May 9, 2014
Joel Harrison & Anupam Shobhakar Multiplicity
Leave the Door Open
Whirlwind Recordings WR4646
By Ken Waxman
Guitarist Joel Harrison delves into Indo-Jazz fusion plus some nods to so-called Americana with this CD,co-led with sarod (Indian lute) player Anupam Shobhakar. Unlike earlier experimenters, who usuallye xhibited both genres side by side, Harrison’s take is more sophisticated and profound, blending original textures into a unique mix. On the jazz side are keyboardist Gary Versace, saxophonist David Binney, bassist Hans Glawischnig and percussionist Todd Isler while Shobhakar has a background in both classical Hindustani music and indie rock and the versatile Dan Weiss is equally proficient on drums and tablas. The addition of Mumbai-based vocalists on a couple of tracks doesn’t shift the balance.
The admixture is present from track one, aptly titled “The Translator”, scene-setting piano chording giving way to some fierce double-tonguing from Binney, the background quivering with Bollywood soundtrack-like asides. Another highpoint is reached on “Madhuvanti”, with sprays of sharp licks from guitar and sarod at various levels of pitch, timbre an dintensity and Versace and Weiss switching to different instruments according to atmosphere; the drummer’s stop-time tabla responses to Shobhakar’s multi-string narratives are as effective as his kit work backing saxophone reed bites.
The session’s climax comes with the decisive title track. Virtuosic traditional yodeling and throat singing from one of the vocalists initially permeates the raga-like theme, created by timbral mash-ups from tremolo organ, stop-time percussion and tabla clunks. Finally pressurized energy bursts into thrilling animation as processed guitar distortions and staccato sarod quivers cross and challenge each other.
As high quality as the elevated Indo-Jazz fusion is the band is much less impressive when it attempts to pile yet another sound - traditional music - on top of those two. With the slowed-down folksy tempos of tracks such as “Spoonful”, “Devil Mountain Blues” and “Deep River” , the stacking of strings and percussion overwhelm the purposely simple melodies when not overly prettifying them. And when the co-leaders exchange bottleneck-like steel-string guitarand sarod flanges on “Spoonful”, the effect is curiously lacking. Mike Bloomfield, Buddy Guy or Hubert Sumlin wouldn’t be challenged.
Tracks: The Translator; Leave The Door Open; Madhuvanti; Multiplicity; Spoonful; Kemne Avul; Turning World; Devil Mountain Blues; Deep River
Personnel: David Binney: alto saxophone; Gary Versace: piano, B3 organ, accordion; Joel Harrison: Electric, National Steel, acoustic, baritone guitars; Anupam Shobhakar: sarode; Hans Glawischnig: bass, electric bass; Dan Weiss: drums, tabla; Todd Isler: percussion; Bonnie Chakraborty, Chandrashekar Vase: voice
—For The New York City Jazz Record May 2014