On paper, the blending might seem disreputable, the stuff of a shameless culture plundering, or possibly new age nightmare: the profound linear grace of a Tibetan nun chanting adorned with impressionistic pastiches of electric guitar and assorted sonic treatments. Instead, Cho (Hannibal 1404; 49:26), the new album from Choying Drolma and guitarist Steve Tibbetts is a magical thing, one of the finest and most mind-opening albums that the unique sound-painter Tibbetts has put his mind to. That's saying something, considering Tibbetts' quietly compelling discography, stretching back to his early self-produced and promoted projects and now including several fine ECM projects, all with a kind of unabashed idiom-mashing zeal, drawing on global folk traditions, open-ended modalism, and Hendrixian feedback caterwauls-of-sound, that might seem audacious if it weren't for an underlying introspective tenderness.
On Cho, Tibbetts proves to be a sensitive partner for Drolma, a young expatriated Tibetan nun whose chanting captured Tibbetts' ear on a visit to the Himalayas in the early '90s. He returned with a DAT recorder and made field recordings of Drolma's vocalizing and later worked with the tapes in the comfort of his home studio in Minneapolis. The real source of enchantment is Drolma's spiritually-charged, meditative chants, but Tibbetts brings his ideas from across the world, sometimes adding spatial enhancement or supplying droning underpaintings which set the chants at an angle, harmonically. The result is texturally pleasing and wholly entrancing in a way that surprises anyone skeptical of westernized eastern music.