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Ananda Project 

Chris Brann brews a quiet soul storm

Some people don't like soft music. When soul veers too close to the smoothness of contemporary jazz, they immediately cry foul. Unfortunately, most R&B, whether performed by emphatic singers such as Keyshia Cole or hip-pop acts such as Chris Brown, still relies on balancing uptempo dance songs with standstill ballads. It's a standard that many, particularly rockist music critics, can't relate to.

As the conductor behind Ananda Project, Chris Brann produces sounds that embrace New Age philosophies and rarely draws recognition outside the underground soul and house community. He makes soft and comforting grooves that seem to unfurl for hours; his tracks usually last more than five minutes, much longer than the three-minute-plus standard for pop songs. So those who can't appreciate disco in all its forms, or can only rock to the trendy varieties espoused by Soulwax and Damian Lazarus will have little use for Ananda Project's third album, Fire Flower. There are no crushed and filtered bass clicks or loudly distorted synthesizers, just light percussive instruments wound along light house beats, and vocalists who effuse sincerely of universal love.

During his decade-plus career, Brann has participated in some much-beloved deep house hits, including the classic "King of My Castle" (as Wamdue Project) and "Cascades of Colour" and "Kiss Kiss Kiss" (as Ananda Project). For Fire Flower, there's "Fireworks," a showcase for vocalist Terrance Downs; and "Into the Sunrise," where Downs exhorts in light, feathery terms over a Latin lounge rhythm. Uncharacteristically, the album ends with a slightly tougher cut, "Remember When (...The Wind)," that bangs hard with bass lumps and synth runs.

At the album's midpoint, Fire Flower's flow nearly stalls when Brann reels off three instrumental tracks in succession, each blander than before. His work may sound easy and uncomplicated, but it can be a tricky business managing a quiet storm. With Fire Flower, Brann aims – and mostly succeeds – to create a quiet storm, not just a sky of colorless gray.

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