Sliding Across the Desert

24 04 2007

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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