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Gino Foti - Orbis Terrarum Reviews

Stephanie Sollow (ProgressiveWorld.net)

Rating: *****

In 2006, Electrum bassist Gino Foti released four instrumental releases, the first of which is Orbis Terrarum. This is quite different from Electrum; nary a Rush or rock reference to be found. No, instead what you will find is a sonic journey through varying moods and modes of World Music. It is some times jazzy, as in the tangy "Credo" with its spicy, fleet-fingered piano elements, moody bass, and the seasoning of percussion; or "A Brief Eclipse," which includes jazzy piano figures from guest Chris Rossi. It mostly plays like a travelogue through the Middle East and Southern Europe, sometimes mixing the two elements together, as in the slinky, flamenco-like "Privilege Of The Strong".

This is sophisticated music for a learned audience. Not to suggest that the instrumental rock created with Electrum is any less sophisticated in construction or execution, but that there is a heightened element of sophistication here in terms of attitude or expression. Not so heightened that it comes across as crass, or takes itself too seriously - "Vivir En Alegria" is downright playful, with tinkling piano dancing across a jaunty yet muted guitar, and bass tangoing with drums and percussion. But then, translated, the title means "Living In Joy" (roughly), so anything other than a joyful arrangement would be too cynical. It is the opposite of a piece that comes two before it - the dark and industrial "Wan Wu: Part II - Disciples Of Death," where deep, throaty, distorted guitar buzzes amongst the clacking bones of percussion and whine of … bass throbbing like a frightened and racing heartbeat.

"Modes of Consciousness: Part 1 - Dionysian Stream" is dark and warm, with a hint of danger. It has a decidedly Middle Eastern flavor evoked by the rhythmic percussion, a rhythm matched by the bass. The main motif is echoed by synths and guitar in a dance that in some ways has the feel of the two squaring off against each other. That lead guitar is courtesy of Foti's Electrum cohort Dave Kulju. It is an energetic piece that doesn’t stop moving once it gets going. Its counterpart is the closer "Modes Of Consciousness: Part II - Apollonian Stream" which takes the same basic motif, but is lighter, airier. It puts a resonant piano in the lead role, as it, fat noodly bass, and metallic percussion wend their way through a nearly-baroque sonic landscape. It has an old world feel with new world clarity.

Now, as I'm wont to do, I did a little digging to see what underlying relationship there was between Dionysus and Apollo, aside from they both being figures in Greek mythology. I didn't do a great deal of research, and thus you won't get an essay, but I'll mention this one reference (there are more out there): Amongst others, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, in his The Birth Of Tragedy, made the contrast between Dionysus - the god of wine, intoxication - and Apollo - the god of the sun, music, poetry… both sons of Zeus. Therefore here, this contrast is given form musically… Oh yes, should also mention that Rush tackled this subject in "Cygnus X-1" (part one, on A Farewell To Kings) and "Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres" (on Hemispheres.

Percussion features in "Kujichagulia" - the title of which means, or refers to, self-determination, and is one of the seven days celebrated during Kwanzaa, the African-American holiday week of December 26 - January 1, first celebrated in 1966. There isn't, to me, anything inherently African in the rhythms; however, the chanting vocalizations do make that suggestion. However, more so the noodling bass and that crisp percussion seem assured and focused; a path is embarked upon and not wavered from.

"Essence Of A Noble Soul" is a relaxed, gentle, lyrical piece that layers acoustic and electric guitar, over hand percussion. A fat bass solo travels over this foundation more than a third of the way through, before a singing guitar solo takes over. Despite this, and most of the album's tracks, being all Foti the result is a dynamic piece. "A Bridge Between Time & Eternity," another more relaxed and open composition, starts as if we will get an atmospheric, synth-wash only piece, but soon we get earthy, warm acoustic classical guitar with salting of brushed percussion over gently rolling piano-like keys. There is tons of atmosphere, but like every track here, we never stay in just one place; the instrumental mix and arrangement keeps the movement going forward.

