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
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