Bhattacharya / Grønseth / Wessel: Bhattacharya / Grønseth / Wessel
Pling Music

This pooling of musical talents from India, America, and Norway achieves its particular World Music fusion with no apparent difficulty whatsoever; even better, there's nothing self-conscious about the performances by the four individuals involved, whose empathetic rapport feels wholly natural. On personnel grounds, the recording's a fascinating mix: Norwegian saxophonist Anders Lønne Grønseth, who's recently garnered deserved acclaim for his Mini Macro Ensemble releases, and New York-based electric guitarist Kenny Wessel, best known for his tenure in Ornette Coleman's second Prime Time outfit, play alongside renowned Indian slide guitar pioneer Debashish Bhattacharya (with whom Grønseth has studied) and his brother Subhasis Bhattacharya on tabla and percussion.

Born out of a desire by Debashish to bridge the Indian raga tradition with jazz, the recording features four compositions by him, one by Wessel, and the sixth a treatment of the American folk song “Goodnite Irene.” Slow tempos predominate, which enhances the music's seductive character; presented with the sultry languor of “Lover's Call - Raag Kafi,” for example, the listener begins to be carried away, lulled by the music's undulations.

There's an early morning raga feel to the opener “Kirwani,” and at fifteen minutes the piece affords the four ample opportunity to develop its material with thoughtful purpose and assert their respective personalities. Clarity is enhanced by the contrasts between Wessel's smooth tone and the earthy, at times blues-tinged sound of Debashish's Chaturangui, a twenty-two-string slide guitar he developed, and National Resophonic guitars. Grønseth's tenor purrs softly, while Subhasis, as he does throughout this fifty-five-minute collection, contributes beautiful tabla support to the soloists' reflections. The lines between ensemble and solo episodes blur as each responds to the expressions of the others. Debashish and Grønseth often converse, with one echoing the other's phrase before eventually voicing the main theme in unison.

The pace picks up for “Gauti,” whose singing melodies take on the swinging character of jazz when Grønseth's sinuous soprano surfaces. Interestingly, a subtle Mahavishnu-esque quality (Shakti-esque, if you prefer) emerges in the composition in its melodic design and in the aggressiveness with which Debashish unleashes rapid-fire notes during his solo (John McLaughlin has, in fact, been one of his collaborators). Elsewhere, a hint of open country air seeps into Wessel's “Bahut Acha,” whose infectious swing affords the guitarist solo space to stretch out when not accompanying Debashish's own feverish turn, while “Goodnite Irene” takes the album out on a gentle, folk-blues note that exudes something of a Ry Cooder-like spirit. During those moments when Grønseth and Subhasis play together, one might find oneself reminded of a recording such as Ragas and Sagas, the 1992 ECM album by Jan Garbarek featuring Ustad Fateh Ali Khan and musicians from Pakistan, but any such association subsides when all four are playing and impose their distinctive collective stamp on the material.

March 2017