Don Cherry & Latif Khan – Music/Sangam, 1978

Another Don Cherry collision with terrific results. Originally recorded in Paris in 1978, this only had a 1000-copy run in France and, despite being considered one of Cherry’s strongest works by die-hard fans, was mostly forgotten until its reissue in 2009. I think this is one of the earlier works of Indo-jazz fusion ever, and it’s arguably one of the more successful–while Cherry had a propensity towards cultural dabbling, he avoided many of the pitfalls of “world music” aesthetic through his commitment to musicianship, collaboration, and sensitivity. Also, he sings a bit!

Ustad Ahmed Latif Khan was a tabla virtuoso, avid composer, and member of the Delhi Gharana. He also had perfect pitch and used it to great advantage, tuning his daya (right drum of the tabla) to the same pitch as his baya (left drum of the tabla)–typically the baya is between a fifth and an octave below the daya, but Khan’s tuning allowed for an unusually deep, full tone of the bass notes. He stood out both for this tonal precision and because of his taste for irregular and extremely syncopated rhythms. From the liner notes:

“Sangam” means “meeting place” in Sanskrit. Don obviously knew exactly what he wanted to do, and Latif immediately understood, his fingers fizzing across the tablas at frightening speed, his perfect pitch making him the obvious person to tune the disparate instruments in Don’s armoury to those in the studio, which included a grand piano, a B3 Hammond organ and chromatic timpani.

 It was Don who suggested that Latif overdub new tabla parts to enrich and add complexity to the first takes. We could reasonably have expected to spend the night doing this because this was the first time the percussionist had done this. It took him all of five minutes to get used to listening to the first tracks over the headphones before playing them without the slightest mistake. When we got to the timpani, which he was playing for the first time, his keen sense of pitch and tone once again did miracles. During one take, just for the fun of it Latif started to play a fairly slow, disconnected duple time, moving on to three and then four… all the way up to 19 by which time his fingers were whizzing invisibly across the skins, leaving us in awe and him looking as if he didn’t know what the fuss was all about. All this just made Don even keener to impress his musical companion for a day… and so he did, with great ease and a complicity created by their shared love of music.

Of course, the subtleties of this album call for greater analysis, for example the meeting between the Malian doussou n’gouni and Indian tablas, the Hammond organ taking over from the tampura, 5 1/4 time as if it were the easiest thing in the world, the reinvented Indonesian gamelan… and the lyricism of the (pocket!) cornet.

Pandit Ram Narayan – L’Inde Du Nord: L’art Du Sarangi, 1971

Another favorite from the Ocora catalogue. Pandit Ram Narayan was the first internationally successful sarangi player, credited as responsible for the introduction of the sarangi as a solo concert instrument in Hindustani classical music. He’s also responsible for developing simplified sarangi fingering techniques, and elements of his tone and inflection have been widely mimicked and adapted by subsequent generations of sarangi players. There’s lengthier information about the ways in which he pushed the boundaries of both the instrument and the genre here.

The short version of the story is that this record is incredibly beautiful, and serves as a plain reminder of why the sarangi was traditionally treated as a filler instrument during solo vocal performances, meant to imitate the vocals. Ram Narayan’s sarangi is so expressive that it feels human: crying, lilting, taking melismatic nosedives and acrobatic leaps. It’s piercing but never shrill. It’s something you should hear before you die.

Note: I spent awhile wavering between sharing the original recording, which has some room tone, vinyl pops, and a sound that is both richer and muddier; and the remastered version, which is cleaned up and has a sound that is clearer but thinner. I settled on the original, but if anyone feels strongly about hearing the remastered version (which includes an additional râga), let me know and I’ll post it.

[Mix for NTS Radio] Getting Warmer Episode 1

Excited to share my first episode of “Getting Warmer” for NTS Radio. Tracklisting below. If you like it, you can download it here. Enjoy!

Tracklisting:
1. Mark Isham – Raffles In Rio
2. Yas-Kaz – The Gate of Breathing (Excerpt)
3. A.r.t. Wilson – Rebecca’s Theme (Water)
4. Double – Naningo (Lexx Edit)
5. Elicoide – Mitochondria (Excerpt)
6. Yoichiro Yoshikawa – Nebraska
7. Salma Agha & Bappi Lahiri – Come Closer (Excerpt)
8. Len Leise – Forlorn Fields
9. Lino Capra Vaccina – Voce In XY
10. Eric Vann (Joel Vandroogenbroeck) – Algues Marines
11. Denny Lather – Timeless
12. Aragon – 家路
13. Dip In The Pool – Silence
14. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Put Your Hands Up
15. Grace Jones – The Crossing (Ooh The Action…) (Edit)

[Mix for NTS Radio] Listen To This!

We made a two hour mix for NTS Radio. Tracklisting below. If you like it, download it here. Enjoy!
Tracklisting:
0:00 Richard Burmer – Physics
3:31 Masami Tsuchiya – Nevermind (Excerpt)
6:28 Carlos Maria Trindade – The Truth
9:09 Joe Hisaishi – The Winter Requiem
13:49 Bill Nelson – Pansophia
14:41 Anna Homler & Steve Moshier – Celestial Ash (Excerpt)
20:09 Toshifumi Hinata – Chaconne
24:45 George Wallace – Electric Night
31:23 Danyel Gérard – La Vieux de la Montagne
35:41 Steve Tibbetts – 100 Moons
40:50 Hector Zazou & Dead Can Dance – Youth (Excerpt)
42:26 Codek – Tim Toum
46:22 Şenay – Doy-Doy-Doymadım
51:57 Joan Bibiloni – Sa Fosca
58:45 Jaco Pastorius – Okonkole Y Trompa
1:03:00 Blue Gas – Shadows From Nowhere
1:06:58 Rasta Instantané – Kylyn
1:11:56 Boban Petrović – Zajedno Srećni
1:16:52 Saâda Bonaire – More Women
1:21:51 Christy Essien Igbokwe – You Can’t Change A Man
1:25:34 Hiroshi Sato – Awakening
1:29:06 Love, Peace & Trance – Hush – A Mandala Ni Pali
1:33:15 Asha Bhosle & Ghulam Ali – Roodad-E-Mohabbat Kya Kahiye Kuchh Yaad Rahi Kuchh Bhool Gaye
1:38:52 New Musik – Areas
1:43:00 CFCF – Vermont
1:47:45 Hiroshi Yoshimura – Time After Time
1:56:27 Gervay Briot – Science

