Clarinetist/composer Arun Ghosh's first two albums catapulted him to the forefront of the UK jazz scene. The British-Asian's beguilingly eclectic influences from India, the Middle East and UK urban culture spawned music on Northern Namaste (Camoci Records, 2008) and Primal Odyssey (Camoci Records, 2011) that interwove haunting melodies, groove-driven ensemble play and ecstatic soloing. Ghosh won the approval of both mainstream jazz fans and World Music aficionados, becoming a regular performer at festivals, clubs and melas alike. Here, Ghosh returns with an Indo-Jazz suite inspired by the people, landscapes and music of Bangladesh India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
Commissioned by the Manchester Mega Mela in 2010, Ghosh has performed the suite at arts and jazz festivals, temples and religious forums to boot.The core of the nine-piece group is the three-reed frontline of alto saxophonist Chris Williams, tenor saxophonist Idris Rahmanalso on clarinet and fluteand Ghosh. The formula fired Primal Odyssey and was inspired by the ensemble set-up of Indian shenai master Ustad Bismillah Khan, who lifted the oboe-like shenai from being an instrument of folk gatherings to the concert hall.
There are tremendously stirring passages, particularly on the celebratory "The Gypsies of Rajasthan"a nailed-on gig closer if ever there was oneand the aptly named "Sufi Stomp" with its unrelenting Qawwali pulse. However, for the most part A South Asian Suite is less rhythmically charged than Ghosh's previous works. Compositions like "After the Monsoon," "Pilgrimage to the Ganges" and "River Song" conjure instead a pastoral reverie of graceful lyricism. Other titles like "Mountain Song" and "Journey South" suggest unfolding panoramas strongly evoked in music that's cinematic in grandeur.
Pianist Zoe Rahman's influence on the suite as a whole is marked. Her jangling keys bring an elegiac, quasi nostalgic quality to the musica device that Ghosh uses repeatedly throughout the suite. Rahman dances on the "Gypsies of Rajasthan," pounds out an urgent ostinato on "Sufi Stomp" and weaves a gently flowing course like a river on "Mountain Song." Nilesh Gulhane, Aref Durvesh and Rastko Rasic lend percussive shading throughout the suite: tablamostly subduedadds to the cinematic momentum; tambourine drives the faster numbers; temple bells and Tibetan bowls provide whispering accents on "Mountain Song"; the double-headed dholak drum fires on "Sufi Stomp" and speaks gently on "River Song."
The thunderous bottom end of bass clarinet and electric bass of Primal Odyssey is replaced solely by Liran Donin 's acoustic bass, reflecting the lighter grooves and greater emphasis on the flowing melodic contours of A South Asian Suite. The heady, spiraling clarinet solos that are, a Ghosh trademark are released sparingly and perhaps, as a result to greater effect. Ghosh's most heartfelt playing is also his most economical, as on the brooding lament "Ode to the Martyrs." This segues into the urgent, vaguely psychedelic "Journey South," where Ghosh musters all the ensemble's energy in a seductive and powerful closing mantra.
A South Asian Suite is Ghosh's most mature and enduring work to date. Ghosh's imagination and emotional range are clearly well suited to long-form composition and it will be a major surpriseand a disappointmentif he doesn't return to this format in the future. A candidate for one of the best recordings of the year.
Track Listing: The Gypsies of Rajasthan; After the Monsoon; Pilgrimage to the Ganges; River Song; Arise Dancing Dervish!; Sufi Stomp (Soull of Sindh); Guatama’s Footsteps; Mountain Song; Ode to the Martyrs; Journey South.