7D Media 2018
Nuclear summit of East and West that shall shatter the elements to make them burn and shine on brightly – quite insane.
Although drone may seem the most obvious meeting point between prog and raga, this ensemble’s debut is dead set on defying such a narrow view of cultural cross-pollination’s possibilities. They are endless yet they’re rarely realized with so much gusto as on “Playing With Fire”: a creative conspiracy of musicians from deceptively different walks of life that, nevertheless, have a lot in common when it comes to intrepid experiments in blurring post-Pangean borders. Not for nothing the album’s final lines shape “Amazing Grace” in which Celtic and Carnatic sounds meld in quite a carnal manner to reflect on how close distant folk threads can get to each other.
Of course, the record starts with drone but anticipating further development of what the players conjured over two days at the Jack Straw Cultural Center in Seattle would be a futile exercise, for surprises are aplenty here. Whereas Mister E, aka Jason Everett, is exerting elastic gravity on his fretless basses, and V. Selvaganesh is spicing up the meandering melodies with percussive textures, Trey Gunn’s guitars paint sitar-like patterns over the ever-shifting backdrop that unravel into Frippertronics-inspired loops and dispersive strum, yet the artists never resort to trance-inducing repetition. It takes a string quartet to carefully lift “The Return” off the ground, and a snippet of scat to push the piece towards a quantum jump into jazz-rock – possessed with spirituality which is manifested in the heavier jive of “Awakening” whose bittersweet tune is almost unbearably tender, if adventurous, so when acoustic six strings get propelled by tabla and kanjira, there’s sense of bliss descending on the listener.
“Lotus Feet” by Mahavishnu McLaughlin, Selva Ganesh’s erstwhile mentor, will see the bliss bloom and demonstrate a new depth and multiverse expanse to the number the latter used to perform in the former’s REMEMBER SHAKTI, a different sort of rave and poignancy the original and subsequent takes on this classic could only suggest. The rhythms, shifting like quicksand, become intense for “Mysterious World” that finds E’s twang whipped into a frenzy with the throbbing beats while violins bring on a Balkan dance, before electric ripples run through the majestically dense orchestral drama, but “The River” has a mesmeric, meditative flow to it, swelling slowly and letting restrained anxiety float to the surface. The interlocked licks swirl around unison on “Resolve” until sonic waves hit the rock of another staccato vocal and go for improvisatory divergence into elegy and hefty harmonic rifferama of “Caravan” – smelling of an Ellington perennial and not falling for direct quote – a contrast to the frisky “Honor” that removes the record’s inherent danger in favor of simple pleasure.
The twain worlds meet on this album in the most spectacular, immediate fashion. Hopefully, there’s enough fire in DEO for more offerings.