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CD REVIEW: Neil Welch - Narmada
By Bhasker Gupta - 03/29/2008 - 11:51 PM EDT

Artist: Neil Welch
Album: Narmada
Genre: Free Jazz, Jazz Fusion, Experimental, Avant-Garde
Sounds Like: Pharoah Sanders
Technical Grade: 9/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Commercial Value: 8.5/10
Overall Talent Level: 9.5/10
Songwriting Skills: 9.5/10
Performance Skill: 10/10
Best Songs: Narmada
CD Review:

Neil Welch is the member of Seattle based concept fusion band ‘Nada Brahma’, amalgamating Indian Classical music with free jazz. Indian Classical like jazz has strong foundations on improvisation and instrument mastery, yet unlike jazz refuses to delve out of its strict purist moulds and any effort to combine these two genres of music should be regarded in high esteem. Encapsulating a perfect fusion between Jazz and Indian classical is tried and tested since Mahavishnu Orchestra and most of these endeavors find themselves glass framed as a quick reference to the history of avant-garde.

Narmada (named after a river in India); the debut album of Neil Welch group gives an insight into the burgeoning contemporary Jazz scene of Seattle. While following a highly non-stickler approach to innovate yet intuit, Neil Welch has come up with an album that challenge the listeners without posing an alien to the familiar sounds. The love for Indian Classical music is highly exemplified here to the extent of including sitar in two out of seven tracks on this album.

The album opens with ‘Madness in Motion’; a melodic progressive jazz piece which departs into unpredictable direction and keeps up to the tonal and beat progressions, slowing building the rhythm to the climax. ‘The search’ exemplifies Neil Welch mode of playing free jazz to anarchic expressions with a great performance by pianist Brian Kinsella. There is such a deep similarity of Neil’s work with Pharoah Sanders that often the lyrical themes between these two seem to overlap. Yet at times the succinct exhilaration itself seems to come as an influence from the fusion greats like Wayne Shorter. His natural ability to understand the modal structure of eastern sensibilities makes Neil Welch’s music rich with various influences.

Title track ‘Narmada’ explores the yearning of creating spiritual music, and pushing the boundaries beyond the theme and music genres itself. Spiritual music has been in the forefront of free jazzists for a long time and Neil Welch performs just great here. Sitar by Debi Prasad Chatterjee overlaps piano, bass and drums and then fades behind the saxophones, taking turns as lead soloist at various points in the song. A beautiful jazz improvisation of Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’ follows with Neil playing the vocal of Thom Yorke. A full blown Indian Classical piece ‘Raag Kirwani’; a passionate south Indian night raag named because of its resemblance to the sound of parrot; ends the album.

Narmada is definitely a creative piece of work from spirited artists who explore the sounds from different territories and fuse them in a more intuitive manner. Moreover, it proves to be a great addition to my music collection.

Track Listing:

  1. Madness in Motion
  2. The Search (for Coltrane, Pharoah, and Ayler)
  3. Narmada
  4. Paranoid Android
  5. Neptune
  6. Darker
  7. Raag Kirwani

Personnel: Neil Welch – tenor and soprano saxophone; Brian Kinsella – piano / rhodes; Cameron Peace - guitars/ loops; Luke Bergman –Bass; Chris Icasiano – Drums; Tor Dietrichson – tabla / congas/ percurssion; Pandit Debi Prasad Chatterjee - sitar

Running Time: 72:55

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