Book
Out of stock
Numero Group are thrilled to announce Segue To Infinity, a 4-LP boxed set containing the earliest-known recordings by new age visionary and sound artist, Laraaji, out February 10th. A multi-instrumentalist, mystic, and laughter meditation practitioner, Laraaji arguably remains the most respected and popular of all legacy musicians to return to prominence in the new age music revival of the past 15 years. With recordings collected from the late 1970s–before he was famously discovered by Brian Eno–alongside never-before-seen photos of a young Laraaji and liner notes by legendary Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid and Numero Group A&R, Douglas Mcgowan (Hearing Music, I Am The Center), Segue To Infinity is the most impressive and remarkable collection of Laraaji’s early work to date.
Beginning with Celestial Vibration, Laraaji’s 1978 debut and the only album he recorded under his birth name, Edward Larry Gordon, Segue To Infinity goes on to showcase three full discs of previously-unreleased, trance-inducing tracks from the same time period. Recorded during or shortly after the sessions for Celestial Vibration, these six side-length tracks were entirely forgotten about until just a few years ago when the acetates were discovered in a storage locker, sold at auction, purchased by a reseller at a flea market, and then ultimately listed on eBay in mid-2021. That’s when Jake Fischer–a college student with a self-described “record collecting habit”–saw the listing, made the Laraaji connection, and purchased the four miraculously unworn acetate discs (packaged in their original box postmarked January 25, 1983) for $114.01.
Laraaji was prolific during this time, recording at least a dozen cassette albums in the period between Celestial Vibration in 1978 and Rhythm ‘N’ Bliss in 1982. On nearly all these tapes, the artist is credited as “Laraaji Venus.” The six sides presented here, credited to Edward Larry Gordon, make their first appearance with this release.
Segue To Infinity’s title track, a duet with flutist Richard Cooper, is intimately understated, melodic, thoughtful, and mysterious. The three takes entitled “Kalimba” represent a dogged pursuit of beauty and bliss, each more ecstatic than the last, while the most cinematic of the newly discovered tracks, “Koto,” is adventurous and arcane, incorporating kalimba, open zither, prepared zither, bell chime percussion, and repurposed koto. “Ocean” and “Segue To Infinity,” both performed on the zither, are the two recordings presented here most similar to those on Celestial Vibration. Taking full advantage of the studio environment, Gordon added delay and reverb to enhance the wash to great effect.
Well before Brian Eno recruited Laraaji for the third installment of his epochal Ambient series, 1980’s Day of Radiance, the man born Edward Larry Gordon already had his own fully formed sound. Still, Laraaji’s origin story is often retold through his connection to the British musician. As the story goes, one day in 1978, Eno went walking in Washington Square Park and came upon a man strumming away on a zither. He dropped a note into his case, inviting him to a recording session, the fruit of which became Day of Radiance, his first album under the Laraaji alias. But before that fateful encounter, Gordon had already released Celestial Vibration earlier in the year, a record whose luminous, phaser-drenched sound and sprawling, side-long pieces shared a sensibility with the nascent ambient movement—right alongside contemporaneous releases like Harold Budd’s The Pavilion of Dreams and Eno’s own Ambient 1: Music for Airports. Numero Group’s four-LP box set Segue to Infinity essentially quadruples the length of Celestial Vibration with newly unearthed material from the era, somewhat incredibly discovered by a college student on eBay in 2021. It should definitively put a nail in the coffin of the narrative of Laraaji as a street busker who was simply “discovered” by Eno, instead cementing him as an preeminent figure in ambient and new-age music’s history.
The development of ambient seems inevitable given how much music in the ’60s and ’70s was unbounding itself from rhythm. Eno himself cites Miles Davis’ 32-minute dirge “He Loved Him Madly” as a proto-ambient text, and Ambient 2 collaborator Harold Budd was influenced by the post-Coltrane school of spiritual jazz. Laraaji, who studied at Howard University and immersed himself in the New York City folk scene after graduating, would’ve been fully conscious of the jazz and modern classical music that still form the backbone of ambient and new age. The latter is a term Laraaji embraces, unlike many other composers blending these influences into non-denominational spiritual music at the time. With some great guided meditation and reiki albums under his belt, the composer has never wavered in his faith in the healing power of music. The eight pieces on Segue to Infinity embody this heritage, most explicitly the title track, which follows the custom of Coltrane’s later work, using a flute less as an instrument and more as a vessel for the power contained in the player’s breath. The 30-something Laraaji’s sound is rougher around the edges, less blissful than it would become on later works like Essence/Universe or Unicorns in Paradise. “Bethlehem,” one of the two Celestial Vibration tracks, starts by making the physical impact of Laraaji’s zither playing inescapably clear, eventually surrendering to a wash of distortion. Even more dramatic is “Koto,” whose scratchy first few minutes should pique the ear of fans of guitar destroyers like Tashi Dorji or Bill Orcutt. The tracks on Segue to Infinity, especially on the first two discs, toggle so dramatically between the harmonic and percussive extremes of Laraaji’s sound that in digital format, it’d be hard to tell where each track ended or began, if not for brief snippets of studio dialogue at the beginning of “Ocean” and “Koto.” WATCH The Story Behind The Most Famous Beret In Music History On vinyl, Segue to Infinity is one track per side over four LPs, yielding a total runtime of three hours. It’s a perfect fit for Laraaji’s music, once again displaying his tendency to stretch his compositions over individual sides of whichever format he’s using (for example, he explored the expansive possibilities of the cassette by releasing his excellent 1981 album Unicorns in Paradise as two tracks, each over 40 minutes long).
According to the liner notes, Laraaji himself doesn’t seem entirely sure of the circumstances of these recordings—most likely, they’re outtakes from the Celestial Vibration sessions at ZBS Studios—but the fact that each track hovers between 18 and 25 minutes suggests his taste for side-long compositions had already developed. Segue is a fearsomely symmetrical and compact compilation, and despite its great length, the quality of the music never flags. Of the newly discovered tracks, the most breathtaking are the three “Kalimba” performances, on which Laraaji loops simple arrangements on the titular electric thumb piano. Initially, these pieces seem like cousins of Steve Reich’s Marimba Phase, until the echoed layers and resonating kalimba keys create interlocking patterns that resemble chicken-scratch funk rhythm guitars. It’s astounding how much sound Laraaji creates with such a small instrument, and equally remarkable is how much musical history is folded into compositions that float by like a daydream. Like the rest of Segue to Infinity, it speaks to the fierceness of Laraaji’s vision even at this early stage in his career—and proves that the person Eno saw in Washington Square Park wasn’t just a potential co-conspirator, but also a kindred spirit.