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Published: 2002/08/24
by Mike Greenhaus

Now, Center of Time – Jamie Janover

Realm Music 407

The Hammered Dulcimer may be the original jam instrument. It's an ancient
and mystical beast, created in the Appalachian mountains and popularized
during the colonial era. A string instrument played with a hammer, the
dulcimer unleashes a sound that recalls a guitar-piano duet, with some steel
blues thrown in for good measure. Like any aspect of the jam-world, the
hammered dulcimer has a small, close-knit following of musicians and
historians, who track the instrument's development over time. The Official Hammered Dulcimer web page even
ends its biography of the instrument with this hippie-ish ideology:

The appeal of this instrument is its flexibility and ease of play.
Unlike the violin or the piano, the hammered dulcimer does not take years of
practice to acquire good playing skills. Many of the best players do not
read music; rather they learn all the tunes by ear. Music is passed from
one musician to another in this fashion.

But, Jamie Janover may be the first Hammered Dulcimer player to fully
infiltrate the jamband community. He's played with some of the biggest guns
in the genre, including Phish, String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams, Karl
Denson, Leftover Salmon, Jazz Mandolin Project, G-Love, Gov't Mule, and Deep
Banana Blackout. His work has appeared on String Cheese's recordings and his
photography has graced the cover of their albums. Janover fully embraces
improv ideology and has included some of his modern-rock collaborators on
his earlier recordings.

Yet, Jamie Janover's latest recording, Now, Center of Time, sounds
nothing like any of the above-mentioned bands. Eight quiet, moving numbers
recorded live without overdubs or fadeouts, Now, Center of Time
sounds more like a classical concerto than a grooving jam. Though Janover's
hammered dulcimer is the only instrument to appear on the album, its over
200 strings giving the illusion of a small combo, creating several duet like
numbers. At times it sounds like such string instruments as the guitar,
piano, and ukulele. With a single instrument taking center stage, every
string touched matters, making chords shine like they were part of a mellow,
acoustic guitar solo.

The album opens with "Arc," a pastoral collection of high pierced, but
pleasant, sounds that give listeners a nice introduction to the relatively
unknown instrument. With most tracks running between seven and twelve
minutes, Janover gives himself plenty of room to play around with the
Hammond Dulcimer's abilities, particularly on the album's best track, Even
Horizon. Sprinkled with some Renaissance flavoring, the soothing track
packs in so many sounds that I initially thought he had an accompanist
before referring to the liner notes. Yet, the track never sounds cluttered
or muddled. The fast paced "Septennial Constellations," clocking in at just
less than 13 minutes, starts off in a rush, as if racing against time before
mellowing out in the middle, and coming to a dramatic close of stops,
starts, and changing chords.

Another interesting note about Now, Center of Time is that Janover
took almost all the photographs which appear on the album's cover and in its
liner notes. A professional photographer, Janover's pictures complement his
music nicely, and, in this case, capture man's peaceful coexistence with
nature. Whether its Janover's shadow reflecting on the Earth or the Sun
peering over his hand, it is a tranquil, well fitting entry into the world
of Now, Center of Time. The blue sky and brown Earth Janover uses in
his work provide a nice contrast with Janover's black shirt and brown
instrument, helping to capture the album's theme of being in the center of
time.

Though jam-music is usually plumped under jazz and rock headings, Now,
Center of Time seems to foreshadow a new, possibly more mature, era for
the genre. Though Janover's style contains the spontaneity and
improvisational aspects of the most adventurous jam, its sound feels
structured and charted, as if it was a piece of classical music. This is a
result of the instrument's colonial sound, proof that expanding the palette
of instruments will only increase the style's limits. Jamie Janover's work
may even be the prototype for the seemingly oxymoronic classical-fusion
genre, a style of experimental music that fans of all ages can enjoy. But,
until that genre is fully developed, Now, Center of Time is a brave,
bold, and new statement on what it means to be a free musician.

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