Dec 24 2013
The Indo-Jazz music of Arun Ghosh is one of the more exciting developments on the jazz scene from the last few years. 2008’s Northern Namaste and 2011’s Primal Odyssey displayed the clarinetist’s talent at merging the music of his Calcutta, India childhood homeland and the modern jazz improvisational approach of his adulthood London hometown scene. The result of that particular fusion is music with rich melodies that mainline straight to the heart and dynamic rhythms that get the feet moving fast. It’s high voltage music with a deeply mesmerizing quality, making it just as applicable to kicking back on the sofa as it is to the dance floor.
His newest, 2013’s A South Asian Suite, came about as the result of a commission from the Manchester Mega Mela and PRS for Music Foundation. The premise: A chamber work that viewed the lands of Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka as viewed through the perspective of a British-Asian from a northern town. That may sound a bit complicated, but taking into account Ghosh’s biographical data and his previous works, it’s about as simple as it gets.
This is a travelogue put to music. And it’s as beautiful a voyage as you’ll ever take on one recording.
Your album personnel: Arun Ghosh (clarinet, harmonium), Chris Williams (alto sax), Idris Rahman (tenor sax, clarinet, flute), Zoe Rahman (piano), Liran Donin (double bass), Aref Durvesh (tabla, dholak, tambourine, drums), Nilesh Gulhane (tabla), Pat Illingworth (drums), Rastko Rasic (drums, tambourine, bells, Tibetan bowls).
“The Gypsies of Rajasthan” has a celebratory ebullience, a shout to the sky joy that is as melodically exalting as it is undeniably catchy. Woodwinds develop the melody atop a crest of thick rhythms, though it’s pianist Rahman’s solo that provides the greatest thrills on this exhilarating track. According to Ghosh, it is a song about traveling, about traversing the entirety of the South Asian landscape in the shoes of a nomad.
“After the Monsoon” has a hypnotic cadence and a melody that curls and drifts across its surface. Melancholy in that way a beautiful sunrise can incite a sadness when dwelling upon its momentary existence.
The poetic refrains of interlude “Pilgrimage to the Ganges” leads into “River Song.” Its melody is delivered with a speaker’s finesse and the nuance of blades of grass bristling beneath a soft breeze. Influenced by the Bengali style of folk music Bhatiyali, Ghosh invokes his own personal voicing of the music traditionally sung by the travelers of the region’s waterways. It is a series of harmonic surges and exhalations, of a texture transforming from wispy to luxuriant.
The interlude “Arise Dancing Dervish!” features a piano solo as bright as the stars, and a warmth equally as fleeting. When Illingworth and Donin add their drums and bass to Ghosh’s clarinet, it begins a rising tide of intensity that flows right into the Qawwali music inspired “Sufi Stomp (Soul of Sindh),” a song that features a dancing ferocity to go with its cheerful ambiance and its determined gait. Drums set the pace, drums drive the tune, drums announce the arrival of the melody with crashes of cymbals, and the partnership of percussion adds a fluency to the rhythm that is terrifically engaging. Rahman, Williams, and Ghosh bring a fury to their delivery of the melody, but it’s the harmonizing that provides the song’s blissful warmth.
The piano solo of “Gautama’s Footsteps” gives a moment to catch the breath, as well as cleanse the sonic palate for the second half of the suite. This peaceful introduction leads into the sublime “Mountain Song,” a composition dedicated to the Himalayan landscape of Nepal. Clarinet is like moonlight, piano like the stars. Melancholy and unassuming, the song has a stately presence, the elegance of a waltz. The unraveling of melody between the layers of harmony is about as beautiful as music gets.
“Ode to the Martyrs” continues the music’s ethereal presence. A foggy melody drifts for a while before it falls aside for the album finale of “Journey South.” A thundering tempo, a firestorm for a melody, the song continues to build and build and build up to a frenzied conclusion that breaks down with an even greater intensity. Ghosh describes this as a swirling psychedelic foray to Sri Lanka, marked by its methods of dance and the dictates of its rituals.
It’s a commanding finale for an album of many emotional shifts, and not a one of them anything but astoundingly compelling. One of the best albums you’ll hear this year.
Released on Camoci Records.
Jazz from the Manchester, UK scene.