"Using only instruments made of wood, Todd Montgomery and Djam Karet's Gayle Ellett blend Old-World and contemporary musical styles on their new all-acoustic project Fernwood. This colorful sonic palette results in Almeria, a remarkably cohesive and compelling debut record. Peaceful but never dull… the duo's sophisticated arrangements and deft touch on a variety of instruments bring songs with vivid titles like "Open Seas" and "Hungarian Holiday" to life.”
"Progressive" in the purest sense of the term.”
SEA OF TRANQUILITY
"The bowed-string family of instruments has yielded several hundred years of rich textural notoriety, from simple string quartet accompaniments, to orchestral scores, to today's big-screen cinematic media ambiance. In contemporary music culture, we immediately think of the string "pad," an underlying atmospheric sonic palate generated by a violin section, deepened by the additional timbre of cellos and basses, even the last quarter century of synthesizer technology has embraced and imitated the sound, granted somewhat artificially.
What few arranger/composers have done is embraced the bonus subtlety of plectrum, the layered articulation of multiple plucked instruments like mandolin or guitar, let alone it's more exotic relatives like Bouzouki, Ruan, or Sitar. What the two pioneers of cinematic sound Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellet offer in their recent release, Almeria is a truly stunning and unique array of soundscapes in a "pan-cultural" approach to composition. Self described as "pastoral and psychedelic," their style blends a traditional American acoustic sound with starkly contrasting elements of global influence, including Irish, Eastern European, Indian, and Middle Eastern. It's cowboy, it's jazz, it's Oriental. Despite the extreme diversity, the music of Fernwood is far from confusing, and after listening to the tracks several times, there is a consistently clear, signature compositional identity.
Like the casual beachcomber can hear the sound of the ocean when placing a stray seashell up to the ear, any who listen to this pleasant music can hear their native Southern California (Malibu) geographic setting in their work. It's "no-pressure" art that does not extrovertly "sell," it casually assimilates and charms.
The CD opens with "Sandpiper," major 7th arpeggio cross-picking injecting a reflective, pastoral mood, the opening theme repeated in Rondo form. The extraordinary slide bouzouki lends a linear feel against the rhythmic pulse heard repeatedly throughout the project, and intensely in the subsequent "Open Seas" as the "gallop" of lower strings conveys its title, as if a sailboat were bouncing of the waves at a high, but steady clip.
We are treated to a bittersweet sitar in "Crow," the gentle melancholy harmonic construction woven over a peg-legged 5/4 time. From there, the harmonium is featured in a Balkan "Hungarian Holiday" with what might profess dissimilar voices, a sitar and Rhodes piano, but the duo work it into a convincing textural whole. The haunting melody is consistent and memorable throughout the whole song. The two are expert at crafting fresh, yet recognizable thematic material, and use tremolo effectively as an intense energy builder, especially in the Greek and Irish zouks over the backdrop of rubato arpeggiated plectra and lilting Rhodes piano in "Athenia.".
One might consider the music of Fernwood predominantly modal, were it not for their exploitation of continually evolving shifting tonal centers. The Lydian (raised 4th) vocabulary betrays the "Americana" of "Makena" and "Ruidoso." (Having never actually been to Ruidoso, New Mexico, we're not really sure what the geography is like but from the scoring we get a glimpse of "Old West" a playful horsewhip of strings and hoedown humor. We assume it's nestled in some beautiful forested mountains, with lots of fresh clean air.).
It's the slide/plucked Irish bouzouki telling the story in "Crane," and the curious sitar counter point supports and contrasts at the same time, over the backdrop of a punctuating acoustic guitar. "East Window" is yet another songscape with its own intimate story; melancholy major 7th chord progressions snuggled into descending chromatic lines paint a picture of deep and personal introspection. Montgomery and Ellett are undeniably expert at crafting clever texture, the contrast of Rhodes piano and sitar on "Pelican," and the jazzy upright bass texture betrayed by the introduction of tremolo of Chinese ruan on "County Line." Arguably, the most intimate of all the tracks, this gorgeous lullaby, "Nightingale" moves slowly but deliberately, fingers and plectrum wringing tone out of each note, Chinese ruan over dulcet Rhodes. It's a great way to sensitively end an inexhaustibly varied compilation of textures and timbres... The whole project is performed flawlessly and multi-tracked by these talented individuals. It's confident and flashy, but never overtly flamboyant.
Absolutely enchanting, a brilliant mix of interesting textures and layers of exotic acoustic timbers. A tantalizing taste of otherworldly aural delight."
"Veramente bello e rilassante questo progetto realizzato dal duo Todd Montgomery e Gayle Ellett (più famoso per essere membro dei Djam Karet). La peculiarità di questo progetto sta principalmente nell’uso esclusivo (o quasi… ogni tanto spunta fuori un piano Fender Rhodes) di strumenti acustici in legno. Troviamo, quindi, molti strumenti tradizionali abbastanza inusuali per un progetto di musica moderna. I due non si fan scrupolo di usare sitar, mandolini, bouzuki di origine greca o irlandese, oltre la chitarra, ma troviamo spazio anche per uno strumento come l’harmonium. E’ logico che l’uso di questa strumentazione, a parte la nota di colore, non è il motivo principale per il quale mi ha colpito questo cd. I brani proposti sembrano fatti apposta per accompagnare film o documentari (se avete presente il programma Linea Blu della Rai avete capito a cosa mi riferisco). La melodia è l’aspetto più importante delle dodici tracce proposte in questo disco. Siamo quasi in territori new age (molte soluzioni sonore ricordano molto gli ultimi lavori degli Shadowfax) e world music. Il bouzuki è lo strumento più usato e sembra strano che un gruppo che ha la casa che si affaccia sull’oceano sia così influenzato dalla musica mediterranea e mediorientale senza mai dimenticare le radici sonore statunitensi. Non deve meravigliarci, perciò, il fatto di trovare pezzi bluegrass vicino a brani che sembrano usciti da una raccolta di musica etnica greca. Ne viene fuori un quadro sonoro che, anche se ti ricorda mille cose alla fine ha una sua identità di fondo. Assomiglia agli Shadowfax ma i Fernwood non suonano così new age. Può ricordarti qualcosa dell’ultimo Mauro Pagani, ma non è un disco world music. Può ricordarti certe cose dello Steve Hackett più acustico, ma anche in questo caso le soluzioni sonore sono diverse. "Almeria" è un disco che ogni volta che lo ascolti ti lascia qualcosa in più: una nota, un accordo, una sensazione diversa. E’ bello sapere che ogni tanto si trova ancora qualcuno che con la propria musica ti riconcilia col mondo circostante."
