Over many years, Fraser Fifield has emerged as one of the most accomplished musicians from Scotland of recent times. He plays the border pipes and low whistles along with several other instruments. Grounded in the traditional music of his homeland, he has become known for his interest in expanding his musical vocabulary away from strict traditional genres into the worlds of jazz, classical and Latin music, and also for intriguing collaborations with musicians from very different traditions around the world.
For this fascinating album he has teamed up with three very respected and notable musicians from India: Sabir Khan on sarangi ( a bowed instrument), Saresh Lalwani on violin and viola and Navin Sharma on tabla and other percussion.
The album opens with the foot-tapping tune "Ewe wi' the Crooked Horn". From the first bars we get the juxtaposition of the unmistakable sounds of the two cultures. It is the sonic properties of instruments such as the sarangi and tabla that instantly evoke the Subcontinent as much as the low whistle phrasing evokes the landscapes of Scotland. The second track "Dardakar's Dance feels more like a venture into the world of Indian improvisation with the instruments following a sort of musical question and answer format between bursts of stirring unison playing.
"Village Matters" slowly sets up another infectious rhythm and the melodic instruments take turn to soar up and down the scales, returning between breaks to the main theme. Fifield adds saxophone to the textures here which works beautifully. It is the perfect blending of the familiar sounds and cadences of Western instruments with the - for me at least- more exotic qualities of the sarangi and percussion instruments, that makes the whole album such a rich listening experience.
"Pranams" is a evocative, slow and haunting piece, followed by "Song of Suresh" where we get the lowland pipes adding their unmistakable tones to the mix. Lalwani's violin is much to the fore on this track and even in just his playing you can hear echoes from both traditions bubbling through. "Psalm" is another pipes led composition that is perhaps the most "Scottish" sounding piece on the album so far.
As the album flows forward, it is very striking how although most of the tracks are credited to Fifield as composer, this is never an album of tunes by a Scottish piper accompanied by Indian instruments. Every musician is given space to bring their own voices to the fore. Each musician feeds off the others contributions. Nobody dominates and the result is very satisfying.
Too often, inter-cultural collaborations can become a type of musical manifesto, trying to make a point about the similarities of different musical traditions. "In Mumbai" is never like this. It is a wonderful demonstration of the mutual respect and appreciation of four musicians for each other to make a unique sound that resonates long after the album has ended.
|Jack Sharp: Good Times Older||Virginia Kettle: No Place Like Tomorrow|
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