Bear’s Sonic Journals: That Which Colors the Mind Ali Akbar Khan/Indranil Bhattacharya/Zakir Hussain (ALBUM REVIEW)

As much as That Which Colors The Mind may present a test of listening patience, it offers ample rewards for the exercise. On this double CD, just two selections, Indian ragas both, comprise slightly more than one-hundred twenty-minutes of a sophisticated demonstration of musical dynamics. Surprise of surprises perhaps, this exhibition isn’t altogether dissimilar from the most far-reaching exercises in musicianship any genuinely adventurous jazzers or rockers conduct (along those lines, see the ‘call and response’ reference on next to the last page of the twenty-eight in the enclosed twenty-eight-page booklet). 

Such nuanced intricacy in play here is rare indeed, however, regardless of the genre. Odd as it might be to construe the forty-plus minutes of “Zila Kafi” as a table-setting of sorts, it does serve the purpose of introducing the threesome’s individual and collective agility: their grasp of melody is as sure as their grip on rhythm, even as the trio embellishes both elements in a proportionate complexity. Inexorable as the progression may sound to (some) Western ears, the subtlety of the musicianship is nevertheless both musical and methodical, as Jeffrey Norman’s mastering reveals. 

Like its predecessor, “Sindu Bahairavi,” refuses to become merely background sound. On the contrary, it compels close and repeated listening(s), together or apart from its companion piece. As such, it can be deeply mesmerizing just moments in and even more so as the playing continues to the point Khan on sarod, Bhattacharya on sitar and Hussain on tabla reach a peak of frenzy where there interaction(s) are most dense. It would almost seem the three enter into a shared meditation wherein they allow themselves the freedom to follow the motion of the music even as they propel it, while at the same time surrendering themselves to be carried along with it. 

On this second of a three-night run (and Owsley ‘Bear’ Stanley’s second attempt to record the group), Ali Akbar Khan, Indranil Bhattacharya and Zakir Hussain effectively enact a series of consummate acts of shared courage. Not the least of these stalwart actions is effectively starting all over again on that second piece, then building to a startling conclusion as they did on the first. It is difficult not to rhapsodize about how the trio sustains the insinuating force of their performances as they unfold: the trio alternately lulls and stimulates (as do the copious liner notes plus Bob Minkin’s graphic design and layout of the package art).

Little wonder this dynamic found an audience like the one in the Family Dog of San Francisco in 1970. The multiple appearances were indicative of the cultural paradigm shifts of that time, so it was hardly a mere coincidence Grateful Dead mentor/soundman/entrepreneur Owsley Stanley would also record the concerts. Such a decision indicates just how open were ‘Bear’s’ ears, an eclectic approach now maintained within his Foundation; in choosing to devote scrupulous time and effort to Sonic Journals spanning NRPS to Doc and Merle Watson, as well as the ones in action on That Which Colors the Mind, those curators suggest it’s much preferable to range wide and far from an established niche rather than simply rest in place, no matter how fertile (or comfortable) that space might be.

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