Simon Thacker: classical guitar; Japjit Kaur: voice; Jacqueline Shave: violin; Sarvar Sabri: tabla.
How many times we have read the “fusion” label stuck to an indigestibly shallow mingle-mangle of an album and instantly felt the urge of throwing up, heaven only knows. For our good luck, there are still musicians who absorb hundreds of influences and synthesize them into substances that transmit, for lack of a better word, peace. Such is the case of left-handed guitarist Simon Thacker, who cites anything but the proverbial kitchen sink (including Hendrix and – get this – Megadeth) amidst his juvenile (or less) passions. At any rate, the principal focus of Thacker’s work resides in the chemical action between Eastern and Western components to bring forth various forms of aural compensation flavored with proper spiritual vibe. Music that sounds honestly melodic, intelligibly involved, rhythmically ambitious but, at the same time, effortlessly assimilable. And without traces of postcard commonplaces, believe it or not.
The leader is gifted with an unwavering yet super-sensible touch, a style unintoxicated by trivial tricks and thus cleanly efficient. Fans of John McLaughlin circa Natural Elements and Egberto Gismonti (just to name two names, one should add more to this list) will have no trouble in welcoming the forward-looking “rational emotionality” shown by the Edinburgh-based virtuoso, who penned several chapters in the program. In that sense, the gorgeous “Svaranjali” is my overall favorite of the whole CD; I heartily invite everybody to take a look at the YouTube clip of this piece – Thacker has a great channel there. Other highlights are Terry Riley’s “SwarAmant”, 14 minutes of rewarding display of lynx-eyed skill where Shave’s violin and Sabri’s tabla interact like constituents of a single body, and the cycle “The Five Elements” composed by Nigel Osborne. The latter includes a portion of Japjit Kaur’s contribution to the record; another is featured in a tryptic of attractive Punjabi folksongs towards the end of the set. The vocalist’s near-infantile tones are a little perplexing at the beginning; however, as soon as you become acquainted with that enchanting sinlessness, the realization that this type of accent is essential for the tunes is immediate.
There are lots of cultural derivations and technical details in this material, impossible to quote in the space of a mere writeup; a surgical analysis of the liners (and a visit to the composer’s website) will disclose the experiential extents of a man who strives to make brain and heart fight to a draw. After spending a few days with Rakshasa, this writer feels that the goal has been achieved.