If the music on guitarist and composer Todd Mosby’s newest release, Aerial Views, seems to take flight and soar, that’s not coincidental. Aerial Views is the third in a series of concept albums which highlight the natural elements; this set of recordings embraces air and early childhood experiences piloting his father’s plane.
Produced by the legendary Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton team, Aerial Views features a cast of world-class musicians: violinist Charlie Bisharat, bassist Tony Levin, drummer Jerry Marotta, bassist Michael Manring, percussionist Jeff Haynes, multi-instrumentalist Premik Tubbs on soprano and lap steel, Lola Kristine on piano and vocals to name a few.
“I had early childhood experiences piloting my father’s plane; he was a professional aviator,” Mosby says, “and we spent a lot of time in the air, feeling a special freedom and independence whenever we took to the sky. As I got older, that freedom evolved into an ever expanding musical and spiritual journey. Music became integral to my sense of centeredness, allowing my spirit to take flight through rhythm and melody. Practice was like a meditation and prayer.”
That freedom is evident throughout Aerial Views, the third in a series of concept albums that highlight the natural elements. It follows Eagle Mountain, a tribute to earth, and Open Waters, dedicated to the seas. In conceiving the music for Aerial Views, Mosby focused on strong melody and a unique form of harmony inspired by the Imrat guitar; the bulk of the tracks feature Mosby interacting in instrumental settings with some “A” list, heavy hitting musicians. “I had an abundance of material to pull from,” he says. “Each tune had to survive the production process while remaining engaging enough for each musician to bring their best forward.” Mosby says.
Produced by the legendary Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton team, Aerial Views takes off with “Gliding,” featuring a cast of world-class musicians: bassist Tony Levin, drummer Jerry Marotta, percussionist Jeff Haynes, multi-instrumentalist Premik Tubbs on soprano saxophone and Eaton playing the Fender Rhodes keyboard. Mosby plays both the standard Gibson ES275 guitar as well as acoustic and electric Imrat guitar, an 18-stringed sitar-guitar hybrid bridge instrument created by Ustadt Imrat Khan, Kim Schwartz and Mosby. Imrat guitars are utilized on four of Aerial Views’ tracks in all.
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The award-winning Mosby is considered a rare master of both North Indian raag and Western composition and improvisation.
Mosby’s immersion in Indian music has long given him a distinctive sound, and is once again explored in great depth on this new release. “I started listening to Indian music when I was 10,” Mosby says. “It sat in the background of my life until I heard that Imrat Khan was coming to St. Louis to teach and live.” Mosby, who resides in that midwestern city, monitored a class Khan was teaching and afterwards, asked to study with him on guitar. That initial contact led to a 13-year disciplined study of classical North Indian technique, raag, philosophy and history of music in old school Imdad Khan Gharana tradition. After seven years Mosby began performing concerts with the great Ustad.
“My studies in classical North Indian music have had a profound influence on my concept, technique, composition, performance and standards of musical excellence,” he says. “Tonal music is some of the most difficult to perform well. My understanding of raag, tal, bebop, modal music and composition combined with the Imrat guitars offer a bridge between the Western and Indian music cultures.” Mosby is the only guitarist to become a member of the famed Imdad Khani Gharana of musicians, India’s most prestigious family of sitar musicians dating back 500 years.
“Across America,” the second track on Aerial Views, introduces the virtuoso violinist Charlie Bisharat, who returns periodically; other contributors on the album include pianist and vocalist Lola Kristine (an up-and-coming young artist and natural in the studio as well as stage) and veteran bassist Michael Manring. Ackerman, the legendary founder of Windham Hill Records and a Grammy-winning guitarist in his own right, contributes acoustic guitar to “Aether,” another standout track, which according to Mosby is a reminiscent rendition of John Coltrane’s “Naima.”
Each successive track—bearing titles such as “Blue Horizons,” “Earth & Sky” and “Between the Clouds,” and of course the title track—further expounds on the album’s overt theme, with various combinations of instruments providing the ever-shifting coloration. Mosby credits Ackerman and Eaton with setting the highest standards for each musician and helping to flesh out their best work via superb production and excellent musical insight. In addition, one solo acoustic guitar track and one lyric track fill out the program.
“Will has the “golden ears” of a true producer, and I trust him 100 percent,” he says. “He knows how to make music live in a track forever. He knows what sounds right. The combination of Will, Tom and myself makes for a nice balance as far as musical choice goes. I stay out of the way as much as possible and always default to their insight unless I feel really strongly about something. [The lyric track] ‘Shining Lights’ is an example where I pushed for a choir sound on the last verse. Eventually, Will and Tom were on board and then took it to a whole other level. And Tom Eaton is a rare engineer/musician who lives easily in both worlds. He is the Van Gogh of recorded music. Tom’s ability to communicate, set mics, edit and mix along with an exquisite sense of musicianship, makes him unique. Together they bring clarity, focus and a sense of musicality to every project. This is my third album with this team so we have developed a nice synergistic relationship. Each recording gets more expansive and better.”
Among the musicians who appear throughout Aerial Views, Manring, Haynes, Tubbs and Kristine are the core group of the New Horizons Ensemble, one of Mosby’s regular performing groups. The tracks “Aether,” “Into Starlight” and “Solo Flight” feature that ensemble, while the others feature the current expanded group. The album was recorded at three studios, with basic guitar and subsequent guitar parts cut at Imaginary Roads Studio in Windham, Vermont, overdubs done at Dreamland Studios in Woodstock, N.Y., and the mastering and mixing handled at Eaton’s Universal Noise Studio in Newburyport, Mass.
Amazingly, the final creation was pieced together from an initial 500 complete and incomplete ideas over a two year period. Mosby honed this down to 32 tunes submitted to Will and then further pruned for the final selection. The compositions were written specifically for this album, Mosby explains. “The tunes started appearing shortly after the Open Waters album was complete. I had also toured some of these tunes during our last set of concerts in January 2020. When composing for this genre, I like to start with interesting chord progressions which are fun to improvise over. I am able to create some pretty deceptively lush progressions on the acoustic Imrat guitar. This guitar offers a special kind of tonal integrity not found in any other chordal instrument. Melodies evolve pretty quickly, usually within a few passes.”
Once the chords, melody and form were complete and the instrumentation laid out, it was time for Aerial Views to take flight. “There is an ability to see beyond land-based vision. Your perspective changes from above.” Mosby says in summation. “As such, this music allows entry into the realms of flight and spirit which serve as a cohesive point of departure for this concept album.”