The delight of writing a review of this album derives from the fact that I've been listening to it for roughly an year now and finally succeeded in getting it autographed from Jonas Hellborg on his recent visit to India. This album is a distinctive, spontaneous collaboration between Swedish jazz bassist Jonas Hellborg, the famous sarangi maestro Ustad Sultan Khan, and Indian percussionist Fazal Qureshi. When asked about the inspiration behind the album, Jonas amusingly answered that they had a gig, which was somehow cancelled, and thus they thought of making a recording. Well, the unpredictability and spontaneity of the compositions are too apparent on the very first listen, with one of the three musicians starting off and the other two joining in and providing a textural component. There were no notations or any pre-rehearsed compositions while recording Friends Across Boundaries.
The combination of bass and sarangi has supposedly never been tried before, and it creates some really beautiful patterns. The composition mostly defies rhythmic dependence and it's not bounded by a conventional phrase patterns, but the whole album is packed with dark, haunting, sheer, powerful musiceclectic, stylish, spontaneous and melodic, reaching a fast-paced, racy climax.
The first two songs, "Soul Searching" and "Friends Across Boundaries," open with the bass solos, sarangi and tabla joining in, providing beautiful ornamentation through bells, mouth percussion, and slap-pop bass playing by Hellborg. The third song, "Beat Treat," is a seven-minute tabla orgy. "Mystery Conquered" is the most powerful and melodic composition of the six. Starting with bass guitar and vocals by Fazal Qureshi, it keeps on getting heavier, with voices and sarangi by Ustad Sultan Khan joining in. The last two compositions have swifter melodies and a spiritual feel; each of the musicians does a round with his instrument.
The whole album has a dark, groovy funk element with Indian styles incorporated in a truly experimental way that's never been heard before. Surely, an album like this can give way to more improvisational music with musicians collaborating across boundaries.
Personnel: Ustad Sultan Khan: vocals, sarangi; Jonas Hellborg: bass guitar; Fazal Qureshi: tabla, side rhythm.