Arun Ghosh: Primal Odyssey (2011)
Clarinetist Arun Ghosh's debut, Northern Namaste (Camoci Records, 2008), signaled the arrival of a significant musician/composer on the UK jazz scene. Blending Indian and western instruments, Ghosh drew 12 musicians from Indian folk and jazz traditions to create something utterly fresh sounding; lyrical and highly melodic, celebratory and swinging, Ghosh's obvious virtuosity on clarinet was a thrilling bonus. Primal Odyssey sees Ghosh head a leaner quintet. Leaner, too, the instrumentation, with the tabla, sitar, harmonium, dhulak, bayan, piano and strings that colored Northern Namaste making way for just three reeds, bass and drums.
Though stripped-down, if anything, Primal Odyssey is more rhythmically pronounced than its predecessor, with bassist Liran Donin and drummer Pat Illingworth's driving grooves prominent in the mix. Ghosh's cauldron of influences still results in a steaming, heady stew; tenor saxophonist Idris Rahman and bass clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings combine with Ghosh's clarinet to produce dark, rich folds of sound which conjure the Middle East, the Balkans, the rocking grooves of Gong, the iconoclastic power of a Charles Mingus large ensemble and, in the quieter moments, a very personal lyricism.
Beginning with an irresistible drum pattern, the bustling "Caliban's Revenge" is in the running for best unison riff of the year, and Ghosh eventually peels away with a soaring clarinet solo of liberating energy. Drums and bass inject a sustained Ellingtonian motion into "Unravel," where brass and reeds at times make it easy to forget that this is a quintet, and not a larger ensemble. Rahman, Hutchings, and Ghosh all deliver fired-up solos. And had bandleader Duke Ellington recorded a Palestinian suite, it might have sounded something akin to Ghosh's emotive "Intifada," an urgent composition with repetitive, insistent themes and a wailing, imploring clarinet. "Damascus," on the other hand, has strangely little that is melodically or rhythmically related to the Middle East, but has an enjoyable, brash and gut-hitting energy.
The biggest change, three years on from Northern Namaste, is the more urban visage present in the music. "Headrush" bristles with free-jazz electricity over a rock-inspired bass line, and the charging "Icarus" is even more overtly rock-edged. The CD's shortest, punchiest tune, "Lal Qil'ah (The Red Fort)," draws from the punk end of rock with its churning, war-path bass ostinato, and features sharp solos from Ghosh and Rahman. By way of contrast, "Yerma" has the vibe of a mournful spiritual that could have come from New Orleans by way of Armenia. The gently lyrical "Eros" seduces with clarinets and saxophone floating over a slow, hypnotic rhythm. The beautiful symmetry of this three-pronged frontline fully emerges when drum and bass drop out on the lovely, lullaby-like "Nocturne (Chandra Dhun)."
Primal Odyssey is a wonderful follow-up to Ghosh's highly promising debut. Here is a musician open to all music, and who channels it in the most directly emotional manner. The songwriting is impressivevaried yet cohesiveand the playing visceral, uninhibited and moving. Already a rising star in the UK before this release, with Primal Odyssey Ghosh is surely destined to make the rest of the world sit up and listen as well.
Track Listing: Caliban's Revenge; Unravel; Yerma; Lal Qil'ah (The Red Fort); Headrush; Intifada; Eros; Damascus; Icarus; Nocturne (Chandra Dhun).
Personnel: Arun Ghosh: clarinet; Idris Rahman: saxophone (1-9), clarinet (10); Shabaka Hutchings: bass clarinet; Liran Donin: double bass (1-3, 5-7, 10), electric bass (4, 8, 9); Pat Illingworth: drums.