Michael NYMAN (b.1944)

Three Ways of Describing Rain (Nyman/Misra) (2000)
Sawan (First Rain) [9:14]
Rang (Colour of Nature) [11:37]
Dhyan (Meditation) [7:10]
Compiling the Colours (Nyman/Shrinivas)
Samitha (2001) [31:07]
U. Shrinivas (mandolin)
Rajan Misra (voice)
Sajan Misra (voice)
Ritesh and Rajnish Misra (voice)
Sanju Sahai (tabla)
Michael Nyman Band/Michael Nyman
rec. Abbey Road Studios, London, July 2002 and Sony Studios, London, October 2002.

This release appeared initially on Warner Classics and was reviewed on these pages back in 2003. Sangam is a a Hindi word meaning ‘coming together’ or ‘meeting point’, and the first thing that strikes you is a sense of unity between Michael Nyman’s gently consonant harmonisations and the unison choir of voices which are thus accompanied. The remarkable super-vibrato which ornaments solo vocalisations spring out with expressive immediacy, but the definition between voices and band is always well preserved and entirely idiomatic to each creative source.
The booklet notes tell of the creative process which allowed the “free-flowing spirit” of the Misra brothers’ vocal artistry to be kept, the ‘orchestral’ context being “a bed for their voices that wasn’t over-elaborate and respected what they did and following their compositional structure.” The simplicity of this concept reminds me a little of other combined works such as Gavin Bryars’ Jesus Blood or perhaps even The Sinking of the Titanic. Add a soft beat and you can chalk up Deep Forest as another reference. Not that these pieces are directly related to such things, but you can mark them up in the ‘if you like this, then you might want to try’ category.
We have more characteristic Nyman in the third of the ‘Rain’ pieces, where the accompaniment takes flight and ostinato rhythms and more complex chord changes occur in Dhyan. It is here that the duality of the two disparate styles are heard most distinctly, Nyman’s unmistakable musical shapes existing alongside those of the singers, giving the feel of an accompaniment but in fact only joining the two ensembles directly in the final phrases.
Compiling the Colours opens with an extended solo from electric mandolin player Uppalapu Shrivinas. If you are wondering what an electric mandolin sounds like think of the tones of an amplified jazz guitar - solo notes rather than chords a la B.B. King, but with the string-bending potential of something like a country steel guitar, and then with Carnatic scales. The virtuosity of this playing develops as do the contributions of the backing musicians, though the ‘band’ remains somewhat indistinctly in the rear of the picture. This has perhaps something to do with the instrumentation which is initially mostly bass-guitar and violin, though you can just about hear saxophones in the mix somewhere. The resonance of the horn section is beefed up a little later on in the piece, but the sound remains generalised and rather indistinct throughout. The booklet tells of the pentatonic bass riff which seeded the piece. This results in an further Eastern Asian feel to the gentler section about half-way through, and now seems perhaps a bit thin to carry a half hour piece. With all respect to Shrivanas’s undisputed wizardry on the mandolin, I think this would have worked better as a shameless three movement concerto with at least a modicum of contrast in tonality rather than the vast variation form that we have here. I’m afraid both me and the cat were somewhat climbing the walls after 20 minutes or so of ceaseless nagging at the same notes and rhythmic pattern, though the penultimate apotheosis in a last few minutes is nicely tranquil.
It’s good to have these fascinating collaborations raised in profile via Michael Nyman’s label, and I would certainly recommend everyone to give it a try, especially for the fascinating Three ways of describing rain. This album is most certainly a horizon-widener, even if the test of time is unlikely to grant it classic status.
Dominy Clements

A definite horizon-widener. 

see also review by Neil Horner (original Warner release)