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Tracklist: Kolyadka Pilgrim Yoke Crane's Dance Camel Flame Glass Lake Capricorn All compositions by I.Kaim & E.Zhdanov. Recorded at the "Indic Club" studio, St. Petersburg, Russia, July - November 1993. Engineered by Alexander Mironov. Line-up: Igor Kaim - banjo & guitar Eugene Zhdanov - block flute, sax, percussion, vocalize Demetrius Borisov - percussion Andrew Sizintsev - percussion Ariadna Koryagina - lead vocalize
Prologue. For all I know, this is the only Samkha album released on CD, though I've never heard of other works released under the name of Samkha on any kind of 'media', including LP and even Cassette. The CD's booklet doesn't contain any information on the band, so all we have here are the details that concern only this very album, apart from the strange name. Samkha is a Hindu word whose roots are hidden behind the wall of centuries in the ancient Sanscrit language. Somebody from the band explains the meaning of Samkha in the booklet. As they put it, Samkha is "an Indian musical shell (??) which also has religious significance". (One of the Indian music styles that also has a religious sense, i.e. it is also used in religious rituals?). Well, let's better talk about Samkha's music.
The Album. I'm inclined to let you know my final opinion on Samkha's only self-titled album right now. Actually, even now I think this album deserves to be rated as a masterpiece yet 'officially' I've decided to rate it a bit lower and that's the reason why. Compositionally, "Samkha" is one of the most original and colourful instrumental works I've heard in years, but stylistically, the album is kind of intentionally divided into two relatively equal parts. According to the explanation of one of the band members (remember Prologue?) about what they perform, "this is some kind of Indian music that also has a religious sense". Yes, all the first five compositions briefly and generally can be described this way. But the remaining tracks 6 to 9 stylistically are of a slightly different weight category; and although it's obvious that all the nine album's instrumentals could be played by a band whose approach to composing and arranging musical material is very own and specific, "Samkha" represent the band's 'progressive approach' to composing, arranging and performing not only the Indian music. Well, Kolyadka (by the way, it's the name of a Russian Christmas song), Pilgrim, Yoke, Crane's Dance, and Camel are full of various Indian raga-like melodies and female vocalizes that are really similar to some Indian religious (or ritual) singings. All this Indian distinct and colourful stuff, typical for each of the first five pieces, doesn't prevent the both leading players - guitarist and flautist (though, there is the sax instead of the flute on Camel) - from adding to an Eastern palette some Slavonic, but most often West European obviously medieval minstrel strokes. I've found even a few comparable episodes in always virtuosic and almost everywhere original solos and roulades of the guitar / banjo player and flautist. As for the guitarist, there is an obvious similarity with Jimmy Page's playing the acoustic guitar. Igor Kaim did it on Kolyadka very close to the way Jimmy did on The Battle of Evermore (Led Zeppelin-IV). Eugene Zhdanov's playing the flute has a clear resemblance with Ian Anderson's (Jethro Tull) immediately recognizable style on two compositions - Yoke and Glass. Few minstrel-like guitar passages surrounded by a strong Indian musical atmosphere can be heard for the first time on Pilgrim. Yoke, standing right in the middle of the Indian Five, is one of the two fully instrumental compositions here. No vocalizes on this one, female or male, though the latter is heard only on the album's last track. Yoke is also probably the most complex, diverse and interesting, hence the best composition here. Crane's Dance also differs a bit from the other first five pieces: there are more Arabian than Indian flavours on it, and on Camel, the fifth piece of the album, Zhdanov for the first time put aside his flute in favour of the sax. That way, there are no similar pieces (at least in the overall sound) among even those five ones that have an obvious Indian musical nucleus in the structures, and that's a good thing (at least for an album of our beloved Progressive). The second 'half' of the compositions represent a more mixed overall picture than the previous one. But, the main thing is, all these (6 to 9) pieces, unlike the first five tracks, aren't based on Indian music. Each of them contains no more than just slight traces of Indian flavours that turn up more or less obviously just in the vocalized parts. It's really hard to call rich and always varied percussive arrangements Indian when all parts of the soloing instruments (guitar, banjo, flute, sax) are by no means Indian. Particularly, Flame was named that as if on purpose because basically this is nothing but Spanish Flamenco. Yes, when both soloing and especially rhythmical parts of the acoustic guitar play Flamenco the percussionist automatically switches to the according rhythmical structures. Call them "samba" or "rumba" - whatever, they sound here like the Spanish percussion. With quite a long (at 1,5 minutes) percussion intro, with all the soloing parts of guitar, flute and sax (closer to the end) which are rather of European than of some Eastern origin, and especially with regular inflammatory female ejaculations Glass gives the impression of hot Spanish women dancing to the accompaniment of a Prog'n'folk ensemble from some other European country. In this ("second") category, Lake is the only composition that has some Indian feel, but its obvious presence here is only due to the female vocalizes while all the varied musical parts, including sax solos, are of the European origin once again. On the whole, this is one of few compositions where a melancholy mood dominates all over. As if on the contrary to Lake, Capricorn is the shortest yet the most lively, jolly and fast instrumental here. Stylistically, it represents a slightly unusual yet unique type of a progressive instrumental: this is a blend of medieval holiday music with Gypsy playful soloing. The album's closing track is the only on which you'll here a male vocalize, apart from female. And Gypsies, by the way are Eastern people.
Summary. So, I just described the compositions from the second 'half' (category) of the CD. As you see, all of them are even more different from each other than the first five. Which is good, again. Actually, this is one of the most unique, interesting and diverse instrumental Prog-Folk albums I have ever heard. Though now, I can't even remember another one that, being based almost totally on structures of Indian and other kinds of music of the East would be brave enough to add there rich and tasteful arrangements of contemporary and medieval European music, apart from few others. It would be better if the band didn't lead a potential listener in advance to an idea that their album is wholly based on Indian music as stated in the album's booklet. Finally, I have to notice that a traditional way of labeling the band's music within the same frames that are used by Boheme up to now doesn't apply too often. Once again, in music of Samkha I have found no Jazz nor (especially) "world music", though the label present the band's music as a blend of Jazz and world music, of all things.
VM. July 14, 2001
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