There's something missing here...
The cover of Rare Elements is simple yet engaging: the Ra and Re boxed in as if symbols from the periodic table. Bold letters at the bottom read, "Ustad Sultan Khan" a.k.a. "Khan Sahib." For those who don't know, he's the foremost exponent of the sarangi (a fretless, bowed instrument from North India), a master musician, and a wonderful man. In the world of Indian Classical Music he is revered and respected by all. His art form is fading mostly because the sarangi is extremely difficult to play, and masters are all post 60 years of age. Given his legendary stature and the high standards of his previous work with artists like Talvin Singh and Karsh Kale, I had certain expectations from Rare Elements. I realize that it is difficult to expect anything amidst a plethora of cd's all billed as South Asian "Blank" (take your choice of Underground, Massive, etc.) but Khan Sahib has never been one to disappoint.
5 Points Records was founded as an exponent of "groundbreaking albums that will feature the blending of master musicians with the world's top remixers." And each track is almost that. There are traces of Khan Sahib, although nowhere near as much as the cover suggests. An artist like this could provide a much stronger foundation for this album and should have been featured more heavily. The beats are nice in-and-of-themselves, which at times match well harmonically with the instruments and vocals... but mostly we are presented here with stagnant ideas leaving the music with an inorganic, overly produced feeling. Most importantly, there is no "blend" as the cover suggests. Blend would imply the seamless weaving of distinctly different elements to form a oneness in sound. That is definitely missing from this album. The two different sounds emanating from the speakers suggest that there was little collaboration between Khan Sahib and the remixers. To create one sound, more than simple understanding of harmonics and an editing program is necessary. There must be a true appreciation of the nature of an artist's art form and style, and moreover to have a collaborative sound, there must be some collaboration. Perhaps there was a studio meeting of Khan Sahib and producers, but markedly there was not a meeting of the minds as the quality of the songs suggests. Even notables as Thievery Corporation remain unnoticeable on this one. Do we really need more filler for the next 3 Buddha Bars? It is somewhat refreshing to hear another interpretation of the Asian Sonic Experience, but as usual the pedestrian nature of the totality of the effort begins to outweigh the few moments that are enjoyable.
All this of course is criticism during attentive listening. For a casual listener looking for music on Friday night with friends over conversation and drinks, this cd can entertain. Each track is quite distinct and yet there are smooth transitions between tracks, creating a lounge-like feel. There are energetic beats and the unmistakable sound, although occasional, of Ustad Sultan Khan on sarangi and vocals. All this combines to make some catchy tunes that do get stuck in your head, even if it's in that annoying commercial jingle fashion [there must be a word for the 20th century phenomenon of jingles getting stuck in the collective psyche - that liking of something only because you've heard it 10 billion times].