Randy Armstrong joins forces with bass player Volker Nahrmann
on the 2015 CD release of Beyond Borders. More
than a collection of tracks, the album is a scenic travelogue covering
a range of World Beat music with the accent on Latin, Brazilian and
Indian music and those genres are just some of the scenic signposts
dotting the albums sweeping terrain. In addition to his expert
synth guitar work and his background in exotic percussion, Randy Armstrong
is a seasoned guitarist who is equally gifted on both classical, steel
string and electric guitars and he uses all of it to enhance the sound.
Volker Narhmann gives the album its tasteful sonic thunder so to speak
and he plays a range of different acoustic and electric basses. Also
worth noting is the muted trumpet sound of Cuban-born musician, Yaure
Muniz. The CD features numerous guest musicians, including some
excellent percussionists, ranging from full kit to incidental percussive
sounds. Theres a colorful and well done CD booklet featuring
track by track details of the wide range of music here, including
tracks devoted to Ravi Shankar, George Harrison and Dizzy Gillespie.
Surprisingly, instead of being made in Rio or even L.A., Beyond
Borders was recorded in Barrington, New Hampshire but if you close
your eyes you can feel the music carry you beyond borders indeed.
Filled with cool World Beat moods and meditative Global Groove sounds,
Beyond Borders will take your mind to far off lands. www.RandyArmstrong.com
mwe3.com presents an interview
& VOLKER NAHRMANN
new CD, Beyond Borders is one the finest guitar-based World
Beat / Jazz albums of 2015. Is there a good inside story on how the
Beyond Borders album took shape and happened and how you met
and then worked together? Give us a little history on the meeting
of the minds.
Randy Armstrong: Beyond Borders was five years in the
making and a labor of love by Volker and myself. With the paradigm
shift in the music industry and few major record labels still out
there to record our next project, we decided to record a collection
of songs the way we wanted to hear them performed and produced by
ourselves. We are very proud of Beyond Borders. It represents
our highest aspirations as musicians and composers. We had many songs
that had been composed over a long period of time, but never recorded.
We looked at each other and said lets just start recording,
arranging and selecting musicians to realize and document these songs.
It has been quite a journey to say the least. There are 35 musicians
from around the world performing on this CD. All the living members
of Doa and Unu Mondo are featured and have contributed to the
Volker Nahrmann: I joined Doa World Music Ensemble in
1986 and recorded on their 5th album, World Dance. We were
with Global Pacific Records/CBS back then. My first performance with
Doa was at the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco in front of
a crowd of 10,000 and started with a bowed bass solo. Talk about trial
by fire! Randy and I have kept an enduring friendship and musical
collaboration for all these years and founded Unu Mondo when Doa
disbanded in 91 to continue the spirit of this music. Both of
us have a profound love of musical traditions from around the world
as well as jazz in all its forms and western classical music. This
has been the glue in our musical pursuits for over two decades. We
compliment each others strengths and weaknesses as musicians
and both of us have a bit of a perfectionist streak in our personalities
that comes in handy in the studio. However we both love improvising
and jamming on a cool groove as well.
you describe the sound of Beyond Borders as being jazz or World
Beat music? I havent counted all the instruments youre
playing on the CD but its over twenty. You also spoke about
how Beyond Borders is a catalyst to uplifting the human spirit.
So on the Beyond Borders CD, theres the musical side,
then theres the healing and environmentally friendly spirit?
Randy Armstrong: It has been always a challenge to categorize
our music and especially on such a broad and eclectic album as Beyond
Borders. I have always said it is a blend of contemporary jazz
with world fusion inspired by the many traditions of music and instrumental
colors from around the globe, including indigenous folk and western
classical. I have a collection of over 300 instruments and specialize
on a wide variety of strings and percussion. I have also studied North
Indian sitar and tabla, drumming traditions of the African diaspora
and many other world instruments and musical traditions. I have taught
North Indian music and served as director of the West African drumming
ensemble at Phillips Exeter Academy for over twenty years as an adjunct
faculty member. I have been calling our music, World Jazz
as of late. When I first began creating this style of music and recording
in the mid-1970s, there was no such thing as World Music or
World Beat sections in record stores. Most records, on vinyl, were
in bins labeled International or some such category. Our world is
transforming and we are truly now a Global Village with incredible
We believe that the Earth is one country and we are all citizens of
that country with our abundance of amazing cultural diversity, which
is the beauty of living in this time in human history. Musicians have
been seizing the day and experimenting and blending musical traditions
for decades. I look at this phenomenon as "Unity with Diversity".
