Yorkston/Thorne/Khan - Neuk Wight Delhi All-Stars

by Bill Golembeski Rating:10 Release Date:2017-04-07

This album makes me think about water. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” I think the same is true for music. Oh, and I also firmly believe that indoor plumbing is the single greatest achievement of human history. Yeah, water is important to me. So is music.

This album is a blended talent of three people: James Yorkston, Jon Thorne, and Suhail Yusuf Khan. Of the three, Yorkston was my attraction. His album Moving Up Country is very good, and I love his song “Tortoise Regrets Hare” from When the Haar Rolls In. Now, to be fair, James Yorkston does tend to play moody music with cryptically introspective lyrics, and he sings in a voice that combines Nick Drake, Ray Davies, and a somewhat coherent post-Floyd Syd Barrett. So, really, what’s there not to like? But, despite that appeal, I think Suhail Yusuf Khan brings a beauty and deep joy to the music that works as a perfect foil. Jon Thorne, on jazz bass, is the very prominent and melodic glue; much like Danny Thompson who worked such magic in Pentangle, a band whose legacy certainly casts its shadow on this record.

The first song, “Chori, Chori,” has a vocal by Kahn who also plays the sarangi, a traditional stringed instrument from his native India. Yorkston weaves his insistent acoustic guitar to make his presence felt. There’s just a lot of joy in the song. Oddly enough, there’s a strange kinship with “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” from the first record by Crosby, Stills, and Nash. It’s no copy. CSN just brought three diverse elements into vibrant acoustic music; Yorkston, Thorne, and Khan manage the very same thing, just in a different way. But listen past the three minute mark in “Chori,” and, yeah, the same exuberance as found in the bouncy denouement of “Suite” is there, and it’s a lot of fun to hear. Of course, it should also be noted that no one in CSN ever played a sarangi. Odd though, somebody played one on Def Leppard’s “Turn to Dust.”

The next song, “Samant Saarang/Just a Bloke,” is even better. It starts with a brief sarangi solo, which is then joined with Kahn’s tabla-like vocalizing while Yorkston sings a lead Scottish folk lyric about “just a bloke with a load on his mind.” Differences blend into one musical voice. “False True Piya” is another beautiful song. It begins with a short traditional Scottish folk vocal. Then the sarangi enters dramatically in tandem with an Indian vocal which is followed by more Scottish folk and then it all returns to a final Indian verse. I believe “Piya”means “beloved.” Both languages are easy to understand in a very human way. Keep in mind the sarangi is an instrument that resembles the human voice, so the very music is singing with passion here, too. This really does recall, at least in spirit, early Fairport Convention’s “Sailor’s Tale” with Richard Thompson and Swarb’s interwoven musical sea journey. Sadly, “Piya” ends too soon with its six-minute length. Another song, “Recruited Collier” is a traditional tune about some poor guy named “dashing Jimmy” who gets duped into enlisting in the army and must leave his true love behind. Again, there’s nothing particularly Indian, Scottish, or even jazzy about that sorrow. And the rivers of musical currents run deep and pure as Scottish and Indian languages swap sounds of sorrow with universal understanding of humanity’s passion and pathos.

My mathematical friend, Sally Setter, is still attempting the impossible: She wants to organize her entire record collection by genre through some sort of calculus equation. After listening to this album, she admitted there might be a limitation to her current organization system and invented a new category simply called Pre-Tower of Babel Music, for any music “devoid of arrogance and confusion.” Sometimes she just calls this section “the good stuff.” This album, with a tune like “The Blues You Sang” which is a simple Scottish song with a sarangi accompaniment and an Indian vocal coda, certainly belongs there. The same is true for “The Blue Thistle” with an almost Peter Gabriel vocal (from Jon Throne, perhaps?) and the Khan solo vocal spot, “Jaldhar Kedara (Wedding Song).” Yeah, this is really good stuff.  This entire record is devoid of arrogance and confusion.

And then the band plays, “Halleluwah” (not the Tago Mago Can song!), which is fifteen minutes or so of improvisational euphoria (but that surely describes the Tago Mago Can song!). It’s nice to hear Jon Thorne get a musical moment at the very start. There is a brief vocal. And then all nirvana breaks loose. Stay with this one, and the rewards are a multi colored dreamcoat. (Sorry about the second Biblical allusion!) Mr. Radue, aka Jazz Guy, says this is jazz music and it may be a raga, which apparently means “colors”; but he also admits to a pretty wide definition of the genre. He knows a lot, and I think he’s right. By the way, he recently destroyed my comfortable concept of the musical universe when, once I felt I had nailed down comfortable categories and knew the certain difference between Bebop and Hard Bop, he casually mentioned, “And there’s Free Bop, too.” Perhaps all that jazz is also Pre-Tower of Babel Music. This song “Halleluwah” is just a wonderful journey. An outside reference might be a Wetton/Cross led improv from Larks’Tongues Crimson. The bass, acoustic guitar (which serves as a source of percussion) and sarangi dissolve effortlessly into the fluid journey of this music.

Yeah, it all makes me think about water. I’m a literature guy, so I have to present a beautiful passage from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, hands down the greatest American novel. Runaway Huck and escaped slave Jim are alone on their raft floating on the freedom of the Mississippi River far away from the arrogant, hypocritical, racist adult world, when they contemplate the origin of the stars. Jim, acting as Huck’s spiritual father, just tells us all that “the moon could ‘a’ laid them.”Huck agrees and says, “It’s lovely to live on a raft.” This music is something like that night of harmony on that big river.

I should reference similar music like those early Incredible String Band records and a long lost Harvest label group called The Third Ear Band and their albums, Alchemy and Elements. I would be remiss not to mention the band Oregon. I’ll mention Winter Light or Violin, but any album is great. Then, of course, there are similar recordings on the blessed ECM label. Its founder Manfred Eicher should be canonized in just about any religion on our planet. Please listen to Codona’s albums; listen to Magico or Folk Songs by Haden, Garbarek, and Gismonti; listen to Shankar’s Song for Everyone or Anouar Brahem’s Thimar with John Surman and Dave Holland. Then tell me the entire world, at least in its quieter moments, doesn’t desire to pulse with the purity of some great mythical river. Yeah, this is all Pre-Tower of Babel stuff. And it’s all really quite good.

Then it comes to a soft finish with a short tune, “One More Day (Jon’s Song),” which is such an easy ending. Yes, it’s an easy ending that bobs so pleasurably in the wonderful wake of all the other music on this album. Oh, and the strange title: Neuk, Wight, Delhi: All-Stars: they are the homes of the three players.

 

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