A Meeting by the River

Bhatt, Vishwa Mohan and Ry Cooder

album cover

An Auspicious Encounter

This 1992 disc is one of the most animated of the many cross-cultural conversations that sprouted in the wake of "world beat" awareness in the 1980s. Representing the Americas is Ry Cooder, the canny California master of blues-style bottleneck slide guitar. Hailing from Jaipur, India, is Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, a specialist in Hindustani North Indian classical music who uses a steel rod to play an elaborate eight-stringed instrument of his own design. Supported by tabla player Sukhwinder Singh Namdhari and Cooder's son Joachim on dumbek (drum), the two find commonality on four rapt, contemplative duets that incorporate Indian drones and flatted "blue" notes.

Meeting was recorded shortly after the two men met. Nothing was planned. Bhatt and Cooder simply sat down to play, and took turns leading. One piece, "Longing," suggests the extended structure of Indian raga, but never quite circles around the way ragas do. Cooder plays the hymn "Isa Lei," and Bhatt follows at a respectful distance, contributing elaborate squiggling asides and, in several places, swooping nosedives that sound almost impossible to do on a stringed instrument. Amazingly, the conversation has no one-upmanship in it. Both men are seeking aptness, not dazzle. As a result, when they "slide" between pitches and blend microtones together, their improvisations are totally sweet. They come from different traditions, and here by this river they wind up in the same musical zone, communicating in the universal language of carefully tugged and twanged strings.

Genre: World, India
Released: 1992, Water Lily Acoustics
Key Tracks: "Longing," "Ganges Delta Blues."
Catalog Choice: Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Jerry Douglas: Bourbon & Rosewater.
Next Stop: Ry Cooder and Ali Farka Touré: Talking Timbuktu
After That: Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté: In the Heart of the Moon.
Book Page: 86

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