Face the Music

John Wubbenhorst and Facing East – Facing Beloved
John Wubbenhorst and Facing East

Facing Beloved (Facing East Productions 03050541, 2003)

A lot of fusion music has been based on and around the sounds of India. So what sets this apart? Well, the title and content of the opening track, “Continuous Celebration,” might give you a clue. This is stuff that makes you feel glad to be alive in a world where there often isn’t a lot to feel glad about. Flutist Wubbenhorst and his bandmates (percussionists Subash Chandran and Ganesh Kumar, guitarist Jorge Zamorano and bassist Steve Zerlin) are dazzlingly good musicians who clearly don’t feel the need to spend every second showing off how dazzling they are. Yes, many of the complexities of Indian music and the fusion it inspires are here, but the fact that these guys can get away with naming a track “Infectuoso Groovatissmo” shows they’re having fun and they want the fun to be catching. The moodier selections like “There is Only Light” serve as sort of palette-cleansers (albeit good ones) between the livlier pieces where the sparks really fly.

This band’s debt to such trailblazers as Shakti is acknowledged on “John Beyond” and elsewhere, though not only through the shared characteristics of nimble acoustic guitar and ghatam (clay pot drum) work. Like Shakti, Facing East are able to sustain lengthy compositions like the 15-minute title track, unfolding stark melodic colors that gradually give way to rhythmic euphoria that is equal parts wild and controlled. They blaze their own trail by emphasizing the rhythms of southern India, not bothering with the familiar tabla drum and instead utilizing the ghatam and kanjira (lizard skin frame drum) as their percussive backbone.

The combination of the two achieves some nicely slippery lock-ups with the bass and fuels tunes like “Irish Raga” with both chops and charm. This is one of those discs that sounds good off the bat and grows on you with repeated listenings. And if the fine music here is meant to prove the assertion of the liner notes (and a brief spoken excerpt on the album itself) that “there is no greater religion than beauty itself,” hey, that’s good enough to get me to the church on time.

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