"Merrily and easily mixing ethnic musical influences from all across the globe in compositional structures with a heritage belonging just as much to the world of jazz and rock as folk music, this skilled and talented duo has produced an album that should appeal to individuals enjoying many different musical styles. Followers of world music may find this just as interesting as fans of jazz-fusion and progressive rock. Indeed, if you enjoy acoustic instrumental music this release is worthwhile checking out no matter how you define your personal musical taste. I happily recommend "Almeria" for those who enjoy acoustic instrumental music of the stringed variety."
"Music is known as one of the universal languages by many people. No matter where we come from, we can tell that each song represents various emotions of love, happiness, joy and even regret. Other sensations can be felt from numerous tunes, so it is of no surprise that true music doesn't have to have vocals to reach your heart. Such touching songs can be heard in Fernwood's new CD Almeria. This album catches the essence of instrumental music. Such essence reveals that the most entrancing sounds do not have to be expressed in the words of one human language.
The language that Fernwood speaks is very unusual among even the most well known artists. Each track on this album boasts a unique sound that the group proudly states is played on a variety of instruments made from wood. When one listens to tracks such as "Open Seas," one can easily hear how these various instruments come together to create a sound no one can ever forget. Even though no words can explain how uplifting this track is, one can feel at ease as the strings chant a rhythm that can uplift any lonely soul. While no human voice remains to be heard, the 'lyrics' are indeed emotional as almost anyone can be called into a dance possibly reflecting remorse. Such emotions are merely left for the listener to feel. You won’t be disappointed."
EUPHORIA's MUSIC REVIEWS
"If I were a sandpiper, I’d flutter up speaker-wise. The tweeters and company are doling out a new album called Almeria by the band known as Fernwood. I would hear my namesake with the mellow intacacy of instruments made out of wood. That’s what Todd Montgomerey and Gayle Ellett, the experienced creators of this set know all about. They wade in and out of my lazy sandpiper’s afternoon. An afternoon brought to me by a ruminating soft-focus ascension.
Almeria may be a city in Spain, but in Aribic, it's the mirror of the sea. While flashes of Ravi Shankar and Donovan twirl thy feathers, the Southern California harmonic wavesplash is how Fernwood seems to be parenthesizing their grooves upon my wocked beak smile.
As a human being, the sounds of actual birds outside of my window sang along to this backdrop of cinematic moments and thus it felt bizarre to think of any troubles I might have. While thinking about how contributing these sounds are to the birds of the city, was as obscure as it was meaningful, my tall glass of sangria had magically vanished into thick air. This duo is already planning another Frenwood release. The next one, be it as thoughtful, shall provide yet another excuse to dance like a sandpiper on the finishing carvings of a mandolin headstock. And why not?"
FARWEST ALMANAC Magazine
"Fernwood’s (Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett) music is, according to the CD's back cover, "Played by hand on instruments made out of wood." The list of the album's instruments includes sitar, mandolin, guitar, fiddle, organ, upright bass, and many other exotic string instruments from all over the globe. Sangita’s 12 songs display influences from disparate cultures and heritages: Appalachia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, India and other ports of call. You may hear a snatch of bluegrass, a hint of blues, or even an Indian raga. The genre-bending fusion presented on Sangita is reminiscent of banjo player Akira Satake's Cooler Heads Prevail, another fine example of defying world beat conventions."
NEW AGE RETAILER Magazine
"Iza sastava / projekta Fernwood stoje dva iskusna i prekaljena muzicara - Todd Montgomery i Gayle Ellett. Njih dvojica su idejni pokretaci svega sto se u muzicko-koncepcijskom smislu naslo na albumu "Almeria". Naime, kompletan album odsviran je i snimljen putem drvenih akusticnih instrumenata, cime je postignut zeljeni efekat. Postignuta je tako atmosfera koja vesto kombinuje svetonazore "drevnih" starijih vremena i novijih ethno uticaja, a ona je evidentna preko svih ponudjenih tema sa izdanja. Album je snimljen u Malibu i Topanga (California, USA), pod producentskim nazorima pomenutog dvojca i Wayne Yentis. 12 tema i skoro 48 minuta muzike obiluju cestim promenama i prelazima u razlicite ambijentalne i ethno vode i slike koje se stvaraju preslusavanjem materijala vode do razlicitih strana sveta, od Mediterana, preko ruskih ali i blisko-istocnih prostora. Todd i Gayle su vesto i znalacki u skladnu celinu ukomponovali razlicite instrumente kao sto su mandolina, irski buzuki, sitar, harmonijum. To pokazuje ne samo njihovo veliko pomenuto iskustvo, vec i izuzetno dobro snalazenje u jednom ovako ponudjenom muzickom konceptu.
"Almeria" je izdanje koje svakako zavredjuje vasu paznju, te ukoliko vam se ukaze prilika, ne oklevajte da se upoznate sa muzikom benda Fernwood."
“US-based duo Fernwood explore some rather intriguing and unique landscapes with their debut release. Strings is a keyword for this release, as both Gayle Ellett and Todd Montgomery handle a multitude of different string instruments; from your basic acoustic guitar to more exotic varieties like gimbri and rababah. On 11 of the 12 compositions on this creation a multitude of these are used to create structures at times highly complex, with as much as 5 or 6 different melody lines combining, interweaving or performing harmonic layered songs; most often highlighting contrasts in playing style, sound and musical heritage for the various instruments used.
The last tune on the release contrasts the other songs here, a slow moving affair exploring the resonances of the individual notes and licks of a single guitar - a nice way to end an adventurous, acoustic instrumental affair such as this one.
