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One second? No. Five seconds? Getting there. Ten? Almost. Fourteen seconds. That's how long it takes. Fourteen seconds into "The Gypsies Of Rajasthan," and the first of A South Asian Suite's irresistibly danceable grooves jumps out of the speakers. The idea that jazz is a music for dancing may sometimes seem a rather alien notion these days, but British-Asian musician Arun Ghoshclarinetist, composer and bandleaderhasn't lost sight of this crucial characteristic.
Of course, Ghosh isn't just drawing on the traditions of jazz. A South Asian Suite is, in his own words, an "Indo-Jazz chamber work" inspired by his experience of countries like India and Pakistan. Ghosh's previous album, Primal Odyssey (Camoci Records, 2011) was a mesmerising collection. A South Asian Suite is a step up even from the high standards Ghosh set with that recordinga more cohesive work, a greater emotional scope.
For this recording Ghosh retains the services of reeds player Idris Rahman, bassist Liran Donin and drummer Pat Illingworth but he extends the band's range with added musicians. Chris Williams (Donin's band mate in Led Bib) boosts the front line on alto sax but the most emphatic contributions come from percussionist Aref Durvesh and pianist Zoe Rahman (Idris' sister).
The album's rhythmic center is "Sufi Stomp (Soul Of Sindh)." It's driven by Durvesh's dholak and Nilesh Gulane's tabla, but its strength comes straight from Zoe Rahman's powerful rhythm playing. Combined with "The Gypsies Of Rajasthan" it gives the suite two joyously upbeat highlights.
For those moments of quiet reflectionor recovery from terpsichorean over-exertionmost of Ghosh's tunes share a more relaxed and meditative quality. "After The Monsoon" evokes the eerie quiet that can follow the fiercest of downpours. The brief "Pilgrimage To The Ganges" serves as an introduction to "River Song," whose subject seems like a contented soul, a river in middle age flowing gracefully towards the sea and perhaps occasionally glancing back at its youth in the mountains.
The gentle "Gautama's Footsteps" was co-written by Ghosh and Zoe Rahman. It's a showcase for her delicate touch and segues neatly into the equally delicate "Mountain Song." This calming trio concludes with "Ode To The Martyrs" before the deep, heavy, groove of "Journey South" draws Ghosh's impressive "Indo-Jazz chamber work" to its close.
There's plenty of jazz around today that makes the head nod with admiration, but too little that makes the heart leap with joy. A South Asian Suite makes the heart leap.
Track Listing: The Gypsies Of Rajasthan; After The Monsoon; Pilgrimage To The Ganges; River Song; Arise Dancing Dervish!; Sufi Stomp (Soul Of Sindh); Gautama's Footsteps; Mountain Song; Ode To The Martyrs; Journey South.