Ustad Ghulam Ali & Asha Bhosle – Meraj-e-Ghazal, 1983

It would be totally nuts to suggest that I’m sufficiently well-versed in Asha Bhosle’s catalogue to argue that any one record is her best, since she’s the most recorded musician of all time and has performed over 12,000 songs. I’m not even sure how this one wound up in my hands, as it doesn’t seem to be online or in print anywhere. I stumbled across it in my library by accident a few weeks ago and have been stuck on it ever since. There’s not much that can be said about Asha Bhosle’s voice that hasn’t already been said–it’s weightless, luminous, and radiates joy like nobody else’s. Additional vocals by the esteemed Ghulam Ali on four tracks. Ideal spring soundtrack.

Sivakumar Sarma – Santur: Inde Du Nord, 197-

Perfection. Pandit Sivakumar Sarma (also Shivkumar Sharma) was the first musician to play Indian classical music on the santur (a hammered dulcimer traditionally used as a folk instrument). Sarma has had a hugely prolific career and has worked with the most legendary classical musicians, but I have yet to hear very much of his catalog because I can’t tear myself away from this. Achingly beautiful work from the master of the instrument.

Note: Nobody seems to know exactly when this record was released, but based on a few hints I would guess mid-70s. This never made it to CD and to the best of my knowledge, has never been reissued (cough).

[RIP] Charanjit Singh – Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat, 1982

We were deeply saddened to learn that Indian musician Charanjit Singh suddenly passed away at home in Mumbai this morning, at 75 years old. His death came just a few months after the passing of his wife, Suparna Singh.

Over the past few years, Singh’s story has been told hundreds of times, attaining mythological status. It started as whispers on the internet in 2005, rumors of a record of frenetic acid house renditions of traditional Indian ragas–but it was the record’s release date that left listeners in disbelief. Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco beat was purportedly recorded in 1982, a full three years before Phuture wrote “Acid Tracks,” generally acknowledged as the pioneering acid house track.

It took another five years for Synthesizing to be reissued, instantly cementing it as an electronic cult classic. Singh surfaced and started playing shows, largely thanks to the efforts of Rana Ghose. With Singh’s reappearance we learned that he had been a Bollywood session guitarist, that he had bought his Roland TB-303 in Singapore shortly after its introduction in late 1981, and that Synthesizing had come about through at-home experimentation. Singh recounted:

There was lots of disco music in films back in 1982, so I thought, why not do something different using disco music only. I got an idea to play all the Indian ragas and give the beat a disco beat–and turn off the tabla. And I did it! And it turned out good.

We were fortunate enough to have Charanjit play at Body Actualized Center last August (photos below) and it was one of the most memorable musical experiences of our lives. The show was packed and sweaty, with Charanjit shredding through a long and ecstatic set on his Jupiter 8 in a suit jacket, unfazed by the heat. As was their tradition, his wife Suparna was seated next to him smiling the entire time.

photo by Erez Avissar
photo by Erez Avissar

Monsoon – Third Eye, 1983

Featuring the voice of world-pop-fusion queen Sheila Chandra, Third Eye was released a couple of years before the launch of her solo career. As in her later work, production is certainly slick, but Third Eye has an inspired raw, youthful quality and an impressive array of world, experimental, and rock-oriented instrumentation. Sitar, tabla, ghatam, shine, ektare, swarmandel timbali, gong, cowbell, roto toms, tom-toms, wasp, tambourine, cabasa, fire extinguisher, electric guitar, hurdy-gurdy, mandolin, santoor, flute, synth, piano, celestia, a gamelan ensemble…to name a few. Even Bill Nelson shows up on his EBow guitar in the cover of “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Music video for the hit “Ever So Lonely” below!

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Haruomi Hosono – Cochin Moon, 1978

The soundtrack to a non-existent Bollywood movie. This was supposed to be a collaboration between Hosono and illustrator Tadanori Yokoo, but the story goes that during the trip to India that spawned the record, Yokoo had a prolonged and incapacitating bout of digestive woes and the project ended up as solo Hosono, with Yokoo illustrating a killer album cover. Interestingly, this came out the same year as YMO’s debut, but Hosono had already been making music for over a decade. Not only was he already a seasoned musician, but he had long been interested in musical subversion, in ways both flagrant and covert.
This is his first all-electronic album, and is one of his most progressive and expansive works. In 43 minutes he moves through swirling cosmic synth meditations, sputtering swamp glitch, and a krauty synth raga, and closes with a nine minute long proto-acid track, all bound up with the sounds of fountain bubbles, insect fizz, and harp swirls. A fair warning: a lot of this record, especially long stretches of the first three “Hotel Malabar” tracks, sound like meandering synth whine and bird screech, but listening through headphones is a gamechanger. This isn’t background music–give it at an attentive listen, loudly, on good speakers. It’s worth your time.
PS: We’re gonna try really hard not to turn this blog into a YMO fanblog, but it might turn into a YMO fanblog.