Years Active: 39.
Provenance: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Essential Albums:Celestial Vibration (recorded as Edward Larry Gordon), Ambient 3: Day of Radiance, Unicorns in Paradise, Essence/Universe, The Way Out Is the Way In (with Audio Active), FRKWYS Vol. 8 (with Blues Control).
Essential Songs: “The Dance #1,” ““>The Dance #3,” “Meditation #1,” “Unicorns in Paradise,” “Bethlehem,” ““>All Pervading,” ““>Sun Zither,” “Deep Chimes Meditation,” “Being Here (Flow Goes the Universe),” “Freeflow.”
Influenced by: Brian Eno, Alice Coltrane, Constance Demby, Iasos, Harold Budd, J.D. Emmanuel, the absurdity of the universe.
Influence on: Pete Namlook, Oneohtrix Point Never, Sun Araw, Emeralds, Outer Space, Dolphins into the Future, Peaking Lights, Blues Control.
Precautions: One needs a long attention span to fully appreciate Laraaji’s patiently unfolding mantras of eternal beatitude. If you lack that basic attribute, there may be no hope for you to enjoy the solemnly gregarious, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist’s material.
Why You Should Give a Fuck: The funny thing is, Laraaji likely doesn’t care if you give a single fuck. He’s too busy teaching folks about the hidden benefits of giggling via his Laughter Meditation Workshops and putting distinctive twists on the Music of the Spheres. Nevertheless, you, mortal human, should give at least a few fucks about the street musician—born Edward Larry Gordon in 1943—who made no less a musical innovator than Brian Eno stop in his tracks in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park and offer to record tracks with him. The result was 1980’s Day of Radiance, a prestigious entry in Eno’s Ambient LP series, of which there were only four. A reminder of the importance of first impressions, or what?
As it turned out, Day of Radiance has become Laraaji’s best-known work, and it’s a classic. As I wrote in a Slog review of Glitterbeat Records’ 2015 reissue of it regarding the three tracks bearing the title “The Dance”: They “consist of crystalline cascades of electric zither and synthesizer that swathe your head in tantalizing, chakra-centering tones. It’s like taking a shower in an icy waterfall, every plucked note from 1980 cleansing your cells of 21st-century toxins. It’s like standing in a glistening tower of tintinnabulation, swaddled in the infinite tolls generated by a peaceful, altruistic soul with tension reduction as his primary concern.” The two “Meditation” pieces are the aural equivalent of flower petals tickling your earlobes, causing an AMSR skull hum of utmost exquisiteness. Your shrink should play them for you at every session.
One of Laraaji’s earliest works, Celestial Vibration (1978) is truth in titling. Whereas much new age music makes you look at your watch (or phone, as the case may be), wondering when something interesting or not teeth-rottingly sugary will happen, Laraaji unerringly ensnares you in a gossamer web of sonic purity, as if he’d put in weeks of rigorous research to pinpoint the most glorious timbres from his zither, keyboards, gongs, and kalimbas.
The original liner notes writer for Celestial Vibration began her essay: “Believe me, this music comes from Heaven,” and if you think that’s risible hyperbole, well, you haven’t listened closely enough to the tranquil electric-zither ripples and whorls of angel-hair synth emissions of “All Pervading.” Immerse yourself in its 24 minutes and, like the 13th Floor Elevators’ Roky Erickson in a much different context, you’ve got levitation. Or like John Coltrane in a much different context, you’ve got ascension. Catch my drift? Good. Now please come back down to earth and read the rest of this article.
Another Laraaji career highlight, 1981’s Unicorns in Paradise, conjures an ambrosial calm through cumulonimbus puffs of synth and gently strummed zither. This beatific sound had a big impact on DJs who worked the chill-out rooms of 1990s raves and on the international ambient diaspora that radiated out of strongholds like Germany’s FAX label and Kim Cascone’s US-based Silent Records.
The last five years or so have seen a resurgence of interest in Laraaji’s music, and he’s ridden this wave of acclaim and attention to the live circuit, blessing us with his omnidirectional warmth and more profoundly peaceful vibes than you’ll feel in a decade’s worth of Deadhead caravans. Strong reissue campaigns by the All Saints and Leaving labels have rescued long-out-of-print Laraaji titles from oblivion, further beautifying the heads of a new generation of audio adventurers.
Laraaji may be in his 70s, but he’s no oldies act. In actuality, he’s as timeless as any musician currently treading the boards. Be good to yourself for a change and bask in his magnanimous effusions.