Friday, May 14, 2010

Indian Guitar from V.M. Bhatt with Matt Malley

The condition with South Asian-Indian Classical Music is that it continues to flourish. And well it should. We in the West have been exposed in recent times to some very accomplished musicians playing more traditionally Western-associated instruments, such as the alto saxophone, the violin and the guitar. In the latter category there is no more accomplished player than V. M. Bhatt. He uses a specially modified acoustic guitar with a slide device, and he does it with Indian classical rigor.

There are some beautiful recordings with him playing in a traditional rag context and he has made an album with Ry Cooder that won a Grammy.

Now he is back in a collaboration with electric bassist, keyboardist Matt Malley and Subhen Chatterjee on tabla and percussion. The album is called Sleepless Nights (World Village) and it's one of those recordings I suppose you could stay up all night playing over and over, but of course that's not the point.

We've had provocative and exciting Indian-Western hybrids for some time now. Ravi Shankar innovated in this medium with movie soundtracks, his collaborations with Yehudi Menuhin, etc. There have been others too, notably John McLaughlin and Zakir Hussein in their Shakti performances, and more. Bollywood's commercial Indian movie soundtracks, of course, have experimented with such combinations for many years as well.

That sets the stage, but what Bhatt and Malley accomplish on Sleepless Night is to combine the instrumental rigors of traditional raga practice with western bass guitar, tabla but also trap set work from Mr. Chatterjee, often using some of the implications of western harmony. The feeling is of a kind of Indian jamband if you will. Lengthy and rather breathtaking guitar soloing within a new East-West context.

Lovers of Indian music, improvisation and the nearly infinite fertilities inherent in new forms of fusion will jump at this one, and for good reason. It is excellent.

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