Sarathy Korwar / UPAJ Collective ‘Night Dreamer Direct-To-Disc Sessions’ 2LP (Night Dreamer) 4/5

Last year Sarathy Korwar unleashed the perfect album on us/me. It had been brewing, of course. “More Arriving” aesthetically and politically nailed it. It was intelligent, effortlessly transcultural and had a busy variety that kept me absorbed in its powerful dialogue while listening to it and, then, frequently revisiting it when not listening to it. The musical life it brought to Zia Ahmed’s determined yet playful words has ensured it is so bedded into our family’s everyday life that my daughter is now irritated by me (surely not) whenever a mango comes anywhere near us. Before I can even start with “Man go write something…” she offers the abrupt, early-teen advice of “No, Dad”. Not only this, but the album’s “More Arriving” postcard (words from Deepak Unnikrishan’s “Temporary People”) is one of only 3 things stuck on the wall in front of me as I type this. The others being my own art (depicting a nonplussed, victorious Dutch darts player called Ray) and a poster of Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life”. An impressive triptych, I’m sure you’d agree, that explores ego (a lot), community, identity, ideological storytelling, politics AND the human response. So, anyways, it should be clear that Korwar’s work has an impact on me; on us.

Here we have a Night Dreamer, straight-to-acetate, single-day session with minimal instruction, where Korwar teams up again with the all-star UPAJ Collective (Upaj meaning “to improvise” in Hindi). The session opens with “So said Said”; an overt nod to Edward Said, an essential postcolonial thinker who challenged the faulty ideological narrative that the West told/tells about the East. It’s a deeply felt soundscape that is expertly allowed to breathe. It gently pulses and gently widens as Tamar Osborn’s sax moodily, organically swells while Korwar, Alistair MacSween (keys), Achuthan Sripadmanathan (violin) and Giuliano Modarelli (guitar) offer layered yet sparse empathic voices; tenderly and patiently moving it forward until they forge a single rhythm. A melodic bonding then follows. It’s a transformation from single sensitive voices to a collective voice which can then freely dissipate in resolution.

“Flight IC 408” is much less patient. It’s a driving acoustic take on State of Bengal’s busy, electronic original. Tabla, then guitar, then sax lead into a thumping groove with smashing cymbals and a repeating, sneezing guitar run that must’ve been fun to play. The pounding relents, allowing Sripadmanathan’s bewitching violin and Korwar’s suspense-building drums to take centre stage before Osborn’s sax calls us to get down on our haunches and then gradually grow to full height, arms up-stretched. The groove returns with fire and Modarelli really let’s rip before a theatrically abrupt end.

The wonderfully titled “Elephant Hangover” enters with Macsween’s cosmic warbling until Modarelli takes the lead with a riff that empowers Korwar’s tentative rhythmic structure, encourages Sripadmanathan and collectively results in a heavily punctuating Osborn riff. These are fluid, empathic improvisations on rhythm and melody – they are the expert execution of “Yes and” team-building not the self-interested “Yes but” of egocentric soloing.

“Intimate Enemy” is titled after Prof. Ashis Nandy’s exploration of the personal psychological issues for both the coloniser and the colonised, “The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism”. It is initially foggy, echoey and blurred; an insular atmosphere. Modarelli, again, picks a direction to which Korwar applies some heat and Osborn and Sripadmanathan offer expansion and growth. The rhythm then drops, only a purring pulse remaining, and Osborn deftly explores the new space in short breathy bursts before initiating a new direction. Again the collective takes the baton heading into an explosive close. The final track is unexpected – an electronic, ambient, soothing head-nodder, “So Said Said – Yoruba Soul Mix”.

It’s obvious that these musicians really get each other. It’s effortless. They are expert in a communicative, collaborative improvisation. Like a great football team (more “total football” than “tiki-taka” and, obviously, wearing “Fly Immigrants” kit), they are instinctively and energetically picking up on each other’s cues which allows freedom to play fluidly and spontaneously but without ego. It’s beautiful to watch. Seamless. Love it.

Man go listen to it again now (cue daughter eye roll).

Ian Ward

Read also:
Sarathy Korwar ‘Day To Day’ LP/CD (Ninja Tune / Steve Reid Foundation) 5/5
Sarathy Korwar Interview 2016