Our favourite music from the world: November
by TootArd (Glitterbeat Records, GB 054 CD, LP and digital)
According to the UN, having a nationality – and all that flows from that, including a legal identity and a passport – is a human right. Tell that to Israel. In the occupied Golan Heights there are many people living without this status. The young men who make up TootArd (Arabic for ‘strawberries’) are some of them. Laissez Passer, the band’s second album, is, simultaneously, a statement of political reality in the Golan Druze town of Majdal Shams, and an indication that groove-wise, at least, TootArd are going places.
Some of those places are surprising. Laissez Passer’s eponymous track opens with a riff that owes something to the jarred notes of David Bowie’s ‘TVC15’ from 1976. The album then takes its own turns via Arabic guitar music refracted through Tuareg blues and a soft reggae. TootArd’s 10 songs are delivered in the mellifluous tones of lead singer/guitarist Hasan Nakhleh – a compelling sonic presence. He is joined by his percussionist brother, Rami, with Amr Mdah on reedy saxophones. There’s a stretched-out, open quality to the music and the band dish up great areas to sound out. The melancholy of ‘Syrian Blues’, the poignant closing track, or the rhythm lines ‘Nasma Jabalyia’, create not only musical room but a space to draw lines of inspiration and of hope.
Live at Ronnie Scott’s
by Nitin Sawhney (Gearbox Records, RSGB1017 CD and digital)
These days, British-Indian composer and instrumentalist Nitin Sawhney is usually found playing huge venues, or in studios producing the likes of Anoushka Shankar, or scoring the soundtrack for Andy Serkis’s version of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. So it’s good to catch him here, recorded live in the intimate confines of a small club – London’s Ronnie Scott’s – and to be reminded that, beyond the massive profile, here is first-class, bottom-line musicianship.
Backed up with an able band that includes singer Nicki Wells, bansuri flautist Ashwin Srinivasan and Aref Durvesh on percussion (dholak drum and tabla), Live at Ronnie Scott’s is very much a fusion album. It’s slick and limber in its rhythms, showcasing Sawhney’s agility as an arranger: his early training combined instruments from his Punjabi roots, as well as piano and flamenco guitar. The album’s arrangements make a beautiful nonsense of the idea of closed genres: ‘Dark Day’ is on the face of it a rocky ballad but Durvesh’s drumming takes it to new places, while the steel-guitar glissandi on ‘Red Shift’, blended with Srinivasan’s virtuoso flute, conjures up visions. Sawhney is best when he brings out the drones: ‘Tere Khyall’ is a poignant, languid duet of voices over subtle sustaining sounds and minimal tabla. Its brooding effect probes the way for new sound textures and possibilities.