Two simple: All-star cast can't save disc

Michael Sokolowski and friends
Soko: Two

So, I received this Soko: Two disk, and, to tell you the truth, the whole thing is a bit frightening. I'm scared of it. Wait... I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up.

Michael Sokolowski is a well-known musician among the established players in town. There was a time (almost a decade ago) when he, bassist Houston Ross, and drummer Johnny Gilmore formed a trio called Soko and played the smaller bar scene around town. They were musicians' musicians­ the kind who would spend half the night experimenting, looking for the one special moment. From what I hear, when that moment hit, it was very, very special.

Sokolowski sent me an email and told me he would like me to be one of the first to check out the newest Soko disk before it hit the stores. When he described the disk, I got pretty excited. Based on his description, I was psyched.

In addition to Sokolowski himself playing keys, the other contributors are some of my favorite musicians in town: Will Coles, drummer for The Hamiltons; Houston Ross; Pete Spaar, upright bass stalwart for many local jazz combos; John D'earth, a visionary hero of mine; and Tim Reynolds (no need to say anything more about that guy).

But unfortunately, it shook me more than it stirred me. Soko: Two is a cross between ambient jazz and the music you hear played if you cough up the money for a massage in a really nice spa. The songs are very relaxing and somewhat repetitive– no, meditative. "Repetitive" implies no changes, but here the basic idea is repeated throughout the song, while subtle themes change on top of, or beneath, it. Sometimes the change is as simple as the introduction of an unexpected new instrument, or a slight variation in rhythm. Other times, the theme builds upon itself until the end result is far from the starting point.

Why am I scared of this record? They say people fear what they don't understand. I get the feeling that I just don't get it. The first time I put it on, I honestly thought, "What the hell is this #$%&?" It nearly put me to sleep, and at points I wanted to skip through songs.

The second listen was a bit different. That time I didn't try to listen to the record, I just threw it on while I surfed the net, cleaned the kitchen... you know, just did my thing.

Midway through the record, I was thinking, "Hey, this is pretty cool." But that feeling lasted only for about three-quarters of the record. I found myself wanting more of something– more action, more movement, more pizzazz, more changes– more something.

I'm no dummy. It's obvious that this response is not what Sokolowski and Ross were going for with the record. I have to respect Two because of the caliber of the musicians who made it. Less is more here. Even the title of the album is simple. The artwork on the cover is simple in the way of most Asian art, which leads me to believe there's something deeper beneath the surface.

Whether I'm ever going to get it is a whole different story. In the meantime, you may catch me hiding under my bed.