If complex, ethnic influenced acoustic instrumental music sounds interesting, or if you're a jazz fan intrigued by world music touches in music; this release should be worth getting.”
THEIR VOICES ARE STRINGS
"Dai Djam Karet ad un'ipnotica world music: l'eccellente esordio del duo califoniano. Quando parliamo di Djam Karet vengono in mente le tempeste d'elettricità sollevate con celebri jam, oppure le oasi sterminate di dilatazione elettronica, ma anche le episodiche deviazioni acustiche. Gayle Ellett - chitarrista della storica band - con Fernwood intende approfondire proprio quella direzione unplugged, in un progetto che non è un semplice "staccare la spina". Nato con Todd montgomery, Fernwood è una dimensione a parte, in cui con soli strumenti di legno del bacino mediterraneo (bouzuki, oud, mandolino etc.) il duo rievoca percorsi chitarristici tipici degli anni '70 (Renbourn e Grossman, Loy e Altomare).
"Almeria" è un disco profondamente calato in un'atmosfera mediterranea e marina: un susseguirsi di ballate dal sapore magico, dagli intrecci chitarristici con sitar, oud, su tappeti di fender rhodes e harmonium ("Hungarian Holiday" è un gioiellino, difficile immaginare che sia il frutto di due americani), brani evocativi come "Open seas" e "Makena", la travolgente "Ruidoso". E' un excursus libero, aperto, che profuma anche di California anni '60 (vedi "Crow", quasi ciclica nel suo respiro): d'altronde il duo ha registrato tra Malibu e Topanga, assorbendo dunque certe suggestioni locali, le stesse che nutrivano un Garcia, un Kaukonen, un Cipollina. Non sarebbe male vederli in un ideale concerto con Tito Rinesi, il più "arabo" dei nostri compositori.
Disco estatico e impregnato di malìa, sfiora solo in alcuni frangenti la ripetitività e la noia ma raggiunge il suo obiettivo. Il duo è già al lavoro per un secondo lp, nel frattempo collabora ad alcune produzioni cinematografiche, grazie a questa musica così gravida di visioni, di colori, di passione."
"I come across a lot of talented people, and one common "sin" is the inability to be consistent. It's especially common in multi-instrumentalists, and what you guys do is, despite foraging new ground, is keep things within the bounds of an identifiable personality or signature. Nobody else can do what you're doing, it's so totally unique and enjoyable. I wish you much success!"
Ted Eschliman: Owner of JazzMando
"You guys all probably know by now that at Guitar Player Zen, we really like to emphasize finding your own voice, developing into an artist with your own sound and uniqueness, finding creative and subtle ways to set yourself apart from the crowd, etc. Well Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett have done a great job in finding their own niche. What I like about Fernwood and Todd and Gayle, is the fact that they don’t just classify themselves as putting out a guitar album. Rather, it is an eclectic instrumental album, featuring some very interesting instruments. The music on this album is so amazingly beautiful and peaceful. My advice for listening: Put it on your I-Pod, find a nice place outside (or inside) to lay down, close your eyes, and picture yourself on a European beach surrounded by the people you love most. A fun (and awesome) fact about these two is that they have scored numerous soundtracks for film, tv, animation, computer games, music libraries, and other corporate applications. Well enough talk. How bout you listen to a few of their tracks, go to their myspace, and buy their album!"
“California's Fernwood take their musical cues from all over the world and utilize a wide variety of acoustic stringed instruments from the same places to produce their exquisitely crafted gentle acoustic pieces that conjure up images of travel through far off lands, which sound as though they're from everywhere and nowhere at the same time, just a melting pot of wonderful acoustic exotica. The music is melodic, carefully arranged, always holds your attention and is at all times accessable; it is also evident that it has been recorded with a lot of care too, all the musical layers and detail shine through and the instruments occupy their own spaces which is no mean feat considering the complexity of some of the musical arrangements. Reviewing individual tracks is almost impossible, for to attempt to describe the delicate song structures and to try and guess which of the long list of instruments have been used would be a case of this reviewer doing the whole album an injustice. There are no individual standout tracks, because to highlight some at the expense of others would be so very wrong. If you can imagine yourself in a warm and beautiful land, where there is time to relax, take in scenery and live life at a slower pace than you might be accustomed to, then this is the music that would be playing from somewhere near by providing a mesmerizing soundtrack to the whole experience.
This is a beautiful album and is wholeheartedly recommended.”
"There are some songs you can create art to. By this, I mean music that doesn't distract you, but rather works with your mindset and day dreaming. This is such music. Also, even when I'm stuck in the city, this reminds me of the dirt roads and summer days in the country I grew up with. Bravo guys."
Lady162 (iTunes review)
"Fernwood is: Todd Montgomery on Irish bouzouki (slide, plucked and bowed), sitar, mandolin, and guitar (also slide); and Gayle Ellett on Greek bouzouki, ruan, harmonium, oud, guitar (also slide and E-bow), bulbul tarang, gobijen, dotara. organ, Rhodes piano, electric 5-string bass, and upright bass. With all these ethnic instruments, you’d expect a Middle Eastern or Far Eastern sound--but you’d be way off base. Okay, there’s a European flavor to some of the pieces, and a mournful Russian flair in one, but the majority of the music is distinctly Western. And don’t expect the tunes to be strictly folksy, either, because they’re rich with progressive sensibilities. The contrast of such various strings produces a lush pastiche that infuses each track with creative exuberance. Yet this contrast frequently turns around and accomplishes a wondrous amalgamation between ethnic and conventional instruments, resulting in a unique cadence as foreign sound fuse with traditional ones to produce thrilling sonic expressions. Keyboard contributions can be found in some instances. The Rhodes piano injects a very progressive sound to the lilting tuneage, while the harmonium offers the melancholic mood of a Roman campsite... Again, the ethnicity of the instruments is trumped by the performers’ Contemporary Americana and Old World sensibilities, resulting in music that applies modern character to the foreign strings used. These compositions seethe with passion, whether it’s overt buoyancy or romantic heartstrings. The pieces possess a cerebral character that is often overwhelmed by their innate enthusiasm, commingling serious intentions with a carefree cheeriness. The moods generated by this music are quite diverse. One track (“Hobbs Bay”) excellently conveys a salty sea breeze, while another (“White Oak”) majestically evokes the grandeur of ancient trees that dwarf human perception. A lot of these tracks capture the mood of geological locations, most of them coastal regions thick with noble woodlands. Again, keyboards are incidental, well-hidden, but masterful in their subliminal effects, establishing amiable resonance underlying the spry string presence. These compositions are remarkably bewitching, whether the song is expressing cerebral introspection or frivolous exuberance. An agility is found here, not just in the performance but in the melodies, communicating a joyous celebration of life with brisk effervescence."
