Monday, November 11, 2013

Arun Ghosh – “A South Asian Suite” Camoci Records

According to the press release for “A South Asian Suite”, the music takes inspiration from Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain” and Duke Ellington’s “Far East Suite” and reflects Arun Ghosh’s respect for South Asian music in the same way Vaughan Williams paid homage to the English countryside in many of his most important works. Certainly, on first hearing this collection, one cannot help but be drawn into the sensuality of the instrumentation. There are tunes of love and devotion and there are tunes that evoke imagery, which is at times melancholic and sacred, whilst at others joyous and uplifting. The Suite features six movements, which can be regarded as Ghosh’s interpretation of the subtle variations in musical styles of the Subcontinent. This cauldron of musical ingredients is achieved through blending clarinet, harmonium, table, dholak, alto saxophone, flute, bass drums, Tibetan bowls and piano. What may initially sound like disparate confusion skilfully intertwines to produce a sound that has both beauty and significance.

Opening with “The Gypsies of Rajasthan”, a praise song, inspired by Rajasthani folk and Gypsy music, the mood is bright and exultant, and illustrates perfectly how music can speak to differing cultures with dialogue which is not so different wherever you are on the planet. “After the Monsoon” demonstrates a far more meditative quality, one that is as soothing to the soul as it is to the listener’s ears. “River Song” is inspired by bhatiyali music, the folk style of Bengal, which is Ghosh’s parental homeland. Again the imagery that flows from the music captures perfectly essence of the waterways and culture that surrounds them. An altogether sprightlier piece, “Sufi Stomp (Soul of Sindh)” is up-tempo and celebrational, and utilises compositional structure and phrases from swing to rock and roll, without ever losing the overall mood. “Mountain Song” is a contemplative love song evocative of Nepalese panoramas. “Ode to the Martyrs” is one of a number of pieces which form segues between the dialogue, and like the others, “Pilgrimage to the Ganges”, “Arise Dancing Dervish!” and “Guatama’s Footsteps”, is a transitional vignette created through musical improvisation and mutual understanding.
 The saga ends with “Journey South” a dramatic progression which builds upon layers of repetition into an almost trance like euphoria. 

“A South Asian Suite” was originally commissioned by Manchester Mega Mela and PRS for Music Foundation, and was premiered in 2010 performed as an octet. Subsequently the suite has been rearranged to include table and piano, and on this recording, Nilesh Gulhane and Zoe Rahman perform these parts respectively. Where “world music” can sometimes be a phrase used to indicate that musical cultures have been bolted together, “A South Asian Suite” effortlessly fuses jazz and South Asian musical characteristics to form a cohesive piece that not only is a joy to hear, but is an education for the listener willing to engage and understand its’ influences.

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