As frightening as the news can be, I have great hope for humanity.
Many artists, musicians, dancers, inventors, humanitarians, activists
and forward thinking people all over the world are leading the way.
As one of our songs says in the title, Theres Always Hope.
Volker Nahrmann: Putting our music in a genre shoebox has always
been problematic. It seems that music sellers and marketers need that
type of categorization but our music is precisely the opposite of
being a genre: it is all genres. Like the title of this CD says it
goes beyond the borders of conventional CDs that might be in one style
only. We profoundly respect and study the various musical styles in
depth that we might use for our songs and then use musicians that
are from those cultures to genuinely represent the various styles.
The result is a song that can stand up to anybodys scrutiny
when it comes to authenticity.
How was Beyond Borders recorded? Was it mostly done live or
with overdubs and even internet files to connect with musicians in
the far flung corners of the globe? Tell us about Beauty Hill Recording
Studio up in New Hampshire. The album recording sounds state of the
art so the studio must be a great place to record in right? Tell us
about New Hampshire. Ive never been there, its way up
Randy Armstrong: Beauty Hill Recording Studio is nestled in
northern New England in the small rural town of Barrington, New Hampshire
in a restored farmhouse built circa 1840.
It has been a great place to record and compose in our digital project
studio. The way the house was built, we achieve great sound recordings.
We use Ableton Live as our DAW and have some very nice mics and of
course, many incredible sounding instruments. In the middle of the
winter you get a great hush with blankets of snow bafflingly any outside
sound. What better way to spend a snowstorm just so long that you
do not lose your electricity. In this digital world you can also send
audio files to musicians around the world. Olga Roman who sings on
our album recorded in a studio in Madrid with the audio files we sent
her. It is a New Age in recording. Exciting
and very Global.
Volker Nahrmann: We recorded all of the basic tracks ourselves
in the studio and then brought in the featured guest musicians for
overdubs. In this digital world you can also send audio files to musicians
around the world. Our friend Olga Roman who sang on our album Hand
In Hand recorded in a studio in Madrid with the audio files we
sent her. It is a New Age recording. Exciting and very global.
I still think about the session when we recorded the 11 members of
the Black Thunder Singers in the fireplace room at Beauty Hill studio
and feeling the power of their beat shaking the house.
mwe3: How many albums have you made including all your overall
titles, solo, and with the bands Doa World Music Ensemble and
Unu Mondo? I remember the Global Pacific label that you recorded on
earlier. Are the members of your earlier bands on Beyond Borders
too? Did you have a short list of all the players you wanted to join
you on the album? There must be at least 20 musicians on the CD.
I personally have recorded on over 40 albums, film, dance and
theater scores through the years. My first 4 records were on Philo
/ Rounder Records label. Philo was based in Burlington, Vermont and
Rounder in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The 5th album was recorded for
Rounder but Global Pacific / CBS acquired the master and released
World Dance in the mid-1980s. After Doa, Volker
and I formed the group, Unu Mondo and released our Hand In Hand
album with Global Pacific Records that went out of business in the
late 1990s. I have also recorded for Ellipsis Arts and the Domo
Record labels as well as our own label, UMP Records, a division of
Unu Mondo Productions.
The CD jacket has a list of the 35 musicians on Beyond Borders,
including the 2011 Native American Music Award winning artists, Black
Volker Nahrmann: We wanted to honor our relationships and great
times performing this music live, so we invited all the living members
of Doa and Unu Mondo to record with us again for this project.
In the mid 2000s we bought back all the masters of Doa and Unu
Mondo from Rounder/Philo and Global Pacific and they have been rereleased
on our own label UMP Records.
mwe3: There is a tribute to George Harrison and Ravi Shankar and
Dizzy Gillespie on the Beyond Borders CD. I also read that
your band Doa actually opened for Dizzy way back in 1976, which
is very cool. What do you remember most about Dizzy? He really endorsed
you big time back then so its nice to see his influence on the
Randy Armstrong: Dizzy Gillespie was a great musician and humanitarian.
He was very generous in spirit and was influential with his encouragement
to add percussion on the early Doa albums. He is a wonderful
Bahai brother and endorsed the first album by Doa, Light
In the Ravi Shankar / George Harrison tribute song on Beyond Borders,
Shanti Om you play a number of instruments. Its
a brilliant melody as I never heard it before. But the vocal and then
the rock edge springs the song to life. Tell us about your sitar sound
and what do the words Shanti Om mean to you?