"Djam Karet’s Gayle Ellett vervolgt met Sangita de weg die hij insloeg met het album Almeria en doet dit wederom samen met de specialist op folkloristische snaarinstrumenten Todd Montgomery en producer Wayne Yentis onder de groepsnaam Fernwood. Hoewel er opnieuw een karrenvracht aan instrumenten uit alle delen van de aardbol gebruikt worden, zijn de composities minder exotisch en divers als op het debuut, wat een meer coherent totaalplaatje oplevert. Dat neemt niet weg dat de oud in opener Kalyan direct Dhafer Youssef’s meest traditionele (Tunesische) werk in herinnering roept. Verder lijkt de sitar op Helen Island eerder naar de titel van de CD te verwijzen (Sangita-Ratnakarna is een eeuwenoud muziektheorieboek, waarin hoofdzakelijk muziekstijlen die in India gemaakt werden beschreven staan), maar als meer westerse snaren ingezet worden, die subtiel ondersteund worden door het ook bij deze opnames sporadisch opduikende orgel, wordt de verwijzing naar dit Canadese eiland duidelijker. Dat is sowieso het mooie van deze samenwerking: al die uit alle windstreken afkomstige houten instrumenten worden in diverse stukken ingezet, waardoor het normaal aan een streek gebonden geluid van een specifiek instrument nu opgaat in een soort wereld-americana-country-folk. Vergeleken met het vorige werkstuk is de algehele stemming wat ingetogener, hoewel de arrangementen nog steeds diverse melodielijnen naast elkaar laat horen. Dit laatste komt vooral goed tot zijn recht als er met een flink volume aandachtig geluisterd wordt; als achtergrondmuziek gaat de intrigerende spanningsboog die Ellett en Montgomery op Sangita hebben gecreëerd nagenoeg verloren."
iO Pages (Holland)
"A true do-it-yourself project, Sangita — the second all-acoustic instrumental album from Todd Montgomery and Djam Karet's Gayle Ellett — boasts 50 extraordinary minutes of music played on wood instruments carved by hand. The innovative duo incorporates Irish and Greek bouzouki, sitar, dilruba, ruan, oud, gobijen, bulbul tarang, dotara, tenor banjo, harmonium and, of course, good ol' acoustic guitar and upright bass into these dozen songs. Fans of prog, folk, roots, world and jazz music should discover plenty to enjoy here, as each song provides its own distinct sound.
The sparse "Cimarron" trots, while the twangy "Mistral" chirps. "White Oak" flickers, and "Rings Waltz" frolics. And "Helen Island" invokes Santana as "North Wind" continues blowing in a spiritual direction. Such pastoral titles also add to the laid-back sonic atmosphere, making Sangita the perfect summertime-chill companion."
5 out of 5 Stars
SEA OF TRANQUILITY
"Fernwood est une nouvelle formation américaine qui se cantonne dans la musique instrumentale et acoustique. Il faut dire que les deux membres du groupe sont des musiciens aguerris qui ont tout simplement décidé de s’associer pour ce projet particulier. Todd Montgomery est un grand professionnel des instruments à cordes. Il a notamment étudié le sitar avec Harihar Rao, le plus ancien étudiant de Ravi Shankar. Gayle Ellett est plus connu des amateurs de prog : il est entre autres le guitariste de Djam Karet, groupe dont la réputation n’est plus à faire. Nos deux gaillards se sont sans doute fait plaisir, mais ils ont surtout réalisé un disque de grande qualité. En effet, utilisant une grande palette d’instruments, ils ont réussi à enregistrer une douzaine de pièces relativement courtes (de trois à cinq minutes) composées et interprétées avec une grande fi nesse. Même si la formule acoustique peut paraître limitée, elle ne les empêche pas de varier les styles, passant d’une atmosphère mélancolique à un style folklorique enjoué avec la même maestria. Chaque morceau est une petite perle fi ne et agréable. Bien entendu, ce disque n’est sans doute pas celui du siècle, mais il est tout à fait recommandable à ceux qui s’autorisent une ou l’autre escapade hors des sentiers battus."
“Second album ("Sangita") from the all-acoustic instrumental duo and, while a lot of play is mentioned from the fact that all the instruments are made out of wood and its "world music" connotations, the most important thing about this duo's compositions are their mastery of emotion - throughout the album, there's always a human heart at the centre of operations. Take the opener, Kalyan" for example - the track begins with slow acoustic guitars and what sounds almost like a dobro in the backdrop (but isn't), while the presence of a sitar adds perfectly to the slowly rolling multi-layers, providing the western warmth with eastern exoticism to produce a positively heart-rending slice of instrumental yearning that makes you think of wide open spaces in countryside of great beauty - four minutes of absolute bliss. "White Oak" accelerates the tempo with a country-styled guitar onto which are added crisp guitar chords, soaring sitar and a cyclical acoustic guitar melody, as the whole thing coalesces, adds a touch of bouzouki, meanders through almost violin-like textures before the lead acoustic guitar returns to the riff, and the other instruments return to the source of the piece and build once more - magically constructed and cleverly arranged with so much going on but never overly busy. "Hobbs Bay" provides similar sounding strings from the opener, only here with a more rolling nature to the rhythm, as acoustic guitars, mandolin and other things I can't identify, all combine to produce a chunky five minute track that's solid and melodic, but constantly changing shape as it goes, the latter two things, the key secret to the overall appeal and success of this album. Using other instruments that include dilruba, oud, dotara, swarmandal, rmonium, piano and upright bass, the duo of Montgomery and Ellett give us a further 9 tracks that have at their heart, this wondrously charming sea of melody as well as conveying an emotional state of mind that really makes you want to listen to this music with intent, getting all the joy out of it as much as the musicians are putting in, if not more. As an acoustic instrumental album, its concentration on melody rather than technique, rhythm, musical cliches or conformity, makes it one of the most different, satisfying and gorgeous albums of its kind around today.”
