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Somesh Mathur: Time Stood Still
by George Graham
(Sweetbeats Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/21/2018)
World Music remains a place for a lot of interesting listening. The scene has been attracting attention in the US for some 30 years now, and during that time, all manner of stylistic fusion projects have come along. Some more eclectic than others, and some more artistically successful than others. Many have involved African or Latin American influence, in various combinations of mixtures with Western pop sounds. And we have reviewed the Playing for Change albums that involve musicians around the world recorded separately in their home territories and combined into a creative mix.
This week, we have an interesting and appealing album that combines Indian subcontinent sounds with some jazz-rock fusion and contemporary pop elements. It’s by Somesh Mathur, and the record is called Time Stood Still.
Somesh Mathur is a well-known figure in India. The son of two musicians, with his mother a violinist playing classical Indian music, young Somesh Mathur was something of a prodigy, performing at age four. He has since then studied various kinds of Middle Eastern music, including the formal classical Indian vocal style, but increasingly mixing in other influences, taking time out to get an MBA degree along the way. His debut album was released in 1986, and Time Stood Still is his seventh. He also recently created the music for a Bollywood film.
The new recording was made in Los Angeles, and his collaborator was Scott Kinsey, a jazz-rock fusion keyboard player known for his work with the band Tribal Tech with guitarist Scott Henderson. Kinsey also created music for the films “Oceans Eleven” and “Oceans Twelve.” They enlist a number of additional players, from various backgrounds ranging from a sitar virtuoso to a funk-influenced bassist. Prominent is a versatile drummer, Gergo Borlai, who does rhythmic patterns similar to electronically sequenced drums, but on acoustic percussion with a lot of class.
The stylistic elements on the album are in a pretty wide range, from classical Indian vocal technique, to soul-influenced backing vocals, from Indian instrumental influence to jazz-rock fusion harmonic structures. The album also can go from an ethereal sound to a kind of funky groove. Lyrics are in various languages, including English, with some wordless vocals as well. While most of the material is original, there are some pieces that draw on traditional music, highly arranged into a generally danceable world fusion blend.
Opening the rather generous 56-minute album is a piece called Nectar, which illustrates the stylistic fusion on this recording. There’s some Qawaali style vocals with the an electronic dance beat, jazzy keyboards and rock guitar. <<>>
One of the pieces largely in English is called What’s With the World, which makes reference to Sufi philosophy. <<>> The track takes a turn toward the funky in its middle section. <<>>
The title piece And Time Stood Still has another stylistic twist. The track is almost a kind of roots rock song, though the somewhat ethereal and slightly exotic sounds are there not far below the surface. <<>> It eventually takes a turn to a sitar solo and some traditional Indian vocals. <<>>
Yet another distinctive musical conglomeration comes out on Soulmate, which again combines some traditional Indian vocal technique with a kind of tribal beat. <<>>
A group of backing vocalists makes an appearance on a piece called When You’re Happy, who make an observation on the perception of music. <<>>
A piece called Sweet Beats brings more musical surprises, with a kind of electronic-style dance beat, but played on real drums, along with a jazzy flute. <<>>
One track that does not seem to work that well is My Beloved with so many influences thrown into the mix, that it doesn’t seem very coherent. But the 5-beat rhythm is pretty cool. <<>>
A little more traditionally Indian in sound is the closing piece Danseuse in Distress, which features sitar, tabla and the Indian reed organ, along the vocals in keeping with the sound. <<>>
Time Stood Still the new release by Indian vocalist and composer Somesh Mathur is a fascinating record that brings together some traditional Indian vocal technique along the some sitar, tabla and the like with electronic-style dance rhythms and a good helping of jazz-rock fusion influence. The group tends to keep it fairly light, and though the very nature of the album involves sounds that are exotic to contemporary pop, there is a preponderance to Western influences and a generally melodic sound. The musicians gathered for the album helps of give Time Stood Still its cross-cultural flavor, with keyboard man and the album’s producer Scott Kinsey bringing his jazz-rock fusion background strongly into the mix.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” The mix of the sonic elements is well done with good use of ambient effects, and keeping a generally clean sound and avoiding a lot of the pop sonic cliches. But as is the case for most albums these days, the loudness is jacked up by compressing the sound and thus losing a lot of the dynamics of the performance.
There have been a lot of combinations and permutations of influences on the world music scene over the last 30 years. Somesh Mathur and his colleagues bring us yet another interesting and appealing mix, marked by imagination, eclecticism and some degree of audacity in the way genres were melded. The result makes for some definitely multifaceted music.
(c) Copyright 2018 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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