Doug Blair: Horizon Heart Dance Records
Doug Blair's Horizon inhabits an interzone where New Age, funk, trip-hop, electronic music, chillout, and rock collide, sometimes in the same track. Listening to his Heart Dance Records label debut (digital-only), it's often impossible to slot the music into one particular genre, given the stylistic balance achieved by this Cincinnati-based multi-instrumentalist (guitars, bass, keyboards, synthesizers). While it's issued as a solo Blair release, Cass Anawaty makes a significant contribution as producer, mixer, masterer, co-writer (of three songs), and player, Anawaty credited with drums, bass, guitar, percussion programming, and synths on the fifty-minute album.
Blair plays a number of different instruments, but it's guitar that's often a track's center. Typically that means electric, but Blair's proficiency extends to acoustic and mandolin, too; his early love for jazz and blues sometimes emerges as well, the latter especially. As a guitar soloist, there are moments when his playing calls to mind David Gilmour's and Andy Summer's, both of them, like Blair, rock guitarists comfortable playing in progressive instrumental contexts (he even seemingly nods in Gilmour's direction when parts reminiscent of “Have A Cigar” surface during “The End”).
Blair often grounds a cut with a muscular bass-and-drums pattern that's overlaid with crisp electric guitar and keyboard textures. Any number of tracks could be cited as illustrations, starting with the opening “Dreamtrip,” which pairs a punchy funk groove with chiming guitar atmospherics and billowing synth atmospheres whilst deftly threading a melodic guitar solo into its design.
With Anawaty contributing a bubbly, rather dub-like bass pulse, “Groove Machine” makes good on its title, and much the same could be said of “A Higher State of Funk” when New Age synths are conjoined to a hard-grooving bass line. Whereas the inclusion of minimoog gives “Ghost in the Room” a bit of West coast flavour, “Strange Things” positions Blair's material within a jazzy R&B zone when earthy guitar and bass parts are voiced in unison.
A strong chillout vibe permeates the album, a quality never more evident than during slow, languorous productions such as “In That Moment” and the title track. More than anything else, one comes away from Horizon hearing Blair as a natural addition to the Heart Dance Records roster, given the Arizona-based label's predilection for New Age, ambient, and chillout genres and harmonious material tailor-made for healing and relaxation.