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James Asher: Raising The Rhythms

Douglas Payne By

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Too many jazz listeners make the most intolerant music lovers. There is the likable fact that no two people ever define jazz — or their tastes in it — the same way. But jazz people too often disregard "other" music (whatever that is) and belittle what others find appealing in "other" music. Don't think so? Consider where you fall on the issue of Kenny G. He's never called what he does jazz. His legions of fans do. But his recent take on "Summertime" is a beaut — something difficult to avoid in the consideration of jazz.

So what prompted the above diatribe? Your humble writer is willing to confess that he is hardly above the aforementioned snobbery he claims to repudiate. But then a disc like Raising The Rhythms comes along. Voila. It is an excellent reminder that good music transcends borders, limits, definitions and anything that reigns in what deserves to be heard. It's just good music.

James Asher is a multi-talented percussionist best known as drummer on Pete Townsend's Empty Glass (remember 1980's "Let My Love Open The Door"?). He's since recorded some half dozen world music explorations in the new-age mold known as "contemporary instrumental." With Raising The Rhythms, Asher offers a world-music tour as accessible and familiar as it is infectious and - gasp! - creative too.

Asher's melodic compositions have the catchy - and memorable - sensibility that William Orbit usually brings to his conceptions. But where Orbit adds moods and atmospherics to his music, Asher layers percussive foundations with imaginative zeal.

Kicking off with the catchy Caribbean funk of "Tropical Zinge," Asher mans a terrific steel-drum riff lifted bodily by the long, marvelous guitar improvisation of Volker Grun. If you can sit still through this (I can't), focus attention on the creative artistry Grun adds.

Asher journeys most successfully to Africa for the Highlife of "Grand Fiesta" and the Mbanqaga of "Zingwele," India for "Cobra Call" and to the in-vogue trance-regions of the Middle East for "Serpent of the Nile" and "Spice Souk." "Sunny Side Up" offers a Bill Frisell-inspired Pat Metheny groove most reminiscent of the Americana heard regularly these days in TV commercials. Whatever style it is, Thomas Blug's rockish guitar and Kiran Thakar's piano leave a most appealing impression. Less successful are Asher's jazzier trips: the vaguely Afro-Asian "The Highland Wanderer" and the jazz raga of "Saxophagus." They're no less fascinating than the rest of the musical collage, though, and actually work quite well as part of the whole.

Raising the Rhythms lives up to its own hype. It's an exuberant world music expedition. Asher's sense of spirit is contagious. He uses all his rhythmic tools and melodic imagination to hold and enrapt attention. His magic can add color to your gray cells. Raising the Rhythms is a journey well worth taking. It's an easy pleasure to revisit too.

Songs:Tropical Zinge; Grand Fiesta; Serpent of the Nile; Exubera; Cobra Call; Spice Souk; Zingawele; The Highland Wanderer; Saxophagus; Sunny Side Up.

Players:James Asher: percussion, drums (uncredited); Sandeep Raval: Tabla, Dholak, Djembe, Olympic Drums, percussion; Kiran Thakar: keyboards; Volker Grun: guitar; Thomas Blug: guitar; Mile Bould: Congas, Bongos, Bata Drums, Shaker, Big Ed Drum; Sumeet Chopra: Harmonium; Johnny Kalsi: Dhol drums; Nigel Shaw: Native American Flute; Dave Lewis: sax; Suzanne Bramson: vocals; Ted Emmet: trumpet.

Title: Raising The Rhythms | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: New World Records

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