Shez Raja: Mystic Radikal (2010)
Shez Raja has described his band's sound as "a real kaleidoscope," an idea reflected in Mystic Radikal's psychedelic cover art. Raja studied Indian classical tabla drumming with virtuoso Sharda Sahai, but now applies these rhythms to the electric bass. On the album there's a fusion of eastern sounds, with synthesizer drones used to reference the music of the Indian subcontinent. But there's also a riotous African influence on songs such as "Carnival of Colour," where violinist Pascal Roggen duels exuberantly with saxophonist Andy Sheppard.
Sheppard's appearance on three tracks is a particular treat. His assurance lends a note of maturity and precision whenever he appears, lifting the funky ballad "Infatuation" with a final solo, and sustaining the downbeat "Angel's Tears" with relaxed but incisive playing. A second special guest is trumpeter Claude Deppa, who enlivens three numbers including the album's title track and the African-influenced "Mandala Girl," complete with steel pan percussion from Mark Cherrie.
Throughout the album, Raja's electric bass underlines and informs the band's sound. At times inviting comparisons with Marcus Miller, he's fond of playing solo lines high up on the instrument and using effects for an enhanced, funky timbre. Raja has played in rock bands and accompanied hip hop artists, in addition to jazz work with Elephant Talk and Loka. He formed his collectivethis is its third albumbecause he wanted to unite his diverse interests, which stretch to African, Latin and Eastern rhythms.
Mystic Radikal is an exciting mixture that's all the more enjoyable because the constituent elements never seem forced or unnatural in combination. It's a melting pot, but without the political connotations of cultural friction. This is fusion music at its most straightforward and entertaining.
Track Listing: Mystic Radikal; Chakras On the Wall; Karmic Flow; Infatuation; We Are One; Soho; Angel's Tears; Music For Elves; Carnival of Colours; Quiverwish; Mandala Girl; Beauty of the Beast.
Personnel: Shez Raja: bass guitar; Andy Sheppard: tenor and soprano saxophone (4, 7, 9); Claude Deppa: trumpet (1, 6, 11); Aaron Liddard: tenor saxophone, flute; Pascal Roggen: electric violin; Alex Stanford: keyboards; Chris Nickolls: drums; Monika Lidke: vocals; Mark Cherrie: steel pan, percussion.
Record Label: 33 Jazz