Stu Goldberg & Cassius Khan: Ragamala
Dark Clouds (Dedication Records DR-2181)
Recorded: Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, October 2005
Rating: 96/100 (learn more)
Within three months of meeting each other, pianist Stu Goldberg and tabla virtuoso Cassius Khan were in Goldberg's studio recording Dark Clouds. The overly talented Goldberg is still probably best known for his association in several John McLaughlin bands. But he has had much success in Europe with his own records and has scored dozens of commercial projects such as the music for the television show The Amazing Race. For years, he has owned and run a recording studio in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. Over the last several years he has become fascinated with the music of India and has seriously studied Indian percussion. So a project with the superlative Indian percussionist Khan makes all the sense in the world.
"Ragamala" is a tour de force of the modern Indo-jazz-fusion movement. Though the piano has been used in Indian music for years, it has never been the driving melodic force that Goldberg makes it here. The 21-minute "Ragamala" is an improvisation based on the notes from many ragas instead of only one. His manipulation of the Indian scales on piano to introduce the piece is a true revelation to Western ears. But he does not stop there. Goldberg paints a varying landscape of many cultures. Throughout the piece, he seamlessly weaves Indian, classical, jazz and blues themes with great aplomb. He is just a wonderful player. Khan is a strong rhythmic supporter. He also easily changes identities from Eastern to Western mode and back again. This raga is full of dramatic and inventive moments. Its divergent components merge at some point, but it's not clear where. "Ragamala" is one of those transitive pieces of music in the Indo-jazz-fusion vocabulary. The last such piece I heard, "Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi," was from the violinist L. Shankar, who now calls himself Shenkar, way back in 1981 on his Who's to Know album. At the very least, Goldberg's variations of the raga form performed on piano are sure to get a lot of other pianists, both Western and Eastern, motivated to try to do the same.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky