Zen Connection's blend of spicy world melodies, trippy breaks, hazy dub and new age prettiness unquestionably echoes the more famous Buddha Bar albums but is a better proposition all round. The Zen series is more adventurous and relies less on the slick soft pop and Latin clichés that its overpriced, better-known French cousin too often falls back on.
country of origin:
Ethno lounge, nu jazz, ambient dub, chillout
- Zen Connection (2002, One World Music)
- Zen Connection 2 (2003, One World Music)
- Zen Connection 3 (2004, One World Music)
- Eco Zen (2005, One World Music)
- Zen Connection 4 (2006, One World Music)
- Eco Zen 2 (2008, One World Music)
Reviewed by Mike G
Zen Connection is a highly credible series - released during the 2000's by Australian-based label One World Music - of what could loosely be termed "global beats", based around a loose spiritual theme. Looking back now, it's perhaps that decade's most consistently fine series of compilations in the downtempo world-beat style.
The first album sets the pattern - a wide cross-section of both Oz and international artists including LTJ Bukem, The Gotan Project and Zen flute master Riley Lee. Compiler Leigh Wood has very carefully put together a blend of spicy world melodies, trippy breaks, hazy dub and new age prettiness that unquestionably echoes the more famous Buddha Bar albums from the same period but is a better proposition all round. This and subsequent volumes in the Zen series are more musically adventurous and rely less on the slick soft pop and Latin clichés that the overpriced, better-known French series too often falls back on.
Zen Connection 2 (2003) may be less immediately likeable than the debut but has a comparable breadth and depth across two CD's. Zen Connection 3 (2004) and Zen Connection 4 (2006) are both of outstanding quality. New tracks from pioneers of the genre like Loop Guru, Nitan Sawhney and Banco de Gaia sit next to some stunning music from newcomers like Stef (Australia), Kaya Project (UK) and dub producer Ott (UK). Once again compiler Leigh Wood shows a sharp ear for tracks both intelligent and accessible. You'll hear neither cheesy muzak or avant-garde indulgence; just quality downtempo sounds with global flavours bathed in am ethereal ambience.
The Eco Zen series is essentially the same vibe, except that here Wood shares the compiling duties with Big Chill DJ/producer Ben Mynott.
An excess of English vocals and familiar song structures on Disc One of Eco Zen (2005) won't engage fussier ambient listeners; Disc Two is what makes the album a must-have. It's a sublime collection of global beats, sensual lounge and ethno ambience from around the world that's equal to anything in the Zen Connection series. UK band Digitonal offers "93 Years On", a brilliant piece of eerie twilight lounge music with spine-tingling saxophone wails. Flipside's beatless combination of a warm Balearic synth and plucked guitar phrases is very simple and very beautiful. And world music alchemist Adham Shaikh shows how loose and organic a good electronic producer can sound with his trippy groove "Sabadhi", a track based on one-chord but dressed in complex improvisations. Eco Zen 2 (2008), the second and final in the series, maintains the quality of its predecessor's best moments, dipping a little more into both ambient dub and the world of The Big Chill to unearth gems like Atlantean's dubby "Cosmonaut" and Tom Middleton's tender and exquisitely melodic "Yearning".
Also from One World Music and highly recommended are the first two volumes in the Elysian Vibes series (released 2004 and 2005) compiled again by Leigh Wood. Both are well above-average collections in the style of the Zen albums and mix up smooth jazzy breaks, exotic lounge, lazy Latin shuffles and Balearic chill.