by Ian Mann
May 17, 2017
This début album impresses with its mix of excellent original compositions and skilful arrangements of traditional Welsh and Indian material.
(Recordiau Bopa BPOA 003)
The Welsh band Burum have been a fairly regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages thanks to their enjoyable and innovative blending of jazz and traditional Welsh folk music.
Co-led by brothers Tomos Williams (trumpet) and Daniel Williams (tenor sax) the band have released three albums to date in “Alawon (2007), “Caniadau” (2012) and “Llef” (2016) with the last two reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann. I’ve also enjoyed a number of live appearances by the group at the Queens Head in Monmouth and a particularly impressive theatre performance at the 2014 Brecon Jazz Festival.
Also in 2014 Burum were invited to tour in India, an occurrence that sowed the seed for the Khamira project which sees Burum members Tomos Williams (trumpet), Dave Jones (piano), Aidan Thorne (bass) and Mark O’Connor (drums) collaborating with three Indian born musicians, Aditya Balani (guitar), Suhail Yusuf Khan (sarangi, vocals) and Vishal Nagar (tabla vocals).
Khamira’s cross cultural approach is similar to that of Burum but the addition of new instruments, plus voices, adds a whole new dimension to the music. The three Indian musicians all have strong ties to the West with Balani having studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, USA. Nagar is now based in San Francisco and is involved in a variety of jazz and world music projects.
Khan has worked with the British musicians James Yorkston (guitar, vocals) and Jon Thorne (double bass, vocals) as part of the trio Yorkston, Thorne, Khan releasing the album “Neuk Wight Delhi All Stars” in early 2016.
Of course the idea of blending jazz and Indian music is not new, John Coltrane and other members of the 60s avant garde incorporated Indian scales and rhythms into their music and these experiments were followed by the more obviously cross-cultural sounds of John Mayer, Collin Walcott, John McLaughlin and others. Khamira slots neatly into this lineage but the addition of traditional Welsh folk music to the mix is more unusual and adds an extra frisson of interest and excitement to this project. The material on Khamira’s eponymous début album includes traditional Welsh folk tunes, Indian classical melodies and two original compositions by Balani. The band have also emphasised the influence of the Pat Metheny Group and of Miles Davis’ 1970s ensembles.
“Khamira”, the album, was recorded in summer 2016 at Red Kite Studios near Llandovery by an engineering team comprised of Martin Levan and Donal Whelan. The recording was supported by the International Branch of the Arts Council of Wales. It appears on the Wales based Bopa label, also the recorded home of Burum.
The album commences with Tomos Williams’ arrangement of the traditional Welsh tune “Pan O’wn y Gwanwyn” (“The Song of Spring”) which begins with a delicate duet between Balani’s guitar and Williams’ trumpet. Williams’ horn is also teamed in dialogue with the exotic sounds of Khan’s sarangi, the traditional bowed instrument of India and Nepal with its three main playing strings and up to 35-37 sympathetic or resonating strings. When the full band plays the music is almost symphonic in scale and one can understand where the comparisons with Metheny come from, the sound is similarly cinematic and richly coloured and textured.
“Basant” is more obviously Indian in origin and features the sounds of Khan’s sarangi and vocals and Nagar’s tabla and voice. Rooted in Hindustani classical music the piece also features the contributions of the Burum members but is most notable for the stunning ‘jugalbandi’ (or duet) between Khan and Nagar that concludes the performance. The instrumentation may be exotic but effectively it’s the kind of instrumental duel (or ‘cutting contest’ if you will) that will be familiar to listeners of both jazz and rock music.
Guitarist Balani is the most obviously ‘Westernised’ of the three Indian musicians and his lengthy “Answers” is a genre straddling composition embracing the sounds of East and West. Thorne takes the first solo on electric bass, his melodic playing underscored not only by O’Connor’s drum kit but also by the patter of Nagar’s tablas. Meanwhile the composer soars on his guitar solo, but also offers quieter moments of reflection, while Jones’ also piano adds a welcome touch of lyricism. Williams’ trumpet takes off with a dramatic solo towards the end of a work that is rich in terms of both instrumental colour and dynamic contrast.
The segue of “Ffarwel I Gymru / Morey Nain” commences with the lonely wail of Williams’ trumpet above a sitar like drone (presumably generated by Khan) and the rustle of O’Connor’s percussion. Khan’s vocals add emotional depth, still underpinned by that drone, and Williams’ trumpet, now heard in conjunction with Nagar’s tablas is similarly evocative.
“Dance of Nothingness” is the second original composition from Balani and again combines the sounds of East and West in another sophisticated piece of work with contrasting solos coming from the excellent Jones on piano followed by Khan on sarangi. Both soloists play with skill and passion and they are followed by Balani himself on guitar on one of the album’s most dynamic and energetic pieces.
Williams’ arrangement of the Welsh traditional tune “Y Gwydd” (“The Weaver’s Song”) features Jones deploying an electric piano sound in a possible nod towards Miles Davis’ 70s bands. But the central feature of the piece is the dynamic percussive dialogue between O’Connor and Nagar, something which must be a real highlight of the group’s live performances. Nagar also contribute dramatic vocal percussion (or ‘konnokol’) as Khamira keep the energy levels up and the pot bubbling.
The album concludes with Williams’ arrangement of the Welsh folk tune “Hiraeth am Feirion” (“Longing for Meirionnydd”) which conjures up an appropriately melancholic feeling of home sickness through its melodic, lilting blend of sarangi, trumpet and guitar. Balani’s soaring guitar combines with the rich, rounded sounds of Williams’ trumpet to evoke something of the grandeur of the North Wales landscape on this elegiac album closer.
Like its close musical relative Burum the Khamira group impresses with its skilful blending of superficially dissimilar musical elements, in this case jazz, folk and Indian music. This début album impresses with its mix of excellent original compositions and skilful arrangements of traditional Welsh and Indian material. But it’s the quality of the playing that really makes the album stand out, everybody performs well to create a cohesive and distinctive group sound, but the individual contributions also sparkle and there are great solos from both the Welsh and Indian contingents throughout the album.
Khamira’s first public performance was at the British Council Theatre in New Delhi in 2015 and they have also performed at festivals in Goa and Kolkata with an appearance due at Seoul Music Week in South Korea on May 19th 2017.
Khamira will then undertake a tour of Wales as part of the UK/India 2017 series of events celebrating the 70th anniversary of Indian independence. This tour will be supported by the Arts Council of Wales in conjunction with the British Council. A tour of India is planned for January 2018.
For full details of tour dates please visit http://www.khamira.netblog comments powered by Disqus