(14 January 2001) The third album from Vas is entitled In the Garden of Souls(Narada (USA) 72438-49188-2-8, 2000). It presents a stark but divine collection of songs sure to please fans of Lisa Gerrard, Rasa, and Loreena McKennitt. Vas is comprised of vocalist/musician Azam Ali and multi-instrumentalist, Greg Ellis.
According to the biography at the Vas officialwebsite, Azam met Greg in Los Angeles in the mid-1980's after a concert. The two felt an instant connection and began working in the studio together.The Middle-eastern and Asian influences in Azam's eerie, primal vocalizations are unsurprising given the fact that she was born in Iran and lived for some time in India before moving to Los Angeles in 1985. As with Adiemus and Lisa Gerrard, Azam sings in a self-created language that allows her to avoid the restraints imposed by written language and to fully express the emotions she wishes to convey. Azam also plays the hammered dulcimer and contributes to the percussive elements of the album.
Greg Ellis is a trained percussionist who plays a wide variety of rhythmic instruments (drums, gongs, and bells) as well as keyboards, and dulcimer. After meeting Azam, Greg realized that his days working as a session player for various established bands were over. While understanding that their collaboration would likely produce a sound quite apart from standard popular music, Greg nevertheless decided to form Vas with Azam. Typically, Azam creates the melodic vocal line, and Greg builds the instrumentation around the vocals. Together, Greg and Azam have developed a sound that is both ancient and refreshingly contemporary.
In the Garden of Souls follows very much in the line of the band's two previous albums Sunyata and Offerings. The inclusion of Cameron Stone's cello-playing in many of the songs is a fine addition. The songs on In the Garden of Souls range from the adventurous and exotic, such as the opening title track with its Arabic-styled melody to the fiercely tribal piece "Ceremony of Passage" to the meditative and chilling sound of "Beyond Despair."
Particularly outstanding are the tracks "Unbecome," which sounds like a timeless Persian lament accompanied by a grieving cello, and "The Inward Coil" which crafts an image of urgent travel over endless dunes of sand.
You can read further reviews, hear soundbites and order the album from amazon.co.uk here. In the Garden of Souls is a perfect example of what can happenwhen truly skilled artists poolmusical styles gleaned from their respective indigenous cultures to create a hybrid sound that is novel and exciting. —Justin Elswick