Following her 2007 Mercury Award-nominated album Melting Pot, pianist Zoe Rahman releases her new album, Where Rivers Meet - a collaboration with her brother, Idris Rahman (clarinet, flute, & bass clarinet) - showcasing a unique, jazz inspired take on their Bengali heritage. Zoes regular trio members, drummer Gene Calderazzo and bassist Oli Hayhurst, are augmented by: violinist Samy Bishai, percussionist Kuljit Bhamra - plus Dhaka based vocal star Arnob, and three additional vocalists. There are hauntingly beautiful interpretations of the music of Rabindranath Tagore, Gauri Majumdar & Hemanta Mukherjee, Pranab Roy & Kamal Dasgupta, Hemant Kumar, and Jasim Uddin, among others - with all arrangements by the two Rahman leaders. This is a rich, vibrant album of Anglo-Asian music, where jazz meets world music, with dazzling soloing and interplay from all concerned, but especially Zoe and Idris (who also leads his own Soothsayers band). The album comes in a delightfully designed gatefold digipack sleeve, with excellent 12-page booklet.
How much do we know about Bengali music? Not much, considering the fact that this area straddling India and Bangladesh has a greater population than Brazil. Bengal's best-known musical tradition is that of the Bauls, a non-conformist mystical brotherhood and a local form of Sufism. One of their champions was Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel prize-winning Bengali poet and songwriter whose work was incorporated into their music. He's one of the artists whose work is interpreted here by Zoe Rahman (piano) and her brother Idris (clarinet/flute), UK musicians of Bengali descent who are both veterans of the world fusion outfit, Soothsayers.
Where Rivers Meet is a gently flowing jazz-inspired album, two thirds of which is instrumental, although judging by the titles, maybe a few more of the pieces once had texts. Apart from the occasional burp and flutter of Kuljit Bhamra's tabla, the arrangements and style of playing (with Zoe's melodic lines shadowed and echoed by clarinet) most closely resemble those on Payanir, the wonderful 2005 album by Turkish pianist Ayse Tütüncu.
After a placid opening, things get a bit stormier with the arrival of drummer Gene Calderazzo on Sanctuary, which also features the folky tones of violinist Samy Bishai and beautiful trickling effects by Zoe Rahman. The mood alters again on Betrayed, when Bengali vocal star Arnob starts crooning. Pilgrim's Song has smouldering percussive atmospherics with evocative hums and non-verbal vocalisations, while Tagore's closing song Do You Wish To Forget? sounds like a philosophical Bengali makeover of the Scottish folk song Auld Lang Syne, sung as a rather sweet lullaby.
This is pensive, late night listening. Zoe Rahman's light touch is a delight throughout, while her brother switches between clarinet and bass clarinet to good effect, and Oli Hayhurst adds the booming resonance of double bass in places. At first the singers are slightly intrusive, but they make sense after a couple of listens. It's a slow grower, and a modest rather towering achievement, but give its gentle charms a chance and you may find yourself liking it a whole lot more than you'd expected. --Jon Lusk
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