Cobalt Blue (1992, 4AD)
Live At The AQUARIUM (1993, 4AD)
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[Note: Michael Brook’s second solo effort, Cobalt Blue, and the subsequent concert recording of that album’s material, Live At The Aquarium, are currently available — both complete as originally issued — only as components of a single anthology CD.]
Cobalt Blue was begun during Michael’s residency at Brian Eno’s Wilderness Studio in Woodbridge, Suffolk, with the majority of recording taking place during the early 90’s at Michael’s flat in London’s Ladbroke Grove neighborhood. The new album shared elements with its predecessor, Hybrid: affectionate nods to the musical cultures of India and the Middle East twinned with the sustaining timbres of Michael’s invention, the Infinite Guitar. The sessions drew an impressive cast of contributors: former SPK drummer James Pinker, who later toured extensively with Michael in support of Cobalt Blue, provided percussion and keyboard bass; others included Hahn Rowe (violinist from the band Hugo Largo), and vocalist Jo Burgess. Renowned producer Daniel Lanois returned to help out, as did Brian Eno, the latter creating string arrangements (played by Nell Catchpole) and programming drum machine tracks; the cod-Arabic ululations of ‘Ben Arion’ (an
anagram of Brian’s name) enhanced “Skip Wave.” Roger Eno, whose own recording career was then in its nascent stage, added accordion and vibraphone.
Despite its cast of cohorts, Cobalt Blue was largely the product of over a year’s solitary practice and concentration on Michael’s part. The effort to expand upon Hybrid’s promise proved successful but was personally taxing for its author. Cobalt Blue was to be released
initially on Opal. Owing to complications with foreign distributors, it was withdrawn from Opal’s release schedule and then presented to Ivo Watts-Russell for issue on his 4AD label; 4AD would also release Michael’s follow-up, Live at the Aquarium. This latter title was literally the recording of a live gig staged at the London Aquarium to commemorate Cobalt Blue’s release.
Michael was positioned opposite the shark tank as he played (he remembers this as a faintly unnerving experience). This also marked the beginning of extensive touring in the company of James Pinker on behalf of Cobalt Blue; a solo tour was booked by Michael, making canny use of a United Airlines fare special then in existence. Later, Messrs. Brook and Pinker opened for Velvet Underground founder John Cale on an American tour in 1992.
“Cobalt Blue is a superb 12-track record. Nearly every track is standout music and some of the tracks are absolutely perfect: “Urbana”, “Ultramarine”, and “Lakbossa” being the three best. This is guitar music, alternately driven then abstract. Sometimes it just shimmers in the moonlight, other times it cuts across time like a knife; the notes hard and brilliant like sapphires in the sun. This is music that is a joy to listen to. Somehow it challenges you to think, to follow the line of the melody as it weaves in and out of the surrounding fabric of supporting musical lines.” -Editorial Review
“This is some of the most inventive music around today, made by some of the most innovative musicans/producers. Organic percussion, heavenly guitar, and production to die for.” -William Jensen, customer review
“…what elevates Brook’s pan-global stitching is the ability to produce dynamic tension within minimalist contexts, knowing when to attack or retreat, or simply to unfold exquisite aural wallpaper…” -Q Magazine, 1992
“…stays fresh by virtue of it’s exquisite attention to detail and almost exhaustive awareness of musical and technical possibilities…quietly arresting…” -OPtion Magazine, 1992
“Brook involved on all fronts, for years never found enough time to record another record. When he did Cobalt Blue, he approached the most hypnotic and atmospheric new age, but grafted with strong African rhythms. The album’s twelve wordless romances conjugate technology and primitivism according to the teachings of Steve Roach and Peter Gabriel’s latest work. The success of the “sound” of this record is due to the collaboration of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois as well.” -Scaruffi.com
“Cobalt Blue, one of numerous solo albums, is a textbook case of how big music can be when made with taste, craft, ideas and ingenuity.” -Lesley Sly, mz.com