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Album Review

Ragawerk: Ragawerk

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Ragawerk: Ragawerk
Fusions of jazz and Indian raga go back to the mid-1950s, when the London-based Indian composer John Mayer began experimenting with the concept and, in the early 1960s, went on to form Indo-Jazz Fusions with the alto saxophonist Joe Harriott. Meanwhile, across the pond, John Coltrane became so fascinated with raga that he named his son after sitar player Ravi Shankar. Fast forward to the 1970s and British guitarist John McLaughlin raised the game with Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti.

And so the fun continued until spring 2022, when jazz's fascination with raga went one step beyond with the Israeli-born, New York-based tenor saxophonist Oded Tzur's exalted masterpiece Isabela (ECM) (which Tzur discusses in an All About Jazz interview here).

Now, a few month's later, comes German band Ragawerk's eponymous album, its fourth since 2015. Previously known as the Max Clouth Clan, Ragawerk is a quartet led by guitarist Max Clouth and drummer Martin Standke and completed by bassist Peter Puskas and keyboarist Georg Boerner. A dozen guest musicians, most of Indian heritage, contribute to the album.

Clouth lived and studied in Mumbai for three years prior to forming the Max Clouth Clan and he and Standke, who consider themselves primarily to be jazz musicians, are no mere cultural tourists, instead approaching the raga tradition with respect. Ragawerk blends the music with jazz, Krautrock and electronica. Some tracks, such as opener and first single "Ab Yeh Kya" (check the YouTube clip below), are full-on Indo fusions, others lean to a greater or lesser degree towards Krautrock. The music is spacey and oftentimes pretty and is ultimately something of a cross between the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the Pat Metheny Group and the Krautrock minimalism of German guitarist and ex-Ash Ra Tempel leader Manuel Göttsching in the 1980s.

Whether this is a 3.5 star ("very good") album or a 4 star ("excellent") one is pretty much a toss up. If one compares it to Shakti's masterpiece Natural Elements (Columbia, 1977), then 3.5 might be appropriate. Purely on its own terms, however, it deserves 4.

Track Listing

Ab Yeh Kya; I Promise; Grace Krpa; Nature Of The Self; Overlays; Das Modul; Theta Wave; Face In The Sky; The Shore;Mangal.

Personnel

Max Clouth: guitar, electric; Martin Standke: drums; Peter Puskas: bass; Georg Boerner: keyboards.

Additional Instrumentation

Varijashree Venugopal: vocals (1); Kabuki: modular synthesiser (1, 3, 7, 9); Koel Puthli: vocals (10); Mahesh Raghavan: GeoShred (10); Shruti Ramani: vocals (8, 10); Shivaraj Natraj: kanjira, mridangam (1, 6, 10); Udhai Mazumdar: table (1, 5, 6); Mehtab Ali Niazi: sitar (1); Abhisek Mallick: sitar (2, 7, 8); Manas Kumar: violin (1); Hannah Visser: violin (3, 9); Sophie-Justine Herr: cello (3, 9); Koel Sen: voice (7).

Album information

Title: Ragawerk | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Bellaphon


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