The Dreamtree Project :: Jadur Madur
The translation of the word raga is "color" or "mood." While each raga has its specific melodic requirements, those that interpret them exactly as their forebears often produce lifeless, sterile renditions. It has always been up to the individual musician to add his or her own "flavor" to the piece. This idea does not pertain exclusively to Indian music. Imagine if the Cowboy Junkies had tried to match "Sweet Jane" note for note; we would have never experienced the version that, according even to Lou Reed, was better than the original.
Well, better is a relative term. In Indian classical music, the traditional modalities and newer electronic forms are often treated as separate worlds. For the most part, this makes sense-they are two varying modes of expression. Yet the underlying color and mood is what's relevant. The tradition relies on the ebb and flow of musical currents, one that appeals more to the heart than the ears (or, better put, uses the ears to access the heart). Whatever instruments are used to create the form is not as important as the song's adherence to the essence.
When sitar player Use Neumann teamed up with global-minded DJ/producer Adham Shaikh, the two were very aware of essence. (In fact, Adham's brilliant debut of international soundscaping used that word as title.) While their first collaboration, Jadur Madur, is seven songs deep, the essence of their work can be heard on the exploratory "Swapna (Magic Carpet Ride)," a 23-minute voyage that expresses numerous feelings and shades, predominantly: passion, intensity and devotion. These three work together; these two men are passionately devoted to their musical escapades, and the only adjective worthy of the result is intense.
The song distills the raga to the basic movements-alap, jor, jhala-and before you know it, just over nine minutes in, Shaikh's consistent, building beat reaches a peak just as Neumann's own virtuosity shows. The dance of instruments is no different than on traditional rags; Shaikh has more technology at his hands, and harnesses the basic rhythmic structure necessary to move hips and minds. The emotive power remains the same as any live rendition, and as he jabs and punctuates the slithery strings, underscored by a strong bass, you aurally witness a tradition redefined.
Another longer track, the thirteen-minute "Bliss," is equally noteworthy, although on a much more relaxed level. Less electronics, more tabla and drone, reminiscent of Shaikh's work with songs like "Ocradrift (Remix)" and "Deep Dream Meme," in terms of atmosphere if not instrumentation. Shaikh has time and again proven himself as a rare producer who can literally transmit philosophy through the electronic medium, and he applies this gift through a range of international styles. With DreamTree, he just chooses to focus on one of his favorite.
The entire record is gorgeous, though their obvious strength comes through longevity. The shorter songs don't have the same push, and sometimes make the album sound more like a compilation. A jaw harp can be a tasteful addition (check out Shaikh's massive "Sub Bubble" from Collectivity), but on "Sansa Dreams" it sounds out of place. If the duo would have created three songs in the same amount of time, they may have found more room to breath. Still, let's hope this tree continues to grow, as the first sprouting has created a host of beautiful colors for us to contemplate and enjoy.