Being opposed to musical fusion in 2010 is a bit like being opposed to digital technology. It appears rather ridiculous, for the comingling of global musical flavors is now practically the norm. It's not a norm shared by the Calcutta-born novelist and poet Amit Chaudhuri, who takes a contrary tack on This Is Not Fusion
Chaudhuri is a prominent literary figure in Britain, where he is Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of East Anglia and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Less well known, but equally distinguished, are his musical credentials. Trained as a singer of classical Hindustani music, as a teenager in the 1970s he took up guitar and turned to rock, blues and jazz. He returned exclusively to North Indian music in the 1980s, before embracing Western music again around 2002.
The idea for This Is Not Fusion took root when Chaudhuri became interested in replacing conventional Indian-Western fusionwhose cameo roles for "exotic" instruments, styles and players he regards as superficialwith an exploration of deeper intersections between the musics. One such intersection, which opens This Is Not Fusion, is guitarist Eric Clapton
's riff for the title track of the Derek & The Dominos album "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs" (Polydor, 1970); the riff uses precisely the same assembly of notes as the raga Todi. Another example is George Gershwin
's "Summertime," whose scalar structure is shared with the raga Malkauns. In his liner essay, which is well researched and elegantly written, Chaudhuri explains that the goal of the explorations is to find a "point of entry" into one musical tradition or system through another one.
The project may sound a bit labored and academicbut it isn't. The music is vibrant and, mostly, sumptuously performed. The least successful track is "The Layla Riff to Todi," because guitarist Prasenjit Ghosal, no slouch elsewhere, inevitably fails to put Clapton's iconic delivery in the shade. "Summertime," by contrast, featuring trumpeter Jonathan Impett, is a magical reinvention, as are half a dozen other tracks.
Another intersection, mentioned by Chaudhuri in his essay but not included on This Is Not Fusion, is that of "Auld Lang Syne" and the raga Bhupali. That connection has also been made by the British pianist Zoe Rahman, who featured its intriguingly close cousin "Purano Sei," by the Bengali Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, on Where Rivers Meet (Manushi, 2008), an entrancing album of "pure" Bengali music made with her clarinet playing brother, Idris Rahman.
Both albums are "non-fusion," and both are warmly recommended.
Personnel: Amit Chaudhuri: vocals, acoustic guitar, dhunuri; Prasenjit Ghosal: guitar; Indrajit Dey: keyboards; Mainak Nag Choudhury: bass, dotara; backing vocals; Ashok Mukherjee: tabla; Jonathan Impett: trumpet (3, 8); Amyt Datta: slide guitar (7); Jenny Sobek: voice (9).