Beyond the Ragasphere
Debashish Bhattacharya and Friends
We say: A fascinating potpourri of traditional, contemporary, jazz and flamenco styles.
The great Indian slide guitarist Bhattacharya here opens his Roller Deck and invites seriously talented international friends like guitarist John McLaughlin, flamenco player Adam del Monte, American jazz-funk drummer Jeff Stipe and bluegrass dobro master Jerry Douglas in for music which hurdles the boundaries between genres and cultures. It is often thrillingly intense (the opener "Kirwani One, 5+8, Five"), seductively spiritual ("Reflections Remain" with his teenage daughter Anandi on vocals whose contributions are a high point even among such elevated company) or enticingly different ("Indospaniola" with del Monte).
And in keeping with the 21st century high-tech world, these guests sent their parts to Bhattacharya in Kolkata via the internet. The standout is the conceptual "A Mystical Morning" with McLaughlin which opens with street sounds, ripples of water and ambient noise before the guitarists enter and tease out an increasingly complex dialogue where Bhattacharya jangles and McLaughlin delivers mercurial and fluid lines in contrast. Two voices, one vision however.
"JD2 Pillusion" is slippery Indo-jazz fusion and the closer "Ode to Love" is a beautiful Hawaii-cum-Calcutta meditation which, of course —because Bhattacharya plays slide — works brilliantly. A colorfully diverse but coherent collection.
Soul on Fire
We say: Partytime in a West African soul-groove style.
Although this groovy, good-times and rhythm-driven collection of soul classics delivered with an excitable West African style does tend to become like a Stars on 45/Jive Bunny medley of relentless beats, it's hard to argue with the sheer pleasure it can bring.
Released in 1988 and now download-only through World Music Network (www.worldmusic.net), it was the brainchild of guitarist and music director Vincent Nguini Bah from Sierra Leone who immersed himself in Zairean pop and soukous at the time and later recorded with Paul Simon on four of his albums. Here you get urgently enjoyable upbeat, horn-punctuated, and grin-inducing treatments of "In the Midnight Hour" (in two versions), "Stand By Me," Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World," Buddy Holly's "Words of Love" (given a lively township-style soulful treatment), "Direct Me," "Soul Man" and "Cold Sweat". Impossible not to like and a sure-fire dancefloor filler, even if you might get a bit breathless by the time that second "Midnight Hour" rolls around at the midpoint.
Anewal/The Walking Man
We say: Another welcome return to the desert with someone who knows the terrain.
Sahara blues has become one of the great trends in world music and you'd be forgiven for almost reaching burn-out after so many albums . . . but Anivolla gets immediate attention because was one of the key guitarists in the great Etran Finatawa, where he held down the rolling rhythm. Here he steps out on his own—completely, aside from a guest singer and a percussion player on one song it's all his own work—and the result is typically hypnotic and trance-like, especially on the sinuous "Attarech" with its repeated, chiming guitar figure holding down the foreground while he tickles away gently on a slightly psychedelic melodic line.
There are those expected, elemental blues elements aplenty and his burnt-edge vocals add considerable character to what might have otherwise trod a familiar path, and the spooky six minute "Iblis Odouad" suggests what might have happened if Robert Johnson had met the Devil at an oasis. A solo album of great depth.
We say: Old meets new in a sometimes uncomfortable collision of styles.
Although no one doubts the integrity of this album by blind Sierra Leone singer Kondi, because he broadcasts on a narrow vocal frequency with women providing the choral-chant accompaniment, it does become rather same-same. That is until producer Fadie Conteh pulls in Autotune for songs in the second half with mixed results.
Released through US DJ/producer Chief Boima's Dutty Artz label (himself of Sierra Leone descent), this certainly manages a marriage of traditional thumb piano, song and some driving contemporary bass'n'beats, but those processed vocals add little—other than annoyance for some, no doubt—and while it might be well received in hipster circles it seems unlikely it would command much time for most.
Graham Reid is a New Zealand—based writer whose first book Postcards from Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year Award in New Zealand. His newer collection The Idiot Boy Who Flew won the Whitcoulls Reader Choice award and is available through www.amazon.com. He also hosts his own music/travel/arts website www.elsewhere.co.nz .