Cymin Samawatie / Ketan Bhatti ‘Trickster Orchestra’ CD (ECM) 4/5

The Trickster Orchestra represents singer, Cymin Samawatie and percussionist, Ketan Bhatti’s first shared collaboration outside of Cyminology, their Berlin-based group, whose three ECM recordings gained praise for their cross-cultural approach. This album sees the duo expanding their musical reach with the multi-faceted Trickster Orchestra. Drawing on inspiration from ancient to modern verses, spanning psalms to texts by Sufi poets, and incorporating an expansive set of tunes, instrumentation, dynamics, textures and colours, this is an intriguing and fascinating album.

The choice of instrumentation is one of the key points throughout this experimental and adventurous recording. From the Arabic flute to the zither-like oriental kanun, electronic effects and manipulations, the music is both challenging and rewarding. As percussionist Ketan Bhatti explains: “We have such a variety of musical systems and conventions gathered under one roof – from people who read notes versus those who don’t to the simple matter of instruments being differently tuned. In an attempt to work together, we automatically conspire in an act of imitation, or to be more precise, we enter into a mimetic process. While trying to understand and translate each other’s respective traditions, we create something new.”

Born out of a collaboration as part of the education program of the Berlin Philharmonic, The Trickster Orchestra soon turned into a permanent outlet for the singer’s and percussionist’s diverse music and experimental compositions. Drawing on influences from other contemporary classical music, Cymin Samawatie comments that “what really distinguishes this orchestra from other projects and what makes it so special, is the fact that it’s made up of very strong and individual personalities, who have each achieved great things on their own. For this project, they step outside of their individual musical bubbles and join forces to create a new, collective musical world.”

As I listen to this album, the seemingly disparate elements of the music gradually but fittingly begin to unravel in a quasi-cohesive kind of way. Something clicks in my head that allows the music to flow in and out of my ears in a very pleasing fashion. The mirrored sounds, the compositional structure, the conversational essence of the music, becomes blindingly obvious. It’s as if I’ve just smoked something much stronger than my usual cigarettes and my brain has successfully rewired itself somewhat. The music now makes sense. Alert, meaningful, enriched with cultural life and diversity as the composer and musicians talk to me in many languages that speak one voice. I’m open to this newly-found universal music and it’s working for me, making me smile and nod appreciatively as the moods change, the stars tumble, and the oceans roar, from one tune into another.

Perhaps better attuned to an ECM New Series release, this contemporary classical/experimental album of tunes and voices delivers a rewarding experience. There’s a festival flavour throughout, with a joyous after-taste that’s not lost on this listener.

Mike Gates