(with special guest Jerry Garcia)
If collision has been as much a feature of fusion music as collusion, Blue Incantation is a mark of moderation ”” musicians playing to their strengths, yet understated and aware of limitations. At its best, it’s an effective pointer to the roots of the music, the musicians and the cultures each brought along to the studio. Jerry Garcia rarely moves out of his musical sphere. Rarely too, is the result as gracious as ‘Clouds’, an absorbing lazy river ride of a melody, where the measured, high-pitched wail of Garcia’s Doug Irwin guitar is framed by Mishra’s Godin guitar and Samir Chatterjee’s tabla ”” a thoughtful interplay between musical worlds, each beautifully filling up spaces vacated by the other. A hectic pace props up ‘Monsoon’, Garcia’s guitar taking on a nebulous, improvisational character, while ‘Nocturne/Evening Chant’, the third and final Mishra-Garcia composition, leaves behind a moody afterglow and a thought ””what we have missed out on after death stymied Garcia’s plans of further musical tieups with Mishra. Even ignoring the star cast, the 10-track album stands on its own, benefiting from perceptible melodies and the stripped-down nature of Mishra’s compositions. The Kolkata-born guitarist mixes up his influences in western musical traditions in the darkly introspective ‘Self Portrait’ and ‘Bach in time’, Mishra’s nod to Bach and his days as a student of Western Classical music. But Mishra also retains an Indian soul, especially in numbers like the gorgeous ode to lost love, ‘For Julia’. Often he uses the guitar (he later went on to use a fretless one) like a sitar. In doing so, he finds a distinct idiom, the El Dorado for many Indian guitar players. While tracks like ‘Passage into Dawn’, the over-reliance on the tabla and sampled Indian voice might sound tad jaded for Indian ears, it’s easily understood why the album has been such highly feted in the West. And not just for Garcia. Not even because of his death.