A hearty dose of folk-fusion
Experimental trio self-endowed with a not-so experimental name, Yorkston/Thorne/Khan, have released their third full-length LP – Navarasa: Nine Emotions. Navarasa is actually Sanskrit for “nine emotions” and the term comes from this ancient Hindu text entitled, Natya Sastra, which is a sacred treatise on the performing arts, including music. The album is laden with spiritual undertones presumably inspired by this text.
Suhail Yusuf Khan also plays a traditional Hindustani folk instrument called the sarangi, and it uncannily sounds to the likeness of a moaning human voice (it’s actually pretty pleasant). Another bandmate, James Yorkton, a Scottish folk singer-songwriter and guitarist contributes the Scot-folk element to the band’s sound. As a whole, with double bass player Jon Thorne, they’re a refreshingly unusual Indian-Scottish folk fusion group. Keeping true to the guiding concept, each track on the album delivers, or rather oozes, an emotion through a deliciously discordant, but also somehow unified, manner.
Out of the gate, listeners get “Sukhe Pool.” It opens with the sarangi full-fledged and screaming, and it damn near sounds like a writhing animal that’s just been doused with high-powered corrosive acid. It’s eerie. Then this overwhelming cacophony gradually quiets for a delicate, lacy voice to come through that intermittently pauses to allow back in that undulating stringed instrument for another surrealistic assertion. At first, the lyrics are sung in a language unidentifiable to my ear, and only until about the fourth minute do some provocative English lyrics come in saying “angels hide from God.” From the outset, it’s all very abstract and avant-garde. So, gold star for that.
The album even traverses through some spooky terrain in the macabre narrative “Twa Brothers” that tells the tale of a man nursing his brother from a stab wound. This track is especially distinguished for its manic, vatic scatting in the background as the narrator’s voice rises and rises. Another gold star for that, oh yeah, the scat.
The second track, “The Shearing’s Not for You,” settles the sound down a bit more to become suitable to a somewhat conventional newcomer. It debuts some real pretty acoustic guitar arpeggios and mellifluous Beatles-esque melodies that are sprinkled sparsely throughout the rest of the album. In this one, it feels much folksier, while the unrelenting lament of the sarangi still continues but in a diminished volume to focus more attention on the guitar. The vocals are a little muddied, maybe intentionally, or it may just be drowned by the peripheral instrumentals. But it’s clear that the album directs attention to the whole sweep of the instrumentals more so than the vocals; it’s an instrumental album with occasional lyrics.
Navarasa: Nine Emotions sounds like the stuff of shamans. It kind of hooks you in this meditative trance that is quite soothing while also heady, like you’re on the brink of a mini-revelation, that an ancient truth might be revealed to you. Most tracks are filled with a rhythmic chanting that sort of mirrors the sarangi’s ominous droning, and it’s a perfectly fitting complement that makes the sound complete and neat and visceral. Overall, the thing teems with wonderful disparities that, through their collisions, creates something near-ineffable; something boldly atypical that the eccentric might drop the needle on for an evening of musings.