Byzantium (Golden City)
Keys, effects & voice
Flutes, whistles, accordion & voice
Violin & viola
Omar Faruk Tekbilek
Percussion, baglama & voice
Electric & acoustic guitars
Drums & percussion
Voice of Bishop Cadoc: Barry McGovern
Jeff Johnson & Brian Dunning (ArkMusic/2000) $12.99
Based on the novel by Stephen R. Lawhead
Total time: 52:23
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An introduction to Byzantium by Jeff Johnson -
In the course of our musical collaboration, flutist, Brian Dunning and I have recorded several projects based on the stories of author, Stephen Lawhead. It seemed fitting as we moved into the new millennium (2000) that we tried something ambitious - an album inspired by Lawhead's bestselling book, Byzantium - a 640 page historical fiction based on the journey of the Irish monk, St. Aidan.
This is a story about a small group of Celtic monks from Ireland and Wales who make a pilgrimage to Byzantium, the capitol of the Holy Roman Empire. With them they carry a priceless treasure, the book of Kells. They intend to present this to the Holy Roman Emperor of Constantinople as a gift reflecting their devotion to the church. One of the travelers is a scribe named Aidan who helped create the treasured book. Aidan has had a dream of a great eagle flying towards a golden horizon. The eagle, who Aidan realizes is himself, travels with great effort to a golden city (Byzantium). Yet, upon arriving, the city turns out to be a terrible dragon which rises up and snatches him out of the sky. Aidan sees this vision as foretelling his death in Byzantium.
Aidan's great adventure takes him from the Irish Sea to Gaul, to Viking kingdoms, down the Volga and across the desert sands of Persia. Along the way he witnesses great suffering and hardship for those close and dear to him, as well as himself. Ultimately, he loses the faith with which he set out, but finds something far deeper and real.
With Byzantium - The Book of Kells & St. Aidan's Journey, Brian and I set out to capture the spirit of Stephen's tale rather than create a musical score for it. The diverse settings of Aidan's adventure allowed us to point our contemporary Celtic leanings in an Eastern direction. Along the way, we have interwoven our style of Celtic, film and rock music with medieval and middle eastern backdrops. The resulting tapestry owes much of its richness to the significant contributions by classical vocalist, Janet Chvatal; Irish violinist, John Fitzpatrick and Turkish virtuoso, Omar Faruk Tekbilek.
For those familiar with Lawhead's wonderful story, I trust the music enhances your experience of it. For those not familiar with the book, I hope that it inspires you to read it.
Top 25 CDs of 2000/Echoes
Top 100 CDs of 2000/New Age Voice
Byzantium re-teams keyboardist Jeff Johnson and Nightnoise flutist Brian Dunning for another disc inspired by the novels of fantasy author Stephen Lawhead. This tale of Byzantium follows St. Aiden's journey from Ireland to Byzantium and, in the process, takes these modern Celtists into more Middle Eastern and Mediterranean music terrain to good effect. Johnson and Dunning have a wonderful sense of orchestration, lacing in electric cellos, guitars, violins, synthesizers, and, of course, Dunning's flutes. "Sea Wolves" is driven by an Irish bodhran rhythm, as flutes, synthesizers, and Jami Sieber's electric cello weave upward in an arcing spiral. Turkish wizard Omar Faruk Tekbelik appears on several tracks, playing percussion, laying down a chanting moan to open the title track, and contributing a baglama solo on "Eagle Dream." Byzantium is a beautifully produced epic by two musicians whose sense of melodic invention flows like a Celtic breeze.
~ John Diliberto/Billboard Magazine (August 2000)
Byzantium is named for the best-selling novel of the same title by Stephen Lawhead. Jeff Johnson and Brian Dunning channel their Celtic focus in an Eastern direction in conjuring Celtic monk St. Aidan's adventures as he traveled from Ireland to Constantinople. Recognized for The Bard & The Warrior (Windham Hill) and Prayers Of St. Brendan (Hearts Of Space), the pair weaves Celtic, medieval, and Middle Eastern textures.
The epic begins with "Cadoc's Blessing," followed by a mixture of Celtic and Eastern sounds joining the two distant regions. Johnson uses keyboard effects to bolster Dunning's flutes, aided by guitars, drums, violins, cello, and percussion. "Over Kells" features a flute weaving melody through the Celtic highlands. On "Byzantium (Golden City)," Omar Faruk Tekbilek offers a welcoming Turkish chant that evolves into a swaying orthodox chorale with ensemble. This ensemble then moves into "Caliph's Mines," adding flutes, whistles, accordion, keyboards, strings, and percussion. Byzantium is an exotic journey that Celtic and world music fans will appreciate.
~ New Age Retailer, May/June 2001