March 2002 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

index page/ monthly listings / March /

Richard ROBBINS and Zakir HUSSAIN
The Mystic Masseur  
Zakir Hussain: percussion * Liam Teague: steel pan * Kai Eckhardt: bass guitar * Karl Perazzo: percussion * George Brooks: saxophones * Aashish Khan: sarod * songs: "Jean and Dinah" by The Might Sparrow, "Never Ever Worry" by Lord Pretender & "Scandal in the Family" by Maya Angelou
  OST conducted by Benjamin Simon
  Milan 91976   [54:47]

Mystic Masseur

The Mystic Massuer is one of the rare Merchant Ivory films directed by Ismail Merchant rather than James Ivory but retains regular composer Richard Robbins and adds occasional collaborator, Zakir Hussain. Both actually worked on the James Ivory directed Heat and Dust, while Hussain scored Merchant's previous film, In Custody. As the booklet notes point out, Robbins approach is one of traditional, fully scored orchestral composition, while Hussain is an improvising tabla player/percussionist, celebrated in World-music circles and acclaimed in the jazz world for work with such luminaries as Jan Gabarek and John McLoughlin. The result an album of 19 tracks falling into four distinct areas. There are five "pure" orchestral score tracks, four orchestral score tracks which Robbins composed for Hussain to later add percussion improvisations, seven tracks composed/improvised by Hussain, and three source songs. Inevitably the outcome is a very diverse album ranging from lush yet introspective orchestral music to pieces for Indian percussion, and most intriguingly, a fertile meeting ground between the two.

The very beginning of the album, the first bars of "Partap meets the Pundit" bear a no doubt coincidental but striking similarity to Rachel Portman's jaunty The Legend of Bagger Vance . Thereafter the music develops into a subtle, often low-key and atmospheric, sometimes more melodic series of gently lilting and/or hypnotic cues. It's not particularly substantial, and hardly memorable. Indeed, it's the sort of well crafted background but charming music which is easy to ignore but which doubtless serves the film as well as one would expect from these two expert musicians. Fans of Hussain would be much better served by his absolutely gorgeous, and ravishingly recorded score for Vaanaprastham (The Last Dance) while Robbins work here is generally too understated to appeal in the same way as his music for such other Merchant Ivory productions as A Room With A View and The Remains of the Day. Nevertheless, the meeting of the two composer's music is intriguing and this album does have its dreamlike rewards. The final orchestral tango with Indian percussion is a particular pleasure. The three songs rather break the mood of the score but are in themselves quite engaging. In particular "Never Ever Worry" by Lord Pretender is infectiously optimistic and cheerful. And yes, it is that Maya Angelou.

Gary S Dalkin


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