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Various Artists: The New Universe Music Festival 2010

Ian Patterson By

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Various Artists

The New Universe Music Festival 2010

Abstract Logix

2011

Independent label Abstract Logix has come a long way since its tentative beginnings half a decade or so ago. Just when everybody thought—or hoped—that fusion was dead, Souvik Dutta's label has championed an exciting new wave of plugged-in virtuosity, and created a stable of outstanding musicians whose music defies simple categorization This double DVD—recorded at the New Universe Music Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina 2010—comes fast on the heels of the double CD The New Universe Music Festival (Abstract Logix, 2011) and whilst it may seem like overkill to the uninitiated, it will be manna from heaven for the converted.

The first DVD consists of exactly the same material in the same running order as the aforementioned double CD, and immediately raises the question as to whether there weren't other tracks available from the seven groups' sets. Nevertheless, the visually exciting performances will especially please students of guitar, as Alex Machacek, Jimmy Herring, Wayne Krantz, Tom Guarna and John McLaughlin provide plenty of thrilling moments. Other highlights are provided by violinist Bala Bhaksar and drumming sensation Ranjit Barot. The musicianship throughout is outstanding, but there isn't a hint of excess in the give and take.

There's an important historical perspective to these recordings as well, capturing as they do the first public performance of Human Element—the fusion juggernaut destined to inherit the crown from Weather Report, and a captivating, almost nostalgic reunion between McLaughlin and tablaist Zakir Hussain reveling in a lengthy call and response on "Mother Tongues." One minor criticism is the somewhat one-dimensional camera work, with hardly a single shot of the audience and few interesting camera angles.

The second DVD is, like the festival itself, is a tribute to McLaughlin. Barot, bassist Neal Fountain, drummers Lenny White and Jeff Sipe, bassist Matthew Garrison and guitarists Guarna, Machacek and Herring all talk of their admiration for McLaughlin, giving some insight into the legendary English guitarist's influence on several generations of musicians. The musicians shed some light on themselves in the process. Krantz talks of the "fusion" of his music: "It borrows from a lot of different things. It is a fusion of styles but unless it's a straight genre thing just about everything is—pop and hip-hop and even rap, and certainly jazz." On the subject of improvisation Krantz says: "Under the right group conditions improvisation can lead to...mind-altering, life-changing catharsis. Once you've felt that it's really hard to turn away from it."

What also emerges from these interviews is a strong sense of the respect and admiration for Abstract Logix label and New Universe Music festival founder, Dutta, not only for staging this festival but for being the spearhead of a resurgence in electric jazz in the United States. Sipe likens Dutta to a modern-day Bill Graham, the Filmore East/West impresario; Herring goes one further, calling Dutta "the true saviour of this music."

McLaughlin himself gives a candid interview in which he covers various aspects of his extraordinary career, from the birth of the 4th Dimension, which he describes as "a very joyful band," to his first meeting with Zakir Hussain in New York in 1969 and the subsequent birth of Shakti. He also talks of his desire to play a concert with Hussain in Palestine. On the subject of the New Universe Music Festival itself McLaughlin says: "It's a celebration of life, isn't it? People are by nature harmonious. In music we find ourselves, and we find ourselves in peace."

With the New Universe Music Festival likely to become a bi-annual event there will be further opportunity to make the pilgrimage to Raleigh, and, in all probability, further releases of this nature. The high quality of the performances on this double DVD suggest that it will be a challenge for Dutta to top the inaugural festival, but with Abstract Logix always seeking to add exciting new artists to its already mightily impressive roster, there is clearly a lot more good music yet to come.

Tracks: DVD1: Strafe; Very Sad; Vignesh Kirtanam; Origin; Essaouira; Sometimes I...; Rainbow; Gray Day; Within You, Without You; Why; Door #3; Gazelle; Recovery; Mother Tongues. DVD 2: Tribute to John McLaughlin; artist interviews; Godin guitar feature.

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