CD Review: Joel Harrison & Anupam Shobakar: Multiplicity - Leave the Door Open



Joel Harrison & Anupam Shobakar: Multiplicity - Leave the Door Open
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4646. CD Review by Alison Bentley)


‘Put all my music on the same plate!’ US guitarist and composer Joel Harrison quotes from a poem on his website, describing his eclectic approach. His new project brings together modern jazz, Americana and Indian music with North Indian sarod-player, Anupam Shobhakar. Their band is made up of superb US jazz musicians, with guest Indian singers on two tracks. Any doors that might block musical collaboration are well and truly open, though the doors seem to swing in different directions on particular tracks.

Harrison’s The Translator opens with a gentle texture, the dreamy feel undermined by impossibly tense chords. There are beautifully-written sections between the solos. (David Binney on sax and Gary Versace on piano, and some expressive rock guitar from Harrison.) The sarod (a little like a sitar but less shimmery) brings a frisson to the sound- Indian music and modern jazz are united in improvisation, yet keep their distinctive styles. Harrison’s Leave the Door Open has a jazz feel but the aura of the sarod colours everything. The notes of the slide guitar and sarod solos are bent into quarter tones - Indian improvisation meets the blues. Dan Weiss’ drum sound is particularly rich and complex here over the tricky time signature, as is Hans Glawischnig’s strong bass playing, always holding things together.

In Shobakar’s Madhuvanti, Binney’s full-throated solo and Weiss’ tough drumming push the door towards jazz, but most of the piece sounds more overtly Indian, with fiery, darting intervals in the theme and a thrilling improvised duet between sarod and wild drums. Turning World moves between worlds with dissonant piano and breathless sarod/guitar unison patterns recalling John McLaughlin; there are slow sprawling modern jazz piano chords with spitting sarod notes. Kemne Avul is a serene traditional song sung by Bengali Bonnie Chakraborty with Weiss on tablas (Todd Isler also plays excellent percussion throughout the album) and drifting guitar and sarod lines harmonise sweetly. Shobakar’s Multiplicity (named for the band itself) opens with fluttering qawwali-like vocals from Mumbai singer Chandrashekar Vase over dusky guitar, ‘looped and processed’. ‘Most Indian musicians do not understand harmony as it's not a part of the musical system- it's a melodic and rhythmic tradition…’ says Shobakar, but he’s put stirring harmonies under the improvisations on the todi raag.

There are country folk elements. In the Harrison/Shobakar Devil Mountain Blues Harrison plays National Steel guitar for its ‘organic metallic’ sound that blends so well with the sarode. With its desert blues feel and John Lee Hooker rootsiness, it culminates in an intense conversation between guitar and sarod, each in its own language, swapping short, compelling musical phrases with increasing intensity. Willie Dixon’s Spoonful and the Spiritual Deep River have slow Ry Cooder-style slide guitar with swirling Hammond from Versace, and singing sarod notes- a savour of both blues and Indian ornamentation.

The musicians have a lot on their plate and it’s an exhilarating combination of tastes. Harrison has talked of how he and Shobakar worked together over two years, ‘bending’ their styles so they ‘opened more deeply’ to each other’s musical backgrounds. Traditions of jazz, blues and Indian improvisation come together and change each other in this intriguing and beautiful album.

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