CHOYING DROLMA IS a Tibetan Buddhist nun residing in a monastery in the Nepalese foothills of the Himalayas. Steve Tibbetts is a musical explorer, studio magician and tireless sonic alchemist living in St. Paul. Chö, their unlikely collaboration, is an exquisite exercise in the art of musical nuance--as meditative as Gregorian chants yet charged with understated energy and a beguiling melodicism.
Tibbetts met Drolma (and the eight other nuns who sing on the album) while working on his music in Nepal, and was entranced by their songs, ancient works of contemplation, celebration, supplication, and creative expression. Tibbetts made some recordings, which he brought back to his studio and combined with his own elegant touches, including his guitar, percussion by longtime collaborator Marc Anderson, vocals from Rhea Valentine, and various string instruments. Taking pains not to overwhelm the delicate singing, he embellishes with the precision of a jewel cutter: a single guitar note here, a bouzouki flourish there, a flickering of chimes, a muted flush of violin and cello.
On two cuts he lets the mesmeric beauty of Drolma's vocals stand alone. And on "Kyema Mimin" he floats the rich tapestry of the nuns voices adrift a sea of pulsing, echoing drones, creating a graceful dramatic tension. Chö is full of these sorts of unexpected revelations, and the cumulative effect is utterly enchanting. It's a grand achievement.
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