Online since August 2002

Hip hop raga

From the Winter 2004 issue.

Tom Dowd & The Language of Music
By Jonas Hellborg, Shawn Lane and the Vinayakram Brothers

Bardo Music: 2004

To learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Even before the Beatles made it popular, there have been various attempts to meld Indian music with Western forms. Jazz, rock and world beat artists have all tried their hand – few have really pulled it off.

It's not just a stylistic challenge, although that would be daunting enough given the differences in meter and harmonic structure. There is a philosophical chasm, too, between many schools of Indian music and most popular Western styles.

But bassist Jonas Hellborg and his late collaborator, guitarist Shawn Lane, came closer than anyone to creating a common meeting ground between East and West. On albums like "Good People in Times of Evil" and "Icon," they worked with Indian percussionist Vinayakram Selvaganesh to create not a hybrid, but a stew, of Western fusion jazz and non-Western music.

"Paris" continues where "Icon" left off, once again adding Selvaganesh's two brothers, Umashankar Ghatam and Umamahesh, to the mix. Lane and Hellborg provide the instrumental melodicism, the brothers the percussion and vocals.

Not only is the music more adventuresome and more complete than on "Icon," but "Paris" is a DVD – so we can see the quintet's interaction, see the music being created. Filmed during two sets of a gig in Paris in 2001, what "Paris" captures as much as anything is the obvious sense of fun these five men find playing together. There is joy in both the music and their faces, and this joy translates to trust – which means even more boundary-pushing.

At one point, one of the brothers launches into a lengthy Hindi rap. Not rap like American rap, but purely Indian vocal percussion. Hard, but with rounded edges, it is at a tempo few Westerners could match – and is utterly hypnotic.

The songs throughout tend toward the lengthy – only six songs, but more than an hour and a half of music. It is in the form of extended jams, but few bands bring the kind of richness or imaginative improvisation you'll find here.

This is brilliant music, made more celebratory by seeing it made, more poignant by the knowledge of Lane's subsequent passing.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif., and was a contributor to the "Grove Press Guide to Blues on CD" (1993) and "The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues" (2005).

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