A personal favorite of mine, not because it’s his greatest work — I’d wager more people expect the late, great Swedish guitar maestro Thomas Almqvist’s Balearic masterpiece Nyanser to be that one — but because it’s the one that sounds the most honest to where I come from. Thomas Almqvist’s The Journey was his second album exploring the interconnection between experimental guitar technique and what seemed to be a very personal, spiritual journey. Meant to evoke the mystical, otherworldly vibe of the American southwest — an idea easily captured by the reworking of Ansel Adam’s meditative photographic masterpiece “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” for its cover — although recorded in Sweden, The Journey has all the trappings of someone moored by all sorts of shamanistic, environmental ideas far from any man-made border.
Entirely composed and arranged by Thomas Almqvist in 1980, one would think it was due to some personal journey he had undertaken to areas encircling New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado, that The Journey came to be. Hearing the album you can picture the influence of desert-sounding jazz-rock of Hejira-era Joni making its case for a credit. Catching the more austere, ruminative bits of music, when Thomas takes nearly all the reins on guitar, synth, drum and bass, you imagine the untethered neoclassical music of Popol Vuh lifting a finger, asking for a nod and wink — strains of Florian Fricke’s Cœur de verre playing in their head. Respectively, both songs such as the straining guitar fusion opener “L.A Exit” and it’s heart-pounding orchestral, upcoming track “Mountains of Mexico” stake claim to such ideas. The root of this music isn’t there, though, I believe.
Once again, I go back to that Ansel Adams photo.
A photo capturing a perfectly normal scene, in a very rarely seen locale, captures perfectly what Ansel saw as uniquely interesting. Capturing twilight in a place of settling, far from exploding American urbanity, one can still see that rugged, palpable wilderness that man still struggles to accurately harness. Dominated by black, with clouds bursting the horizon of a setting sun, far off, in the desert distance, snow-capped mountains seem unreachable, for those who live in the modesty of the foreground. Devoid of a starry night, the crosses on the ground seem to provide a layer of inner light, as if grasping for that last bit of sunlight before “everything” goes to rest. This is something you hear in the music of The Journey. The scale is enormous, even though everything at the foreground seems so small and tethered.
Written as a means to get across Thomas’s own inspiration from the literary works of Latino-American mystic Carlos Castaneda, all the songs on The Journey have an unplaceable sound that really puts it in this region of America, and specifically in this bit of interpretation — that the last bit of uninterpretable wilderness still has a fantastic power to stimulate all sorts of ideas, from such very personal sources. Endlessly hypnotic, The Journey shows those teachings of the shaman Don Juan: how to follow those cracks between lightness and darkness, into a world (or in this case, a musical one) not entirely like Thomas’s own. In case you never get a chance to visit this beautiful land, this is a great way to see, what I’ve seen in it. I do believe there is something to this bit of conscious, musical dreaming…