Sliding Across the Desert

24 04 2007

DESERT SLIDE FEATURING VISHWA MOHAN BHATT
Desert Slide (Sense World Music)

Sometimes spontaneity breeds the greatest success. Such was the case on the evening Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, a mohan veena player – scratch that; he invented this fusion of a classical Indian sitar and sarod with the Hawaiian slide guitar – sat down with Ry Cooder. When the Rajasthan native picked up his unique instrument and started performing with the Los Angeles-born globetrotting guitarist, a bit of magic ensued. The result was called A Meeting by the River, which won a Grammy in 1994. Since then Bhatt continued doing what he had been since studying under Ravi Shankar: creating local recordings that are stupendously innovative. Desert Slide is a case in point. Since his instrument crosses the sarod with a slide, there is really nothing that sounds like it. Underneath the excellent vocal performance Anwar Khan and rapid-fire tablas of Ram Kumar Mishra, this ensemble, created especially for this recording, Bhatt’s schizophrenic veena dances between a literal assault of notes, rhythms and melodies. Part of the genius of the Indian musical system is the ability to make one musician sound like an orchestra; imagine what eleven can do. And yet, even in all that movement, there is stillness. These are mostly when Bhatt breaks, however: the intricate meanderings of his fingers sets fire to the fourteen-minute “Avalu Thari Aave, Badilo Ghar Aave.” The song expresses the longing of a woman begging her love to come home, and this poetic immediacy is captured in every note, every minute. A not-so-chaotic, though equally penetrative, sense of urgency arises in the spacious “Jhilmil Barse Meh,” a rag dedicated to monsoon season. Just as the raga system is based on different times of day, so it goes with seasons. If you can imagine the heroic strides of a culture dependent upon torrential downpours for a few months of the year to cycle their agriculture, you’ve found the spirit of this song. And without question, this is a spirit these musicians capture. Derek Beres

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