Jasmine Crittenden
| July 30, 2014

The Three Seas
Yum Yum Records

In January 2013, three Australian musicians, three Indian musicians and one sound engineer met in Delhi; packed their sound-making gear into two over-crowded SUVs; and drove deep into the Rajasthan Desert. Their mission? To locate a one hundred-year-old Italian-inspired guesthouse and transform it into a recording studio. The result is Haveli, an eight-track album on which Western harmonies and production values meet Indian folk melodies and instrumentation. Saxophonist Matt Keegan came up with the concept a few years ago while travelling in India and executed it with the assistance of his 2011 Freedman Fellowship.

Although he, in his own words, “gently steered the ship”, he also sought to create an “open artistic environment where we could all bring our most creative and natural musicality to the table”. The musicians learned their parts by ear and pieced them together collaboratively. Consequently, Haveli, for the most part, presents a unified, almost cinematic soundscape, in which overarching moods and sensitivity to song structures are more important than independent solos and bold statements. It’s an extraordinary achievement, particularly given the entire process took just three weeks.

The approach also means that, unlike so many cross-cultural groups, The Three Seas uphold the elements that make their disparate influences distinctive. On the second track, ‘The Machine’, for example, the powerful vocal of Raju Das Baul, (who’s considered a prodigy of the ancient Bengali tradition of Baul singing) soars over a groove-driven refrain delivered by Keegan and guitarist Cameron Deyell. Drummer Gaurab Chatterjee, trained in traditional and popular music, holds the two forces together, while leaving enough space that neither loses its potency.

The expected tablas and sitars are left off the sonic palette in favour of less seldom-heard instruments, including Khamuk (strummed percussion), Dubki (hand drum) and, from multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Deoashish Mothey, Dotora (Bengali banjo), Makta (clay pot) and Esraj (bowed fretted harp). The variety and complexity of voices are used to most dramatic effect on the infectious opening track ‘Piramal’, the hypnotic ‘Kites’ and the compelling closer ‘The Six Thieves’.

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