Release Date: Jan 15, 2016
Record label: Domino
This collaborative release brings together James Yorkston, one of Scotland’s finest singer-songwriters, New Delhi’s Suhail Yusef Khan, a celebrated sarangi player and classical singer, and Jon Thorne, the English jazz double-bass player best known as a member of electronic veterans Lamb. This Anglo-Celtic-Indian fusion opens in dramatic form with the raga-esque Knochentanz, which rises and falls, undulating with the power of the three playing as one, before Khan’s mesmerising Sufi singing takes it to another level altogether. Little Black Buzzer, however, inhabits a poppier space, with Khan and Yorkston joined on vocals by guest Lisa O’Neill, lamenting their cold bums on the top of the world.
The sarangi is a bowed, short-necked Indian instrument whose greatest exponent, Ustad Sabri Khan, performed with Yehudi Menuhin. Now, his grandson Suhail Yusuf Khan continues the sarangi experiment in this Indian-folk-jazz fusion band, with Scottish singer-songwriter and guitarist James Yorkston, and double bass player Jon Thorne. It’s a wildly varied set that starts with a 13-minute improvised, mostly instrumental piece that switches from gently wailing meditation to a furious and frantic workout, scat vocals and then a bluesy finale.
Folk fusion is one of those terms that usually causes a full body cringe and evokes thoughts of frail, maudlin Nick Drake-types wearing Kaftans and pratting about with bongos and sitars. Blame The Beatles for all those berks, but don’t be deterred from Scottish songwriter James Yorkston’s new collaboration with Indian sarangai player Suhail Yusuf Khan and Lamb’s bassist Jon Thorne. The story goes that Yorkston met Khan whilst tuning up backstage at a festival in Edinburgh and on a whim took him on stage with him.
Movin’ Up Country, the 2002 debut album from James Yorkston and the Athletes, remains one of the best folk records of the century so far. Playful, fluent and with just the right balance of tightly honed songwriting and laid back camp fire conviviality, it established front man Yorkston as a name to watch over the years ahead. Since then, the Scot has released a steady stream of albums – both solo and with the Athletes or the Big Eyes Family Players – combining his own compositions with interpretations of traditional material.
World fusions don’t come more unlikely than this meeting of Scots folkie James Yorkston and Indian sarangi maestro Suhail Yusuf Khan; mournful northern lyricism meets eastern classicism. Unlikely, but with Lamb’s Jon Thorne bringing jazzy bass, the trio have cooked up an odd but engaging album. The mood is mostly contemplative, with Khan embellishing songs like the wistful title track with sinuous cello-like parts, while he gets his own devotional outings (Knochentanz, Sufi Song), where Yorkston “just did my best to keep up”.