It's been a few years since Berklee-trained guitarist/composer Dhruv Ghanekar last crossed AAJ's radar. That was at the Borneo Jazz Festival 2011, where his quartet powered through a jazz-fusion set of the highest order. For his second recording as leader the Mumbai guitaristwho has performed with sarangi maestro Sultan Khan, Zakir Hussain and Scott Kinseyshows off his hefty compositional strengths. With Etienne Mbappe, Trilok Gurtu, Ranjit Barot and Karim Ziad heading an all-star cast, Dhruv explores the nexus of Indian and African music in a fusion that's alternatively as intoxicating as Mumbai bustle and as soothing as a Ganges sunset.
Much of the music is filtered through a jazz-fusion prism, no more so than on "Zawi D" where the babble of a market scene and Mbappe's vocorder pay clear tribute to Joe Zawinul/Weather Report. Bassist Linley Marthe and Ziad's propulsive rhythms underpin snaking ensemble and individual lines, with soprano saxophonist Carl Clements and then Dhruv stretching out. A riveting soloist, Druv's vocabulary draws on traditions stemming from John McLaughlin and Indian classical music in a heady, melodious fusion. Throughout Voyage Dhruv doubles on keyboards and his six-string chops are released sparingly, according to the music's demands.
Indian vocals feature prominently throughout, with varying intensity and tone. On "Baare Baare" Dhruv's smoky tenor and Kalpana Patowary's honey-smooth vocals provide striking though complementary textures. Washing keys and subtle percussive pulses gain in potency as the vocal narrative grows; bursts of electric guitar and baritone saxophone add meat to the bone. The more radio-friendly "Sway with Me" pits Vasuda Sharma's angelic, Indian vocal against Dhruv's English response, which is evocative of Dave Matthews at his most anthemic; cello, violin and viola lend a suave orchestral sub-plot. The stripped down churning rocker "Dhima" foregrounds Ila Aruns' darkly bewitching sung/spoken vocal; Dhruv's grungy riffing gives way to searing runs as the tempo quickens on this feisty gem.
The instrumental "Chilli" trots with a lovely, bluegrass gait. Ravi Kynpstra's bass, spoon (?) percussion and Dhruv's banjo-like cigar-box fiddle form the backdrop for Ginny Noel Luke's untethered violin; it's a tremendous tune evocative of Jenny Scheinman's mischievous country-blues. The mostly acoustic title track brings together Barot, Mbappe and Gurtu, though surprisingly, rhythm almost plays second fiddle to vocal melody. Mbappe shares soulful vocal duties with Raul Midon while the extraordinary bassist Sheldon D'Silvaa longstanding Dhruv collaboratorand Barot ply a steady course.
A veteran of Indian film and television scores, Dhruv invests cinematic lustre on the lyrical tone poem "Is This India." Dhruv and Neuman Pinto harmonize as Jeetendra Thakur (violin and viola) and Sabir Khan (sarangi) infuse this plaintive, wordlessly sung ballad with their orchestral blues. Khan's sarangi dovetails with Katik Das Baul's stirring Indian vocal on "The Boatman's Song," which weds tradition and ambient textures in atmospheric union. The unaccompanied acoustic guitar lullaby "Anthem" rounds out the set in delicate mode.
Instantly gratifying, Voyage combines serious musicianship with commercial appeal. Though its traditional Indian roots are strong, Dhruv's contemporary flair seamlessly navigates other cultures, beautifully blending various folkloric colors with driving rock muscle, jazz-fusion elasticity and vocal sophistication. It's a blast from start to finish.
Zawi D; Baare Baare; Sway With Me; Dhima; Chilli; Voyage; Is This India; The Boatman’s Song; Anthem.
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