A tinkling piano races across acoustic, classical guitar and taut, ethnic percussion of "Ultradian Rhythms." It's another jazzy piece, that isn't at all sleepy, as the term "ultradian" implies (it refers to the sleep cycles). In fact, there are enough changes in pacing that you might just find it mimics the cycles of sleep itself, the tempo quickening just as you might in REM sleep (depending upon what you were dreaming of at the time… this music would induce dreams of racing, running)… Instead, what has a languid, drowsy feel is "Wan Wu Part I - Disciples Of Life" which moves us geographically to Asia with the sound of chimes -- or tubular bells, perhaps; it recalls by association, Mike Oldfield. Hand percussion and bass undulate beneath. In researching this reference, I am taken to Foti's composition notes at Amazon.com's Amapedia (in beta testing): "In Daoism, the concept of Dao (aka Tao) is regarded as the natural order of the Universe, unexplainable since it exceeds senses, thoughts, and imagination, from which all myriad creatures (wan-wu) are originated. Literally, 'Ten Thousand Things,' Wan-wu is used as a metaphor for all living things, or the whole of creation."

Finally, two tracks hitherto unmentioned: "Panta Rhei" a Middle-Eastern tango, though the title comes from a phrase by the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Esphesus, says Foti. The phrase: "panta rhei kai ouden menei," which translates as: "all things are in a state of flux and nothing is permanent." Oddly, although Rush is not musically represented on this album, the band is very much present as here I think of a lyric from "Tom Sawyer"… "He knows changes aren't permanent - but change is…" Which is probably significant of nothing other than a coincidence, as I doubt the concept or idea was Heraclitus' alone… or… well, I'm not suggesting that Peart and Foti were making the same reference… (and it may in fact be I'm reading too much into the Rush connection because there has been a Rush connection… if that makes any sense).

The other, in brief, although every bit as worth as the tracks that precede and succeed it, is "A Smile For Every Tear," Eastern-classical with fluttering classical guitar mixed with crisp tinkling piano to create a gentle, romantic atmosphere.

Foti has put together a rich and deep album that I feel, even after some 1140 words, I've only scratched the surface of. The instrumentation employed is far richer than the printed credits would reveal (which I've done my best to augment below using his Amapedia article). Foti is truly a multi-instrumentalist if all of those mentioned were more than just samples… An excellent release.

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Douglas Sloan (Metronome Magazine)

Top Pick - December 2006

"For those of you who are wondering what Orbis Terrarum means, it is Latin for "circle of lands". You can also interpret it as "globe" or "the world". Which ever meaning you prefer, you will understand more clearly after listening to Gino Foti's body of musical work. Thanking his parents for introducing him to "myriad styles of music", Foti also goes on to thank some of the most brilliant minds in music that include Bach, Chick Corea, Al DiMeola, Jonas Hellborg, Shawn Lane, Geddy Lee, John McLaughlin, Jaco Pastorius, Jean-Luc Ponty, Hossam Ramzy, Antonio Vivaldi and others. Some of these names may not mean anything to you but they are a cross section of composers, arrangers and musicians that have taken music to new plateaus during their time. Now it's Foti's turn to do the same.

Orbis Terrarum is a complex piece of music. Folks who like pop and bubblegum rock may not understand it because Foti writes and performs music for the thinking man, and he does it very well. He's an accomplished bass player who also handles keyboards, loops, sampling, producing, arranging, engineering, mixing and mastering with skillful precision. Foti has taken a lifetime of musical influences and transformed them into these fourteen compositions. He leaves no stone unturned as he touches down on everything from progressive to classical and funk to fusion. Each song is masterfully created and performed while guest players Dave Kulju on electric guitar and Chris Rossi on piano help Foti realize his musical dream. In a world of homogenized rock, Gino Foti is a musical breath of fresh air."

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Brian S. Lunde (JazzReview.com)

"Gino Foti has self-produced two releases here that draw from a wide palette of his early musical influences: classical, Mediterranean folk, Italian opera, jazz fusion, and progressive rock. Foti mixes the colors from these diverse musical genres to create a collection of fascinating experiments in what might be best called “world jazz fusion.”

Just scan the track names and you get an immediate sign of the aural range on both of these releases. On Sphere of Influence, Foti goes from “Marirangwe” (which means “dusk” in the Shona vernacular of Zimbabwe and Mozambique) to “Saudade” (Portuguese) to “Dancing On The Edge Of A Dream,” a song title that would comfortably fit a pop tune. Orbis Terrarum shows a similar antagonism to easy classification; we have “Kujichagulia” (the second day of Kwanzaa), “Ultradian Rhythms” (a reference to biological cycles that are shorter than 24 hours), and “Panta Rhei” (taken from an ancient Greek maxim).

