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Zoe & Idris Rahman: Where Rivers Meet

Chris May By

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The Bengali folk and film music inspired Where Rivers Meet introduces a radical and beautiful new direction for the London-based pianist Zoe Rahman and her clarinetist/saxophonist brother, Idris.



Born and brought up in Britain by a Bengali father and English mother, Zoe Rahman describes herself as culturally "very English," and her previous work has been shaped almost entirely by the American jazz tradition filtered through British sensibilities. The first sign she gave of an emerging interest in Bengali music was on her Mercury Prize-nominated album Melting Pot (Manushi, 2006), whose closing track was an arrangement of the popular Bengali song "Mucche Jaoa Dinguli." Rahman had discovered the music only three years earlier, when her father was hospitalized and she had transferred some of his worn-thin cassette tapes of 1950s Bengali music to CDs for him to listen to while he recuperated. Entranced by what she heard, she decided to catch up on her father's native culture before it was too late and he might no longer be able to share it with her.



Idris' work has been more culturally diverse, not least with his band Soothsayers, whose Tangled Roots (Red Earth Records, 2006) was a rousing celebration of Jamaican and West African music, in particular Nigerian Afrobeat.



Taking tunes introduced to Zoe and Idris in the main by their father, who contributes vocals to two tracks, Where Rivers Meet avoids neat labeling and is neither pure jazz nor standard issue world music. It's best described as chamber jazz hybridized with Bengali popular music, and is a vibrant affair packed with melodies—some joyful, others sad, all of them intensely pretty—and gorgeously lyrical improvisations.



The core of the group is a trio comprised of Zoe and Idris with tabla player Kuljit Bhamra, augmented by bassist Oli Hayhurst, drummer Gene Calderazzo and violinist Samy Bishai. Bengali guest vocalists Arnob, Gaurob and Joseph Aquilina are featured winningly on five of the twelve tracks. Zoe and Idris are the main soloists, but Bishai contributes striking violin improvisations to "Sanctuary" and "Stream Of Joy," and Bhamra a vigorous tabla workout to "You Came Like Welcome Rain."



The tunes are exquisite and include three by Bengali Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore—the bittersweet "Invitation Missed" and "Stream Of Joy" and, an intriguingly close cousin to "Auld Lang Syne," the tender "Do You Wish To Forget?" At other times, particularly when Hayhurst and Calderazzo kick in, the mood is more exuberant.



Reflecting the centrality of rivers to the life of the country, Where Rivers Meet shares a similar title to Where The Rivers Meet, a luminously beautiful suite featuring Bengali singers Lucy Rahman and Akah Sultan written for the London multi-cultural big band Grand Union Orchestra by its leader, the Bengali music enthusiast Tony Haynes. The Rahmans' take on their paternal heritage is more intimate than Haynes' masterpiece, and every bit as glorious.


Track Listing: O River; Invitation Missed; Sanctuary; Betrayed; You Came Like Welcome Rain; Now You're Gone; Pilgrim's Song; Mind's Eye; Stream Of Joy; Suddenly It's Dusk Again; We'll Surely Meet Again; Do You Wish To Forget?.

Personnel: Idris Rahman: clarinet, flute, bass clarinet, vocals (7); Zoe Rahman: piano; Kuljit Bhamra: percussion; Oli Hayhurst: double bass; Gene Calderazzo: drums; Samy Bishai: violin; Arnob: vocals (4, 9); Gaurob: vocals (7, 12); Mizan Rahman: vocals (7, 8); Joseph Aquilina: lead vocal (7).

Title: Where Rivers Meet | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Manushi Records

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