Randy Armstrong: The melody for the song came from an improvisation
many years ago. The song was recorded and performed live for the finale
dance of a production of the epic poem, "The Mahabharata"
for Phillips Exeter Academy. Shanti is the word peace in Hindi. I
have spent my whole musical life promoting the concepts of peace through
music. It is the central theme of all the songs on Beyond Borders.
George Harrison play sitar with the Beatles and subsequently being
introduced to Ravi Shankar and the music of India opened up a whole
new universe of sound to me. It led to years of studying sitar and
tabla and several trips to India. "Shanti Om" is my way
of giving thanks to that process. One of my favorite moments in "Shanti
Om" is Volkers bass solo.
Volker Nahrmann: Thanks man, I loved doubling the melody on
Dilruba as well.
mwe3: The guitars Randy plays on Beyond Borders sound
very impressive. Are those your favorite guitars or are there others
in your collection too? How has your choice of guitars changed over
the years? Is the acoustic cutaway guitar on the inside cover pages
of the booklet the Michael Jackson-Hardy 6 string? Tell us about the
other guitars on the CD?
Randy Armstrong: I play two six string and one twelve string
handmade acoustic guitars by Michael Jacobson Hardy. I also played
a beautiful 1948 Gibson cutaway jazz guitar for many of the solos
as well as a G&L Telecaster, 1970s Electra ES-335 model
guitar, Godin Multiac Jazz, a handmade classical guitar by Puerto
Rican maker, Guillermo Del Pilar, 1980s Fender Strat Plus and
a 1971 Radha Krishna Sharma sitar, I have 14 guitars in my collection
including a Jerry Jones Electric Sitar, Cordorba Flamenco, 1930s
Armstrong Dansant acoustic and 1954 Gibson ES-125 among others.
Always Hope is another key moment on the CD. You say it harks
back to the late 1970s sound of The Paul Winter Consort and this Beyond
Borders version of Theres Always Hope also has
Eugene Friesen from the Winter Consort. With the Swingle Singers like
backing vocals, the song kind of has an upbeat late 1960s feel too.
You both were into Paul Winter as well because of his environmentalism.
How did Winters environmentalism affect your own approach and
overall musical sound?
Randy Armstrong: Doa shared the stage with the Paul Winter
Consort several times. One of our early booking agents also worked
with Paul Winter. Paul spent so much of his life supporting environmental
issues through music and was inspirational with his approach in sharing
his music. I was also a big admirer of the early Consort with guitarist
Ralph Towner, percussionist/sitarist Colin Wolcott, cellist David
Darling, oboe player Paul McCandless and bassist Glen Moore. Subsequently,
Eugene Friesen took over the cello seat in the Consort and we had
the opportunity to play the song with him. The song was first played
by Unu Mondo in the mid-1990s and written by Volker. We created
the new arrangement that appears on the CD featuring Eugene Friesen
on cello and Unu Mondo member, Charlie Jennison on soprano sax.
Nahrmann: Having been a very early supporter of the Green movement
in Germany, I fell in love with Pauls music and mission when
we met. I was especially inspired by Pauls Canyon album
and the rolling rhythm of the "River Run" song during the
time that the theme of "Hope" came to me.
The song was first played by Unu Mondo in the mid-90s and featured
Eugene in that concert. We created the new arrangement for Beyond
Borders featuring Eugene Friesen on cello and Unu Mondo member,
Charlie Jennison on soprano sax.
Theres so many different genres of music covered on Beyond
Borders. Are there other styles or sounds youd like to go
in next and will there be a Beyond Borders 2 in the future?
Would you consider doing a DVD at some point, to fully capture your
colorful music or a possible CD compilation and what can you tell
us about your plans for the rest of 2015 and even into 2016?
Nahrmann: I am sure our association will bear many more fruits
down the road. Where do we travel next?...
Randy Armstrong: There are so many more musical styles and
instrumental colors to explore for the future. We live in a wonderful
time of discovery. I have been commissioned to record and compose
an original score for a dance and theater and production of the epic
Persian Sufi poem, The Conference Of The
Birds to be performed by over 10 dance troupes of many traditions
from around the world. The soundtrack will be released in March 2016.
I am sure Volker will be involved in the production. We also plan
to release and publish a remaster edition of our Hand In Hand
album with two additional bonus songs written by Volker that never
made it on the original release. Lets just say, the beat goes