DEAD EARNEST (Scotland)
“Layers of guitars, bouzouki, even sitar mark this as an original amalgam of – what? Something different, that’s for sure. Todd Montgomery (sitar, tenor banjo, slide and plucked Irish bouzoukim mandolin, guitar and fiddle) and Gayle Ellett (Greek bouzouki, oud, harmonium, upright bass, and some downright unpronounceable things) are obviously accomplished musicians. Just as obvious, they are not content to ply the early music circuit exclusively. So they enliven things with a more modern approach that includes the occasion electric piano and organ by Ellett and a sense of fun not always experienced ith early music. Those seeking something strikingly original will find it appealing.”
"Deuxieme effort discographique de deux multi-instrumentistes de Malibu, Sangita incarne le reve Californnien d’aujord’hui. Loin des delires psychedeliques de l’ere hippie ou meme de l’effervescence numerique de la fin du siecle dernier, Fernwood propose un voyage boise et acoustique 100% naturel. L’etude attentive et l’assimilation des maitres du folk global ont remplace l’usage de psychotropes ou d’ordinateurs. Aguerris a l’art du bluegrass, du folk irlandais, familiers des techniques orientales, Todd Montgomery et Gayle Ellett savent faire sonner une multitude d’instruments. Les banjos, bouzoukis, violins, pianos, mandolines, guitares mais aussi harmonium, sitar, dilruba ou oud…n’ont plus de secrests pour eux, lis tirent profit de chacun et les combinent avec gout et talent. Souvent joutes tranquilles manquent toutefois par moment d’asperites."
MONDOMIX Magazine (France)
“Todd Montgomery e Gayle Ellett riprovano per la seconda volta, a distanza di due anni, a conquistare il mondo con il loro progetto multietnico. _Questo "Sangita" riprende il discorso che sembrava essere concluso con il precedente lavoro "Almeria". Logicamente il fattore novità si perde e ci troviamo di fronte a composizioni che risultano meno interessanti, anche se impeccabili da un punto di visto esecutivo, rispetto al fortunato esordio. _La formula è sempre la stessa: usare solo strumenti acustici, nella maggior parte dei casi fatti esclusivamente di legno, provenienti da diverse parti del mondo. Il risultato è una miscela di melodie etniche mischiate a sonorità acustiche a noi molto più familiari. _Rispetto al disco d’esordio si è provato ad estendere il numero degli strumenti acustici impiegati e nelle dodici tracce che compongono questo "Sangita" è possibile ascoltare bouzuki greci e irlandesi, sitar, oud, dilruba, harmonium, ruan oltre a violini e chitarre rigorosamente acustiche. _Considerando i protagonisti (ricordiamo che Gayle Ellett fa parte dei Djam Karet), le composizioni son sempre costruite molto bene e risultano in ogni modo interessanti, anche se i non amanti di determinate sonorità troveranno questo lavoro alla lunga abbastanza noioso e stucchevole. _L’uso del sitar nelle prime composizioni ci porta verso atmosfere indiane che sfumano verso lidi più mediterranei con lo scorrere del minutaggio del cd. Il tutto viene condito dalla tradizione Americana che va ad unire queste sonorità a quelle più tradizionali del bluegrass e del country statunitense. “Sangita” da questo punto di vista riesce ad unire vari modi di intendere la musica in un unico linguaggio multiculturale. Atmosfere rilassate, melodie ariose che forse indurranno alcuni verso alte vette meditazionali altri purtroppo verso sonni altrettanto profondi. _Le composizioni più interessanti di questo lavoro sono senz’altro “Ring’s waltz”, il brano dalle atmosfere più americane, grazie all’uso del banjo, ”Mistral” che ricorda qualcosa del Peter Gabriel più multietnico, “Sargoza” che sembra uscita da un qualsiasi disco del catalogo Windham Hill e “Kestrel”, dove il linguaggio sonoro proveniente dall’Andalusia si unisce a quella americano e asiatico. _Disco come il precedente adattissimo per una colonna sonora di un documentario naturalistico o per un programma televisivo dello stesso stampo. _Se non conoscete questo progetto vi troverete davanti ad un gruppo che riesce in ogni brano a mettere sfumature sonore che non si trovano molto semplicemente in altri lavori dello stesso genere. Chi ha amato "Almeria" amerà anche questo “Sangita”, ma se ci si aspetta da un disco sempre qualcosa di diverso forse rimarrà deluso. Per appassionati del genere.”
“Following up their DPRP recommended Almeria album, the talented duo of Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett continue their instrumental explorations on hand-played instruments made out of wood. Might be a bit limiting you think? Well think again! I've honestly not heard of some of the instruments these two, ostensibly guitarists, play. Banjo, mandolin, upright bass, bouzouki (Irish and Greek!), fiddle, harmonium, organ and piano are amongst the more commonplace whilst sitar and oud add a touch of the exotic. But then how about dilruba, ruan and tarang (two different ones)? Or cumbus, dotara, tambura, swarmandal or grobijen? There is a whole orchestra of stringed instruments represented on this album! The orchestral metaphor is apt, as the music instantly reminded me of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra, albeit one from a bit further east. Aptly described by the nationally syndicated US radio show Echoes as Global Americana Chamber Music, the album is all about blending the different sounds of the instruments. Sure, it is easy to identify the familiar sitar, guitar, banjo etc. but the music would pale somewhat without the more exotic accompaniments that fill the spaces. It is ultimately near impossible to describe the music as there are elements of American bluegrass, Indian ragas, country jigs, rock grooves and more. The skill is in how it is all blended together to give a completely harmonious feel.
