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This is the seventh album Algerian-born DJ and producer Cheb i Sabbah has produced for world, ambient and beyond label Six Degrees and, like its predecessors Shri Durga (Six Degrees, 1999) and Krishna Lila (Six Degrees, 2002), it takes its inspiration from the music of India. Other Sabbah discs have drawn on African and Arabic source material.
To anyone who doesn't know Sabbah's, or indeed Six Degrees' work, this may suggest that Devotion is but another looming dose of cultural tourism, dance-floor fodder made up of plundered vocal samples, loops and beats. There's a lot of it about.
Instead, Devotion is an act of cultural obeisance in which the musicianly Sabbahamongst the heavy-hitters with whom he's worked are bassist Bill Laswell and the late trumpeter Don Cherryhas created groove music of real substance; and which, despite being dressed in audaciously contemporary clothing, wears its provenanceHindu, Sikh and Muslim religious and ritual music in plain view.
Part of Sabbah's secret is the way he approaches his projects. Unlike other DJs turned producers, Sabbahwho at the relatively venerable age of sixty radiates the sense of discovery of someone in his twentiesstarts not with a bank of MIDIs but with a blank canvas, creating his music from the bottom up. For Devotion, he traveled to New Delhi and engaged six leading vocalists, together with top local players of traditional string and percussion instruments, adding keyboards, guitar, electric bassand on one track, banjoto the mix.
Each of the singers leads on one track (Anup Jalota, India's pre-eminent singer of Hindu kirtans and bhajans, takes two), rooted in his or her own religious tradition and set to a gorgeously orchestrated melange of Indian and western instruments, rhythms and textures. The closing title track was recorded in the pilgrimage city of Varansi, and is an evocative collage of street sounds, temple bells and devotional music.
In defiance of composer Morton Feldman's dictum, "I always leave the concert hall when I start tapping my foot," Devotionloftily conceived and brilliantly realizedworks on several levels, from the visceral to the spiritually uplifting.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.