Shadowfax's recent departure from the rustic confines of the Windham Hill label for the presumably more metropolitan possibilities at Capitol Records has provided the band with the challenge of reaching a far broader audience than they have in the past.
Its carefully articulated program at the Universal Amphitheatre on Saturday night suggested that the group members view their move into the commercial music mainstream with serious--perhaps too much so--intent.
Never a typical New Age ensemble, Shadowfax has produced five albums that can more accurately be described as World Music--a thoughtful blend of ethnic sounds, rhythms and modes played in the general ambiance of a jazz/rock improvisational style.
Saturday night's set concentrated on familiar Shadowfax material (a new album has not yet been released on Capitol), and revealed both the strengths and the weaknesses of what is a potentially exciting, but not yet fulfilled group of players.
Pieces like "The Orangutan Gang," "The Road to Hanna" and "Another Country" and "Brown Rice" were filled with references to Javanese Gamelan, Indian ragas and Chinese pentatonic melodies. The players were equally eclectic, with violinist Charles Bisharat playing waves of string sound through a digital delay device, guitarist G.E. Stinson grinding out feedback lead guitar and saxophonist Chuck Greenburg displaying a funk-filled, barroom tenor saxophone.
All of it was interesting and well thought out, but none of it was very gripping. Shadowfax sounded like a band with enormous technical facility, a brilliant multiplicity of styles and a not yet fully emerged personality.
Singer Bobby McFerrin, in contrast, opened the show with a solo voice performance filled with warmth, communication and masterful musical artistry.