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Sangam - Michael Nyman Meets Indian Masters
Michael NYMAN (b.1944)

Three Ways of Describing Rain (Nyman/Misra) - i. Sawan (First Rain), ii. Rang (Colour of Nature), iii. Dhyan (Meditation)
Samitha (Compiling the Colours) (Nyman/Shrinivas)
U. Shrinivas, mandolin
Rajan Misra, voice
Sajan Misra, voice
Ritesh and Rajnish Misra, voices
Sanju Sahai, tabla
Michael Nyman Band
Michael Nyman, conductor
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London,
July 2002 and Sony Studios, London, October 2002.
WARNER CLASSICS 0927 49551-2 [59.08]

Sangam is not Michael Nyman's first musical encounter with Indian music (his second string quartet holds that distinction) but it is a fully realised vision of what can be achieved when two traditions meet, learn from and stimulate each other. There are two main pieces here, the first being Three Ways of Describing Rain, a collaboration with the great Khayal singers, the Misra Brothers. On his trips to India to research and prepare for this project, Nyman met them in their home city of Benares (the sacred site on the Ganges where Hindus go to bathe in the holy waters). Unsurprisingly there is something rather numinous in the music that they produced together, with the Nyman Band playing a greater proportion of restrained and slow music as accompaniment to the soulful vocal musings of the Misras; one of the sections is even titled Meditation and this track, after a quiet opening couple of minutes, really takes flight, with the Nyman Band and tabla player Sanju Sahai complementing the singers perfectly. In terms of quality, though not necessarily similarity of style or effect, the vocals are on a par with, say, those of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the late, great Pakistani Qawwali singer, in his collaborations with Michael Brook. In the booklet notes, Nyman is quoted as "wanting to avoid musical tourism" and I am happy to report that he has.

My favourite piece on the disc is the thirty minute plus Samitha, a co-composition/improvisation with the mandolin player U. Shrinivas, which is in effect a set of "variations" on a "Nyman pentatonic bass riff" which turns into almost a concerto for the soloist. This, as with the Misra pieces, is in the best tradition of Western/Indian crossover - I am put particularly in mind of two classic ECM discs - Zakir Hussain's Making Music and Shankar's Song For Everyone. The former featured John McLaughlin (incidentally, Shrinivas has also worked with him in Remembering Shakti, and also recorded with the aforementioned Brook!) and both of them Jan Garbarek. Here are two European musicians totally in touch with the musical river that flows from the far east through the Indian subcontinent and the Balkans/Hungary to places like Norway and the Celtic fringes. That said, the extended opening meditation of Samitha, which features mainly U. Shrinivas playing solo, reminds me more of a beatific free jazz/ambient exemplified by Harold Budd's Pavilion of Dreams (featuring the haunting saxophone of Marion Brown) and Pharaoh Sanders' Peace in Essaouria. When the Nyman Band kicks in fully after about five minutes we are treated to some exhilarating and wonderfully melodic music, often making clear the similarities between Indian music and Western folk music (at one point there is a section highly reminiscent of the "flowers of the forest" part of The Piano Concerto) and at times almost coming across like an Indian MGV. There are brief interludes/lulls in which Shrinivas gets the stage almost to himself again and the whole piece is an organic and highly satisfying listen.

With this release, and the recent Facing Goya, it is apparent that Michael Nyman is at the top of his game at present, producing challenging, mature but also highly accessible music, looking in places which others might pass by for ideas and inspiration. Sangam avoids the normal pitfalls of "world music crossovers" by its sheer quality and the obvious thought and preparation, not to mention inspiration, that lie behind it. Highly recommended.

Neil Horner

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