Ellett, better known amongst our readership for his electrical guitar wizardry in Djam Karet, explains the rationale behind the band as: "We’re trying to make music that’s overtly beautiful and not be afraid of that and make music that doesn’t show off our technical skills or how fast we can play". Methinks he is being rather too humble as although you won't find any blistering runs up and down the octaves, the technical expertise required to play all of these instruments as well as the musical vision to combine everything in such a wonderful manner is quite breathtaking. An enthralling and charming 50 minutes of gentle acoustic music that is both stimulating and relaxing. If Simon Jeffes were alive today I'm sure he would be a fan and would have probably immediately co-opted the duo into his orchestra. And yes, the results are rather beautiful.”
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
DUTCH PROGRESSIVE ROCK PAGES (Holland)
"Fernwood è un’autentica nuova vita per Gayle Ellett, deus ex machina dei Djam Karet, un’istituzione nell’underground americano. La band per più di vent’anni ha issato la bandiera del no commercial potential con il suo infernale jam-rock, ma ultimamente il chitarrista si è concentrato sul progetto Fernwood con il collega Todd Montgomery. Una world music acustica e “cinematografica”, per soli strumenti di legno del bacino mediterraneo: a ben ascoltare, certe atmosfere lievi e sognanti non sono lontane dai raptus acustici dei DK di Ascension (2001). Sangita è un susseguirsi di quadri, di immagini esotiche e meditative, con chiari agganci all’opera omnia degli Oregon. Un excursus di ricami di oud, bouzuki, mandolini e swarmandal, talvolta punteggiati dai tocchi impalpabili del Fender Rhodes."
JAM Magazine (Italy)
“Sangita” is undoubtedly a very unusual album. Totally acoustic, and featuring only wooden stringed instruments – some of them with impossibly exotic, unpronounceable names – it has ‘niche release’ written all over it. However, the music showcased on the album proves to be much less unapproachable than one might expect at a superficial glance. “Sangita”, the Sanskrit name for a composite art consisting of melodic forms, drumming patterns and dance, would suggest a disc strongly pervaded by the influence of world music – an impression compounded by the awe-inspiring list of ethnic instruments played by the two Fernwood members. In fact, one definition I have come across – ‘Acoustic World Chamber Americana’ – would seem to fit the low-key, intimate feel of the music to a T. For someone not well-versed in the technical aspects of music, recognizing the sound of the various instruments can be an impossible task, and I do not believe that the main purpose of Fernwood is to engage the listener in a sort of guessing game. As intrigued as one may be by those exotic names, it is much more advisable to sit back and soak in the music, enjoying the subtlety and sophistication of compositions that are only apparently simple. The two musicians alternate moments of playful sparring with others in which they proceed in lockstep, dishing out a series of tracks that are often as multilayered as anything involving a much larger instrumentation - but that can easily become forgettable without any dedication on the part of the listener. This is the downside of music as distinctive as this – it needs attention, even more so than the average progressive rock record, as the risk of turning into glorified background music is always behind the corner. On “Sangita”, just like on their debut effort, Gayle Ellett and Todd Montgomery delve deep into both Western and Eastern musical traditions. The 12 resulting tracks may at first sound remarkably similar, but the distinctive nature of each item will slowly unfold at every successive listen. Obviously, any detailed description of any of the tracks will be beyond anyone familiar with the individual instruments involved. “Sangita” is rooted in the eclecticism of the two artists, their in-depth knowledge of world music, and their search for the most effective ways to blend these often disparate traditions in an original whole. At any rate, the structure of the individual compositions is as complex as anything conventionally labelled as ‘progressive’, even though this is not immediately evident. As it is to be expected from a completely acoustic recording, the music is laid-back, devoid of sharp edges, and quite soothing to the ear. The tracks where the upright bass is prominently featured possess a fuller, almost ‘orchestral’ sound, as do those where the violin is present. This is particularly true of Rings Waltz and Dor Country, the latter a slow, dreamy composition enriched by the lilting sound of the mandolin, and of something sounding very much like an accordion. The full, almost booming chords of the upright bass, underlying the intricate interaction between the other instruments, bring to mind The Pentangle, a seminal prog-folk outfit that, much like Fernwood, merged European and American folk traditions in their musical output. More Pentangle comparisons crop up in Mistral, where the instruments seem to create subtle layers of sound, while Cimarron is a lively variation on one of the staples of European folk music, the Irish jig. On the other hand, the Eastern-influenced side of Fernwood’s music makes its appearance in the rarefied, sitar-led Sargoza, which may recall at times the likes of John McLaughlin’s Shakti project, and especially album closer August, a slow, evocative piece that might have come straight out of a Ravi Shankar album. An album that is both accessible and demanding, “Sangita” is a beautiful slice of eclectic, wide-ranging music, a finely-crafted album, born of the staunch dedication of Ellett and Montgomery to their art."
"Although I pretty much liked Fernwoods explorations, I needed a bit more time to grasp this one. The duo Gayle Ellett and Todd Montgomery (of Djam Karret fame) still plays with a lot of instruments, mentioning 25 old mostly wood instruments (including accordion), which are mostly picking instruments, like bouzouki, but also sitar and Indian violin, I might have heard an occasional short breath of mellotron. The album took several listens because each track starts anew with certain picking patterns repetitions, including pauses and long notes, enriched with arrangements, harmonies and overdubs, with a couple of musical theme changes or evolutions but in fact still a little melody-based composition and with improvisation into an infinite open mood. The effect remains that of a patchwork of colourful carpets, of which there’s mood an independent improvisation and an exotic, at time Indian touch or flavour to it because of the used instruments, with only now and then an occasional real song-like melody or recognisable folk-blues rhythm, dissolving again into arrangements. It is that open ending each time, with each track, that is dissolving also the invoked creative touches, and that let them sink away in nothing too specific... ; - in a way I wish there had been more specific direction instead of these endless waters, in which there is a not really knowing where to go and where one dissolves into next mood portion or flavour emphasis like dissolving from one dream into another dream, a colour into colour, until no true colour focuses are left. A few times on top of the carpets we hear a welcome lighter dance, a swinging theme with mandolins and such but never too long and never with much of a further story to tell.
