Arranger-composer-pianist Zoe Rahman’s last few musical forays into her roots have proved wholly fascinating, most evident in the melodicism served up on her and her brother Idris’s Where Rivers Meet (2008). What began so intriguingly with her pianistic take on Hemant Mukherjee’s ‘Muchhe Jaoa Dinguli’ (‘Days That Have Passed’/‘Days Gone By’) has continued to grow and go to new places. Her instrumental take on the Bengali film composer’s song from the 1958 film Lukochuri (‘Hide-and-Seek’) first surfaced on Melting Pot (2005). Later, fully absorbed into her concert repertoire, it reappeared on the Zoe Rahman Trio’s Live (2007), recorded at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London in April 2007.
Live was pivotal, for in addition to Gene Calderazzo on kit drums and Oli Hayhurst on double-bass, her clarinettist brother made a guest appearance on ‘Muchhe Jaoa Dinguli’ itself. Live had been recorded almost a month to the day before the Where Rivers Meet sessions. The leap forward was eye-opening, giving new context to their Bengali bloodline inspirations. Where Rivers Meet consolidated what had gone before and advanced their game. Rather than blather on, just take my word that it is one of the defining Indo-jazz works of this century thus far. And, yes, while the repertoire was thoroughly Bengali, they viewed and executed everything through a jazz prism.
The thespian expression ‘journey’ has increasingly leaked out of Theatreland into the world of print. With Kindred Spirits (2012), theirs is not so much a thesp journey at which we get a grandstand view, as a series of voyages of discovery made in public. Kindred Spirits is a series of hand-on-heart incursions into terra vaguely incognita.
It picks up where Where Rivers Meet left off. Zoe Rahman writes that she, Calderazzo, Hayhurst and her brother “recorded this album after touring Ireland in 2011, a year that happened to coincide with the 150th birth anniversary of Bengali writer, musician, artist and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore”.
Two of the pieces in particular reflect this anniversary (as did the ‘Flying Man: Poems for the 21st Century’ evening at the British Library in May 2011). The first is a pairing of Tagore’s haunting ‘Forbiddance’/‘Mana Na Manili’ and the grand, sweeping ‘My Heart Dances, Like A Peacock, It Dances’/‘Hridoy Amar Nache Re’ – at almost eight-and-a-half minutes the longest track. The second of the Tagore tracks is ‘Imagination’/‘Hriday Amar Prokash Holo’ at just over three minutes. Exploring their Yorkshire-born mother’s Irish roots, ‘Butlers of Glen Avenue’ laces on a different set of dance shoes, with Idris Rahman’s transposing Uilleann pipe jig figures to clarinet to create an effect that is less Séamus Ennis or Willie Clancy than post-Chieftains; in addition to piano, here his sister adds harmonium voicings to the Anglo-Bengali-Irish palette.
Elsewhere, possible congruences entertain. ‘Conversation with Nellie’ – on which Courtney Pine plays keyed flute – has something of a vibe of the jazz-rock behemoth, Mahavishnu Orchestra, led by John McLaughlin (pre-Shakti and Remember Shakti), during the early days of its first incarnation, further reinforced by Calderazzo’s percussive outbursts. ‘Rise Above’ has chordal passages, pianistic melodic full-throatedness and rhythm section undertows enhanced by its melodic uplift which at points make it sound like the bastard child of the Grateful Dead’s ‘Wharf Rat’. Kindred Spirits will feed your head.