Although there are hints at the new album on Paul “Lefty” Wright’s ‘Songs From The Portal’ back in 2014, there is a clearer departure from the psychedelic, dare I say progressive rock theme, although use of sitar, and flute are at both their cores, the previous use of Hammond is replaced with Mellotron here and saxophone, cello and drums, bass and guitar are sympathetic with one another as they weave in and out of the 12 compositions. I had hoped to be in Indo-Jazz territory, referencing the great John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra just for the hell of it, but it couldn’t be much further from those ideals. A more cinematic approach is on the table with titles ‘Village Theme’, ‘Theme from An Eastern Western’ and the cream of the lot, ‘Paxploitation’, providing visual reasoning to the project before even listening to a single note. It has a classical Indian feel for most parts, along the R. D. Burman pathway. In a way, far closer to the traditions of 60s musical scores from India. And unlike the title might suggest, a far cry from the Spaghetti Western of old, or the rather more quirky fagioli westerns I grew up watching with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. Well, maybe ‘Theme, variations 1 and 2 and Reprise’ feels a little like a coin is about to be flipped and Tim Blake’s ‘Buster Scruggs’ is hell-bent on cleaning up the town.
Written and produced by Paul “Lefty” Wright for OB Records, ‘Music From An Eastern Western’ is a live session recorded in Dundee during Midsummer 2018. It has a fresh feel to it, but not obviously live, with Esraj and Sitar use, whilst Wright applies further experience on both Jawharp and Tanpura to elevate his credentials. Let us not be polarised by our opinions however, on either classical or the indo-jazz forms, this is as creative as one would wish for with added kudos for its format as it will not disappoint those black vinyl traditionalist amongst us. The instruments used produce the expected timbre. It is gripping with filmic qualities all fully enriching the listener’s enjoyment – I drift off on a tangent and hark back to Nitin Sawhney producing the soundtrack to the visual stage experience of his 2005 ‘Throw of Dice’ – the Franz Osten 1929 silent movie – and wonder if The 3rd Eye Flute Band could venture down this path to a more ‘visual’ future?
Where this modern approach changes direction for me is in the composition lengths. We are accustomed to long ragas in this genre; the one track per side syndrome. With the short bursts of inventiveness we can hear Paul Wright in a creative phase, subtle, yet reflective in what is otherwise a neglected, poorly documented musical style in the West. Yes we may have the occasional Sarathy Korwar come along, we might even find solace in the pairing of Shankar and Zakir Hussain, but there is very few instances of this fusion of ideas and instrumentation raising its head in these times, and I for one would embrace more.
Maybe I unwrapped the album hoping for a new Amancio D’Silva, or expecting a bit of “Mathar” funk, but what unravelled was challenging, fresh for its times and different enough to absorb both the A and B side in their entirety. It will stand its test of time for sure, as there’s nothing here to date, to tire or bore of. I regularly return to my collection of Ravi Shankar albums – creativity is like that, but I for one would certainly like to hear more of Wright’s flute playing, as what unfolds, when it does show its face, is stylish. Oh and dare I say perhaps a pitch at the Darbar Festival could be a fruitful partnership…