300 extra copies will be pressed on vinyl this time too."
PSYCHEDELIC FOLK (Belgium)
"Fernwood is the duo of Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett, the latter better known as one of two guitarists (or is it three now) from Djam Karet – but Fernwood is a very different animal, where the duo plays mostly acoustic stringed instruments made of wood from around the world (OK, the Mellotron is the exception – well, I guess they contain some wood), taking them out of the folk and traditional context that they would normally be played in, and applying the sounds to their own original pan-cultural compositions, which tend to take on a more cinematic approach. The sound is delicate and gentle in its approach, evoking bits of imagery to pique the listener’s imagination as one travels through this eleven track journey. No one instrument is dominant, other than possibly acoustic guitar, and that gives the material here plenty of variety. I could easily spend the rest of this review on Montgomery and Ellet’s instrument list, but I’ll limit it to some of my personal favorites: mandolin, Irish bouzouki, Greek bouzouki (yes, there is a difference, both in the structure of the instrument and the string tuning), Electric mandola, tenor banjo, violin, dobro, upright bass, sitar, tenor ukulele, ruan, tanpura, harmonium, surmandal, bells, chimes and much more. There are no drums, per se, so the unique character of the various stringed instruments stand out strong, providing their own rhythms, and don’t get buried in a mix of other sounds. The duo overdubs on most of the cuts, but the album was wisely recorded without any compression or sonic manipulation so the true dynamics of every sound in the mix can be heard clearly. A wonderful and exotic musical journey that needs to be heard.”
"It is now six years since their last record, "Sangita". Part of the reason that it has been so long is that Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett are so busy with other musical projects. Easier said then done, it may seem that the duo is "wherever music is being created." It is obviously impossible to be everywhere! Yet it feels like they have their musical fingers in all sorts of new musical projects. We will not use all of our time here to brag about the musicians talent and bravado, but its worth mentioning that Ellett is a very skilled producer. He proceeded during the past few years to produce music that was chosen as “Top 10 album of the year" in five different genres! Electronic music, rock, jazz, new age and world! That he plays countless instruments at an immensely high level, is also telling. Greek bouzouki, Ruan, quirquincho, bulbul Tarang, jal Tarang, oud, koto, dotar, gimbri, Dilruba, Rabab, surmandal, Tambura, ravanhasta, tumbi, bugchu, Gopichand, cumbus, Suling, harmonium (husorgel) mizmar, Manjira, Shehnai, mandolin, flute, ocean drums, Tibetan singing bowls, piano & organ & analog synths, guitar synth, Theremin, bass plus many more! When these instruments are used in the context of Fernwood it creates a very unique sound! One of the unique aspects comes from the fact that the music is both traditional and contemporary. Beautiful, occasionally fragile and often dreamy and very cinematic. "Arcadia" can also be considered as a means of providing a path to get away from the world's hustle and bustle. Calm down to a healthy and safe feeling and splash around in Fernwood's universe, and you will come back with renewed energy. Many musicians claim that their music has this effect, but so far Fernwood is the absolute leader in providing music for meditation and contemplation. Fernwood’s music is quality, in all aspects. Musical ethnic elements from the East and West complement each other in an exemplary and clever manner, but also contest each other along an east-west axis! The twenty-five instruments are made from various types of wood and are mainly from the nineteenth century. With such a setting so the premise is to create music that stands out in an optimal fashion. Montgomery and Ellett has definitely created music that is original and refined, and has character in spades. The album takes us on a wonderful journey that is full of mystery, lush melodies, exotic hues and global sounds. It is traditional music, but with a comprehensive and modern upgrade. Constantly performed with this respect for the past. A gentle and rather subtle use of modern instrumentation is also incorporated into the music in the form of Mellotron, Moog and electric guitars. Wisely, these more contemporary instruments are only used as the very last stroke to create an almost perfect and heroic sound. "Arcadia" is an album with an almost etherial and detailed beauty that all genuine music lovers should enjoy. Indulge yourself in forty-five minutes of "Arcadia" and shut the world out for a moment, and live and breathe as you never have before. You deserve it!"
"Would you call Arcadia, by American duo Fernwood, prog? The music is sometimes quite complex and, indeed, there is also some Mellotron. The mandolin and dobro however, belong to the country. Through the use of Greek and Irish bouzouki and violin, Arcadia includes appropriate themes that many would call folk, while the sitar again reminds one of world music. The CD is based on an endless quest for an unspoiled nature of great beauty, a utopian paradise. Fernwood is Gayle Ellett and Todd Montgomery, who together play more than 25 instruments on this CD. Ellett is known from Djam Karet and has composed lots of music for films and TV series; Montgomery also composed film music and is now working on a CD of experimental Celtic music. These cinematic qualities can be clearly heard on Arcadia. The acoustic instruments have a key role in all of the compositions but are supported by Mellotron, organ, Fender Rhodes piano and Moog synthesizer. The eleven songs on the album are all well worth listening to. There is plenty of diversity; you will find a light Americana sound in Bells Spring, medieval and classical influences in Vasquez Rocks and oriental sounds in Red Hill Trail. You should listen to this laid-back album a number of times in a quiet area, so you can always discover new things to hear. It is not music for the car or on the train. Ellett and Montgomery have, with Arcadia, delivered a stunning album that will constantly remind music lovers of its worth.”