Both releases are filled entirely with original compositions by Foti and all rely heavily on the use of loops and samples of a panoply of exotic ethnic instruments far too numerous to list. These include many African, Middle-Eastern, Mediterranean, East Asian, Cuban, and Native American percussion instruments and a similar variety of stringed and wind instruments (especially various types of ethnic flutes). The result is like walking through a global bazaar with music from all over the world floating by and commingling in a wonderful salmagundi of sound.

Foti blends the loops and samples skillfully with his primary instruments: bass guitar (both fretted and fretless), MIDI bass guitar, and keyboards. Many tunes have a Mediterranean or Middle-Eastern tonal and rhythmic quality, but there is ample representation of other ethnic music: Latin (rhythmic patterns of bossa nova, flamenco, merengue, salsa and rumba), African, Asian, European classical, and even a dash of American rock and funk.

On Orbis Terrarum, highlights include “Kujichagulia” which opens with a nice fretless bass melody statement followed by improvisation over the driving groove of African talking and stick drums; the elegant rumba-based “Ultradian Rhythms;” “Wan-Wu” Parts I and II in which we experience the Yin and Yang contrast between life and death through contrasting tone and instrumentation; and “Panta Rhei” which is a showcase for Mediterranean lutes and other stringed instruments soloing over an Egyptian rhythmic bed.

From Sphere of Influence, notable tracks include “Amor Y Poder” (Love and Power) with its alternating languid and up-tempo sections and juxtaposition of traditional Middle-Eastern rhythms with fretless bass (including a section with a heavily processed effect added); “Degrees of Force,” a frenetic piece featuring pianist Chris Rossi playing over a dramatic Spanish Phrygian harmonic platform and Latin percussion; “Within The Circles” which will transport you into a Thai village; “One Day As A Lion” offers a fascinating mix of 6/8 and 7/8 time with African percussion instruments, voices, flutes, Foti’s fretless bass, and even the sound of lions; “Ouroboros,” which delightfully blends the Middle-Eastern sound of the doumbek (a goblet-shaped drum prominently used in belly-dance music) in a jazz-funk style with electric bass and guitar solos and riffs; and the lovely, simple “Tender Shadows” using only acoustic piano and classical guitar.

Foti’s work on both releases is impressive in the range of rhythms and sounds from around the world that he blends into his compositions. Sphere of Influence is probably the better of the two collections, even though it is less consistent; its best tracks are the best of the combined 28 tracks between the two. But if you enjoy world music and jazz fusion, you are sure to find both Orbis Terrarum and Sphere of Influence worthy additions to your collection."

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Eric Harabadian (Progression)

"Electric bassist/keyboardist/programmer Gino Foti explores a fusion-based sound influenced by multi-ethnic and diverse cultural influence similar to the world music projects guitarist Al DiMeola has explored in recent years.

Foti takes the listener on a journey around the globe with original instrumental material that explores Mediterranean sounds along with those of Africa and Asia.

Outside of a little help from friends Dave Kulju and Chris Rossi providing piano on one track, our Sicilian bassist handles all of the exotic percussion and a cavalcade of acoustic and electric instruments to boot.

Gino sites folks like Geddy Lee, Jaco Pastorius and Ralphe Armstrong as his influences - world class bass players, all. One could add Foti to the list as he employs great writing and arranging skills and incredible invention in taking the bass guitar to new heights as a lead instrument.

Quite an interesting and sonically pleasing travelogue indeed!"

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Joseph Shingler (ProgNaut.com)

"Sicilian born multi-instrumentalist Gino Foti first came to my attention through his association with the progressive rock/fusion group Electrum. The three piece instrumental outfit consisted of guitarist Dave Kulju, percussionist Joe Musmanno, and anchored by the brilliant keyboard work of Gino Foti. Electrum incorporated the best elements of groups like Rush, King Crimson, Kansas, Djam Karet, the French group Edhels, and synthesizer ace Larry Fast’s Synergy project for their two albums “Frames Of Mind” (1998) and “Standard Deviation” (2002). So when I received these two solo CDs from Foti to review I was quite interested to see which path he would take. Would the compositions be harder edged progressive works ala Derek Sherinian, grand scale symphonic pieces reminiscent of Synergy or Vangelis, or would he possibly travel the route explored by progressive rock keyboardists like Kit Watkins (formally of Happy The Man) - the expanding new age and World Music genre?

