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Track List: 1. Dawning 12:47 2. Zenith 11:27 3. Come the Darkness 11:58 4. Threshold Between Worlds 13:07 5. Meditation of the Night 10:25 All tracks: composed by Benjy Wertheimer. Line-up: Benjy Wertheimer - Esraj; keyboards; percussion David Michael - Celtic harp; zither; viola Tim Ellis - E-bow guitar Mandy Monfort - Scalloped Fretboard guitar Randy Mead - keyboards; bass flute Heather Klinger - vocalize (on 2) Produced by Benjy Wertheimer. Recorded, mixed, & mastered mainly by B. Wertheimer. At: "Wolf Cub Sound" studio, Portland, OR.
Preamble. Until now, I only knew that Benjy Wertheimer is the member of the excellent US band Ancient Future led by Matthew Montfort (whose name, in its turn, you can see in the line-up of this album). However, it turned out that Benji, a disciple of the famous Zakir Hussain, is above all notable for his solo creation. "Soul of the Esraj" is one of the latest two albums by Benjy, both of which I am going to review within a week. Finally, I should note that Esraj is an Indian string instrument that, still using the language of simplicity, represents outwardly somewhat average between Sitar and violin.
The Album. And now, I have to say that Benjy's Esraj reproduces a sound that may resemble not only those of Sitar and violin, but also both of them taken together. To be precise, these are the overtones of Esraj's solos that are often not unlike those of Sitar. While Esraj's solos themselves sound for the most part like those of kind of a universal, multi-purpose, string instrument (of a definitely eastern origin) combining within itself various sorts of violoncello and even the contrabass. One may say that the music on the "Soul of the Esraj" album is good enough to use for meditations, with which I would agree only partly and only with a significant reservation. This music may be used only as a background for meditations. While the arrangements on this album are mostly of a slow character, they, at the same time, are here in the state of a continuous development and don't feature any repetitions, which is typical only for Academic Music regardless of whether it's Classical or Avant-garde Academic Music. (Though these, and especially the latter of them, - like in the case of RIO and Fifth Element, - may also border on the most profound manifestations of Jazz.) In other words, this is highly complex music, which, from the 'progressive' standpoint of view (okay, just in my honest opinion), should be defined as (the 5-tone) Indian Classical Music with elements of European Classical Music and a few of those of Jazz-Fusion. The only composition on the album that is slightly out of its predominant stylistics is Come the Darkness (3). The music that is featured here represents just a fusion of Indian Classical Music and a very innovative Space Rock (which, nevertheless, is based on Symphonic Art-Rock, which, in its turn, conforms the laws of European Classical Music). Also, Come the Darkness is the only piece on the album that is filled with a tensely mysterious atmosphere of a dramatic and rather dark character. (Here though, the darkness associates only - and clearly - with the depths of Space, and not with those of gloominess, etc.) Furthermore, this composition is full of some marvelous magic. Apart from a wide variety of various interplay between the solos of Benjy's Esraj and David's Celtic harp, those of Tim's E-bow guitar and Matthew's famous (hand-made) Scalloped Fretboard guitar, and passages of synthesizers that are present practically throughout the album, some tracks feature also the parts of other instruments. For instance, the solos of bass flute play a prominent role (along with those of Esraj and synthesizers) only on Zenith (2), which, in addition, contains female vocals (vocalizes, in fact). By the way, Zenith is the only track on "Soul of the Esraj" where there aren't heard any guitars. But then, on both of the last pieces on the album, Threshold Between Worlds and Meditation of the Night (4 & 5), the solos of guitars are not only amazingly inventive, but are also, along with those of Esraj, the real core of the arrangements that are present here. The album's opening composition, Dawning, is the richest here in overtones of Esraj's solos, while the same Zenith doesn't feature any overtones at all. Finally, I must note that, if not to count the parts of keyboards that play mostly supporting role here, the musical structures of this album are almost completely acoustic - like those in the Shakti albums.
Summary. By the way, I've just mentioned Shakti (and not Subramaniam, for instance) by no means pointlessly. I see Shakti as the only musical object, the music of which can be compared to that of Benjy Wertheimer, even though only relatively and by no means in many ways. With Shakti, John McLaughlin had literally erased the border between Jazz and Indian Classical Music, while Benjy Wertheimer looks on his "Soul of the Esraj" album first of all like one of just a few of the true popularizers of the same Indian Classical Music. I am sure that most of the profound connoisseurs of any kind of complex progressive music will come to the same conclusion as soon as they hear this masterpiece.
VM: November 25, 2002
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