iO Pages (Holland)
"Fernwood, many times award-winning acoustic instrumental duo from Malibu, California, USA, consists of Gayle Ellett (Djam Karet) and Todd Montgomery. Each of the two of them is playing about 20 different musical instruments. Their music is made in their own studio. They strive for a natural sound and try to avoid any form of compression or computer manipulation. Their rich musical and life experiences are poured into their music. The wealth of different instruments gives them the possibility that their sound is varied. In their music weaves the influence of traditional American music, Irish music, Eastern European music, Asian music and music of the Middle East. So, they have created a hybrid style that gives them a unique character and identity. Fernwood (Gayle Ellett and Todd Montgomery) have recorded four albums so far – “Almeria” (2008); “Sangita” (2009); “Fernwood Compilation CD with Al Di Meola” (2009) and current issue, “Arcadia” (2015). I happened to come to some concert, perceive the club space, the audience, the atmosphere, (sometimes by force of circumstances), and I listen to the support band, then wait for the headliners, they start their program and I go home after two of their songs. Not because they are so bad, not at all. The reason for my departure is the knowledge that the evening they will not offer anything new. In advance I know it well. When, however, in the CD player you put in the album “Arcadia”, from the first tone it will creep you into its story. In any case, you are going to listening it, you will not give up and you will ask yourself – what will this album offer. Their album offers a lot – music rich with melody, different rhythms, rich with different harmonies. This music is played on instruments that, with its sounds offer a variety of “images”. It is up to you to surrender your imagination, and the picture will promote itself in your mind. Although there are two artists, you have the impression that a whole orchestra is playing. Various instruments take turns, each telling its own story. The songs are stylish with lots of variety, but the atmosphere is the same. This atmosphere is the cohesive factor of this album. Many of the songs end in fade out mode… but you find yourself wanting to repeat the recently finished theme. It says a lot about their music. The album “Arcadia” has been sent to me, personally, by initiative by Mr. Gayle Ellett (Topanga, CA, USA). I’m still in wonder, why he sent it to the editor of Barikada, why it was importance to him… But I can not hide the joy that he did it so. I would not like to spoil this beautiful moment with examples of their relationship with other musicians or local area “stars”. The album “Arcadia”, the Fernwood duets (Gayle Ellett and Todd Montgomery), has my absolute positive recommendation.
"One of the best parts of this gig is getting caught by surprise. It doesn’t happen every day; the reality is that artists and publicists pay attention, and when you write a favorable review of an album that fits into a very specific style or genre, you tend to immediately get more submissions in the same style or genre. But the palate needs a break. There are reviewers out there who listen to and/or review just one particular type of music, but I crave variety, and I love that moment of discovery when something outside my normal frame of reference grabs onto me and won’t let go.
The liner notes to the latest album to deliver that moment of discovery, Fernwood’s Arcadia, lead off with this simple declaration: “All music played by hand, on instruments made of wood!” And that tells you a great deal about the esthetic at work with this album. It’s an album of acoustic instrumentals played on an astonishing variety of stringed instruments, including Greek and Irish bouzouki, sitar, guitar, banjo, mandolin, violin, EBow, dilruba, charango, tampura, surmandal, dobro, upright bass, ukulele and more.The duo behind Fernwood, Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett, make deceptively simple music. There’s rarely more than two things happening at once, and there’s never any obvious effort to impress or display virtuosity. This album is all about mood and melody and creating natural sounds that warm the ears and stimulate the mind.Even lilting numbers like opener “Belle Spring” have a certain deliberateness about them; nothing is rushed, and the suggestion of contemplation is always in the air. Like many tracks here, though, both “Belle” and second track “The Pan Chaser” build up a healthy head of steam over the arc of their four to five minutes. The addition of Indian accents (sitar, tempura, dilruba) on tunes like “Red Hill Trail,” “Owens Hideaway” and “Escape From Sycamore Canyon” add a subcontinental edge, a certain otherness. Interestingly, though, when the sitar steps out of the room from 1:45 to 2:25 of “Red Hill,” the duet that remains has an almost Celtic feel to it. “Owens” features a notably dense sound, with multiple stringed instruments plus what sounds like a harmonium playing interlaced melodies.Other tunes like “Crossing The Divide,” “After The Sky Falls” and the closing “Winter Way” take a more spare approach, with a tighter focus on two or three instruments and their conversations with one another. Here you find what feels like the heart of this album, and this esthetic: a series of calm, meditative, intricate, and at times very pretty instrumental moments.The jacket and interior photos on this album’s packaging are all forest scenes, and the inset artist photo features Ellett and Montgomery wearing old country farmer hats while holding instruments and leaning against an old wood cabin. All of which is both in perfect sync with the vibe here, and somewhat amusing when you read the liner notes and find the album was conceived and recorded in Malibu. There might not be a lot of verdant glens around those parts, but there are plenty to be found on Arcadia. It’s an evocative little gem of an album, rich with beguiling melodies out of a nature-lover’s dreams."
THE DAILY VAULT
"Lovers of ferns and instruments "manufactured from wood", the Americans Gayle ELLETT (by also a member of DJAM KARET) and Todd MONTGOMERY, have combined their two passions into this FERNWOOD project. With over 35 years of experience each, they offer us their 3rd album of great sensitivity. Utilizing a large selection of traditional instruments, they create moods that are sometimes festive, and at other times are austere. Indeed, some moments remind one of winter, with their slow melodies, which are later followed by spring time where the budding rhythms are more catchy. Using instruments from very diverse cultures (Greek, Celtic, Indian, American,...), these two multi-instrumentalists create a blended sound that is rare. This combination works beautifully because it is not a mere juxtaposition of sounds of excessive variety with no apparent link between them, but instead is a dialogue between cultures, that create a bucolic universe where the ferns on the cover of the album and references to natural sites in the song titles are sincere and honest. Though it is a rich music with many cultural references, it is the diversity of nature and its seasons that are celebrated here. However, with more than 30 instruments, one could fear an indigestible mess. But that is not the case. Melancholic harmonium, lively bouzouki, playful zither, hypnotic guitar, all play in harmony on an album whose beauty and richness are equaled only by the splendor of nature itself. By creating a sound that uses the cultural heritage of various world instruments, the American duo wanted to pay tribute to the great diversity of nature. The title given to this collection of pieces, ARCADIA, seems appropriate, because besides being the name of several towns in the United States, a region of Greece, and a neighborhood of Pretoria, it is also the same name used to describe places to ancient traditions. A beautiful combination of union in diversity, and a lesson in humility. 20/20”
HIGHLANDS Magazine (France)