The title of the two CDs should have been a dead give-a-way. “Orbis Terrarum” (translated – “circle of lands”) and “Sphere Of Influence” – my suggestion is ‘file under World Music’. On both “Orbis Terrarum” and “Sphere Of Influence” Foti acts as our tour guide on a musical adventure around the globe, opting to temper the hard edged Rush and Crimson influences of Electrum for an eclectic infusion of contemporary jazz, new age sensibilities, avant-garde, funk, and the percussive rhythm of the World heartbeat.

Foti incorporates an ethnic potpourri of musical styles into his compositions: Cuban, African, European, Native American, and Middle Eastern. His tightly constructed instrumental arrangements bring to mind the jazz fusion group Shadowfax, the ambient Asian influenced Jade Warrior, or the later period new age works of Mike Oldfield.

Gino Foti performs on bass guitar, MIDI bass, keyboards, loops and samples. The keyboard samples emulate a wide range of ethnic string instruments, Chinese flutes and wind instruments, expanding the palate to create a full rich symphony of sound.

His fluid bass style is reminiscent of Percy Jones (Brand X), Finnish bassist Pekka Pohjola, Jaco Pastorius, or Mark Egan ... expressively using the fretless bass as a lead instrument.

Assisting Foti on both albums are fellow Electrum alumni Dave Kulju on electric guitar (“Dionysian Stream” – Orbis Terrarum & “Heart And Mind United” – Sphere Of Influence) and Chris Rossi on piano (“A Brief Eclipse” – Orbis Terrarum & “Degrees Of Force” – Sphere Of Influence). For fans of New Age and World Music both albums are well worth a listen."

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Larry Marchiony (ProGGnosis)

"Orbis Terrarum, what it means I don't know but the music is great, varied instrumentals with some East Indian influences and a laid back feel. It is not quite ambient but it was superb music to sit back and read a good book to as it presents nothing too challenging to the ears and is very nicely written with the bass and keys standing out on the recording.

I thoroughly enjoyed this album but what can I compare it to? That's a tough one: Mahavishnu Orchestra, Bo Hansson. It's sort of a pop-fusion album but much more intelligent writing than the simple pop riffs that you hear on the radio these days.

Some of my favorite tracks are Dionysian Stream - definite Indian influences here - which emphasizes guitar and keys. I also enjoyed Disciples of Life with its chimes and bass catching most of the attention as these two instruments play so nicely off each other. Vivir En Alegria has a sort of Latin feel to it. On this track there are piano and guitar with some congas making for a nice hip shaking arrangement. Panta Rhei like so many tracks here has an ethnic feel - maybe a Greek or Turkish influence. I don't know but I do know that I like it.

The sound presented here contains such a wide diversity of influences that it is impractical to peg it to one or two cultural influences. It has a modern twist which follows its ancestral writings as does everything in the music world. Since all music has been built upon the last and so one could say it's evolutionary or you could say instead that it's new and original with something not heard before.

Foti succeeds with Orbis Terrarum and there are song samples on his web site. I recommend it."

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Steve Roberts (ZNR Records)

"Based around themes that make me think of Bo Hansson, Mike Oldfield or Jade Warrior and some lush arrangements that these groups would be proud of and incorporating some virtuoso bass playing ala Michael Manring or Percy Jones, "Orbis Terrarum" is a great instrumental prog album with many influences. Not strictly 'rock' music, but neither is this something that in years past would have been labeled 'new age'. In fact a lot of this reminds me of some of Pekka Pohjola's work - beautiful melodies played in a semi-classical style with some very distinctive bass work! If you enjoy lush instrumental prog then Gino's CDs are definitely right up your alley! Highly recommended to fans of the musicians/groups mentioned in this review, especially Pekka Pohjola's solo work!"

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Gerald Van Waes (Psyche van het Folk) and (Radio Centraal - Belgium)

"Orbis Terrarum shows a combination of improvisation on mostly progressive electric and bass guitar in (jazz) fusion style, but also some Spanish guitar, combined with some keyboards (like jazz piano) and with the use of some sampled and rearranged percussion, as strong rhythmic and colourful grooves, using the latest sampler techniques on computer and on MIDI bass guitar, that uplift the use of sampling to a smaller detail and to the level of composing with a certain spontaneity as if a few extra musicians governed by the composer were also participating and even interacting with the musical evolution in studio.

