Dean Magraw is a Minnesota based guitarist whose diverse interests and well honed skills have led him to play with Americana heartland songwriter Greg Brown, fiery fiddle based Irish band Altan, and jazz organist Jack McDuff. You may have heard him on the radio show A Prairie Home Companion, as well.
Marcus Wise is a professional tabla player. Thirty years ago he became one of the first professional musicians in the United to focus on this traditional Indian percussion instrument. He has worked with artists in jazz, Indian classical music, r and b, and pop.
Wise and Magraw have been what they describe as musical brothers for more than thirty years. The two had recorded an self titled album together twenty five years ago, and had done tracks for another project they had never gotten around to finishing.
Then Magraw was diagnosed with a life threatening disease that required a bone marrow transplant. Reflecting on his life as his health situation unfolded, Magraw realized that one of the things he really wanted to do was go in to the studio with Wise and finish that old recording. They only needed, they thought, about fifteen more minutes of music to have it wrapped up. What happened was something else.
“There was some big hearted muse that appeared in that studio,” Magraw said. “Marcus and I have ben playing together for years, but during this project, we listened to each other in a way that was really new. We spent time in silence, hearing the notes, feeling them. The music just seemed to play itself.”
That meditative and receptive atmosphere comes through clearly on the tracks on How the Light Gets In. That’s not to say they are all quiet tracks — Entrainment, for example, has a driving rhythm, and Delphonic finds them gliding through a six beat structure. There are quieter pieces, too, such as the reflective one called Jade.
As it turned out, they didn’t go back to the older tracks at all. “Recording with Dean when he was being physically, mentally, and spiritually challenged, watching him pour all his soul into that crystallized moment, was one of my great crossroads,” Wise said. “Both our musical ideas kept evolving until we happily realized a whole new CD.”
It is music that will not sound quite like anything you’ve heard before, most likely. Rhythm and beat, flowing lines and driving ones, perhaps the best description of it is chant without words. “We really didn’t do much polishing on this record,” Magraw said. “Four sessions, and that was about it.”
That is in part why they chose to title the album from a line in an old Leonard Cohen song they remembered, one which celebrates the thought that the cracks and imperfections in things may turn into sources of new inspiration.
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