Red Note Ensemble and Kuljit Bhamra - Reels to Ragas (4 stars)

Frenzied melting pot fusing elements of east and west

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Red Note Ensemble and Kuljit Bhamra - Reels to Ragas

(Keda Records)

Conceived as a performing and recording project – looking at how things end up being really quite similar when at first glance they may seem very different – Reels to Ragas is also a celebration. It’s about music and traditions from thousands of miles apart, colliding together and sitting as naturally as two friends breathing the same air.

Scottish ‘contemporary music ensemble’, the Red Note are joined here by the superb and internationally acclaimed tabla player Kuljit Bhamra. The four instrumentalists involved – cello, violin and viola, plus Bhamra on tabla and percussion – bring sounds of Scotland and India together in a wonderfully vivid range of contemporary and traditional tunes. In the opening track, ‘Himalaya’, composed by Bhamra, an atmosphere of the east is instantly conjured up by sliding strings, plinky plonky pizzicato strings and a rather catchy tune underpinned by complex rhythmic patterns on tabla which make you want to dance. Tabla is a strong feature throughout, found bubbling away in accompaniment to Scottish traditional tunes such as ‘Always Welcome’, or bringing a bit of Bollywood to ‘The Gypsy’s Hornpipe’ and descriptively named ‘Billy Bhangra and His Bolly Bongos’; another of Bhamra’s own compositions.

There’s plenty fun and good humour, but also plaintive melancholy from Robert Irvine’s cello. His ‘Love Song’ is reflective, serious and agonising in its bittersweet melody. Based on Burns’ ‘Ca’ the Yowes’, it is matched by Irvine’s daughter, Stephanie, singing the tune more traditionally; her clear, true tone, distant at first, becoming louder as the song unfolds, and creating a heart-stopping track of beauty. The chunkiest pieces are by violinist Jacqueline Shave, who enters into further exotic territories in ‘Machair to Myrrh’, a narrative that’s calmly evocative of Scotland before breaking down to become a frenzied melting pot fusing elements of east and west.

Kuljit Bhamra with Red Note Ensemble - 'Reels to Raga'

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