At several times, Middle Eastern percussion is used, but also Latin rhythms, even in combinations (like on “Credo”, in combination with jazz piano), making appealing drives into the music. The first track, "Dionysian Stream" is more progressive rock, with Dave Kulju on electric guitar. "Kujichagulia" is a mix of exotic percussion with African vocal samples and fusion bass improvisation, in a rather simple but effective mode. “Ultradian Rhythms” combines Latin rhythms with jazz piano, bass, flamenco guitar and keyboards. Each track is arranged in such a way, in many different varieties. “A Smile For Every Tear” is only based upon rather classical piano with Spanish guitar. “Apollonian Stream” goes one step further to Baroque piano played with a jazz effect, and with Middle Eastern percussion in a Latin jazz way. That track reminds me of the 'Mozart in Egypt' project, from a few years back, with an album that for me wasn’t so convincing (while the previous 'Lambarena-Bach in Africa' was); here it is more fitting together, even when the idea of it still is a simply-doing-the-combination, it is done with a feeling for harmony."

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J-Sin (Smother Magazine)

"Meaning “Globe of the Earth” in Latin, “Orbis Terrarum” is an exploration of the world’s various musical styles told through Gino Foti’s instrumentals. Using progressive rock and jazz as the foreground, he deftly weaves in a background of various other influences, fusing them together as if to show the world that we’re all united by sound."

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Al Garcia (The Jazz/Rock Fusion Page)

"2006 has been a good year for Gino Foti. The prolific bassist/pianist has released four CDs this year: Orbis Terrarum, Sphere Of Influence, Bhavachakra, and Vedic Mantras. As the CD titles would seem to imply, Foti draws much of his inspiration from world music. Middle Eastern influences figure prominently in an eclectic mix of styles that also includes touches of jazz/rock fusion, flamenco, funk, and rock.

The two CDs I received for review, Orbis Terrarum and Sphere Of Influence, feature Foti on bass and piano. He makes extensive use of samples and loops throughout both CDs. Foti also produced, arranged, engineered, mixed and mastered the CDs. For the most part, he does a good job of using samples idiomatically to make the parts sound like real players, though I felt he relied a bit too much on a particular fretless bass sample. Two guest musicians, Dave Kulju on guitar and Chris Rossi on piano, make brief appearances.

Orbis Terrarum is similar in tone and approach to Sphere of Influence, yet is a bit more harmonically varied. Highlights include the use of African chants on “Kujichagulia”, the Metheny like open chords on “Essence of a Noble Soul,” and the mix of middle eastern orchestral excerpts with fuzz bass on “Disciples of Death.”

If you like music from different cultures and times, let Gino Foti’s CDs take you on an aural world tour.


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Vitaly Menshikov (ProgressoR.net)

5.5 stars out of 6

"Unlike the previously examined album, "Orbis Terrarum" contains tunes possessing a vivid rock component (although drum kit-related sounds are still absent - everywhere on the recording). These are Dionysian Stream, Essence of a Noble Soul and Disciples of Death, the latter having even a metal feeling in places. The point is that on these, Gino plays his midi-bass which is usually connected with an electric guitar, though the former cut is also notable for its bright synthesizer solos.

The music is close to Jazz Rock/Fusion of the first water, meaning with no other stylistic references. One may disagree with me in this respect, pointing me out the 'congas', but while these emit some ethnic emanations indeed, they are the only representatives of World Music here, thus having no power to influence the tunes' fundamental style. The piano- and bass-driven Credo is another noteworthy jazz-fusion piece. Disciples of Life and A Brief Eclipse are both structurally similar to that track, whilst musically these lean more towards Jazz-Ambient.

Very rich in the sounds of acoustic guitar and piano, Privilege of the Strong, Ultradian Rhythms, A Bridge Between Time & Eternity and Vivir en Alegria, each is a fully-fledged World Fusion - a generous mixture embracing symphonic, jazz and folk colorations (mostly of a Spanish origin), the former two being highly progressive, each revealing several effective transitions, as also is in the case of the Saz-laden Panta Rhei which represents a juicy cocktail of various types of Middle-East and Central Asian music flavored with refined quasi improvisations. The other two of this disc's five highlights, A Smile for Every Tear and Apollonian Stream both conclude the album evoking exclusively European Classical music. In all, "Orbis Terrarum" is sincerely recommended to those with an interest in World Fusion."

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