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Kudsi Erguner
Taj Mahal

By Srajan Ebaen
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Kudsi Erguner "Taj Mahal"

Compact Disc Compact Disc: Al Sur CDAL 258 Compact Disc


Genre: instrumental world music hybrid
in collaboration with the
International Istanbul Music Festival

  With Taj Mahal, musicologist of classical Turkish music and Ney flute maestro extraordinaire, Kudsi Erguner, has assembled a stellar cast of collaborateurs. The project calls for the spontaneity of a live setting to explore the modal and rhythmic similarities between two of the world's oldest and most complex musical traditions - those of India and Turkey -- to investigate the intricate overlap between their scalar systems of Raga and Makam, and the improvisational architectures of Alap and Taqsim.

On the Indian side of this unique equation you'll find Sultan Kahn on sarangi and chant; Ken Zukerman on sarod; and on tabla Fazal Qureshi, one of the distinguished sons of living tabla legend Alla Rakha and thus brother to the equally legendary Zakir Hussain. Next to Erguner himself, the Turkish contingent is made up of Derya Turkan on kemençe, Hakan Güngör on qanun and Iranian Bruno Caillat on various Middle-Eastern percussion instruments like daf, bendir, zarb, rick and ghattam. Assuming the cultural middle ground is French double-bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons.

Conceptually, Taj Mahal has all the earmarkings of being a brainchild of Kavi Alexander, head honcho of the Water Lily Acoustics label. He enjoys setting up equally adventurous impromptu ensembles to document with his recordings what a clash between cultures and very little a priori rehearsal can elicit from recognized master musicians who might have never played together before. Like Water Lily's acknowledged superior sonics, the French Al Sur label here delivers true audiophile production values, recorded - if the cover art is any validation to what listening suggest - inside a truly cavernous Mosque-like space of excellent acoustics.

Unlike certain of Alexander's more far-out exploits however, the "experimental factor" of this aural gathering is kept to a bare minimum. Concept and execution translate organically into a cohesive whole. Befitting the non-rehearsed nature of the event, complex thematic development is replaced by improvisational lyricism in which the collaborateurs provide plenty of berths to each other to explore previously agreed-upon melodic seed material in their respective styles. Like deep space satellites exposed to intersecting gravitational fields, various combinations of instruments conjoin and drift apart, coming together as a full ensemble only during the reprieves "when the stars align". And do they ever.

Interestingly, aside from the instrumental timbres and certain stylistic embellishments, the overall gestalt of Taj Mahal isn't at all Indian or Turkish, nor for that matter fixed to any particular geography or cultural identity. Rather, it lives up to its conceptual aim as an inspired meeting outside time and space, a meaningful step in the unfurling of the emerging musical vernacular of One World. This of course could only have occurred in this very specific time and space of the 21st century when historical divides between peoples are crumbling, and artists with an affinity for pan-globalism can meet "between the cracks". Think of Taj Mahal as such a cracked-up event then, in the very best sense of the word once you consider the deeper implications of the term. The only prerequisite to enjoying it fully is that the listener provide a semi-meditational circumstance to allow submersion into the special space that is offered here, where the heart cracks open and takes a chance. Try it. It'll surprise you.












































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