Arun Ghosh – Seclused In Light
(The Crescent, York. 24 March. Live review by AJ Dehany)
Seclused In Light is a classic Arun Ghosh album, suffused with intense personal feeling driven by the death of his father and the pressures of lockdown. “Seclused is a word that I made up(*),” says Arun, “a mixture of recluse and secluded.” The British-Asian clarinettist, composer, and educator, had already been experimenting with playing all sorts of instruments before lockdown necessarily consolidated these efforts. “I was passing time and making music when I could, working late in to the night for the love of wanting to make sound, sound giving me that light illuminating my life and telling me where I wanted to go.”
Arun Ghosh plays not just clarinet on the album but most of the bass, guitar, keys, plus harmonium, organ, percussion and ethnic instruments. It’s slightly strained but there is some feeling of a ‘band’ with strong contributions of Aref Durvesh tabla and dholak, Chris Williams and Idris Rahman on saxes, and Dave Walsh and Myke Wilson on drums. Intricate interplay such as you’d typically find in jazzer’s jazz is less important to Arun Ghosh’s music where melody and groove are foregrounded. He’s a melody fiend. Even his improvisations are melodic. If melody is a gift, Arun Ghosh might be the most gifted man in jazz.
The album opens sumptuously with Surrender To The Sea, a slow steely stoical lilting melody with a slightly heroic flavour. “A lot of the music was made during lockdown with heavy duty stuff going on,” says Arun. “A lot of it I made was dealing with grief — it’s not about grief but about life and passing on. A river flows out into the sea into that great openness and the song is about accepting that.” Hope Springs pursues a lighter flipside to that philosophy, with a searching melody that is top-tier Arun Ghosh. “The songs come from a lot of quite dark places,” he says, “but I was always looking for hope.”
Born of a rich heritage, Arun Ghosh’s previous four albums have all had literal referents to travel and sense of place, be it home or exile; just look at the titles: Northern Namaste, A South Asian Suite, Primal Odyssey, But Where Are You Really From? With Seclused In Light being mostly written under lockdown it has a slightly frustrated relationship to people and places, though still a wandering eye. Sister Green is “inspired by the English countryside, hills and vales, water nymphs and bubbling brooks, you know… in praise of nature.” It seems to audibly yearn to break out of lockdown slough and bound into a bucolic idyll.
Arguably less bucolic, Fiveways is about a collection of roads in Croydon, but more than that, he says “there are five people in my family. It’s About family and life on the road, and feeling positive about family life and friendships. The positive on the road and in how that’s what its all about.” Form meeting content, it’s in 5/4 time of course; similarly another highlight Nine Night is a long slow pulse repeating in nine beats and a characteristically beautiful flowing melody.
Can you teach melody? Can you learn melody? Where does melody come from? No-one knows! But you suspect Scouse bands are more melodic because they grow up with the Beatles. And if you just listen to blues, for example, your melodic sense will suffer: witness Beefheart and Zappa and many US guitarists who have horrible anti-gifts. Funnily enough, the album closes on a blues, which is often a way of leading people out with something simple and familiar, but it can be cloying. Album closer Farewell Blue has grown on me; the clarinet within simple blues naturally reminds me of Rhapsody In Blue and the comparable melodic gift of Gershwin.
Despite being and sounding very much a studio album, one reviewer noted that the music might be “an enthralling proposition played live” so I hit the road and managed to catch Arun Ghosh in York at fab community venue The Crescent on the second night of his tour. Even with a reduced band of Dave Walsh on drums, Jamil Sheriff on keys, and amazingly for just one night only, the mighty John Pope on bass, the tunes do really shine live, with an enhanced dynamism that comes from the interplay between musicians onstage. They’re working it out and growing the music each night, which adds an extra thrill, not to mention the joy of the interaction between artist and audience.
Sure to be a cornerstone of future live shows, Hanji! is a decent album track but with the necessity of audience participation for its shouted refrain “Hanji!” it achieves the status of a live banger. “Hanji!” means yes, or in what he calls “Bolton Punjabi dialect” it’s really “Yes, let’s go! Let’s make this happen!” The track apparently possesses the first ever vocal on an Arun Ghosh album, which is a strange thought for such a melodic writer. “I’m buzzing!” he enthused in York, “I’m really really loving this. What a place, a brilliant venue. A special place to be.” He loves it. He loves being up there and his joy is wonderful to see and share in. Even in the darker moments of a lockdown double, there is a palpable sense of joy that suffuses every note.
AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk
(*) All quotes reproduced from onstage bantz at The Crescent, York.
Arun Ghosh’s tour continues with dates including Ronnie Scott’s on Saturday:
- Mar 25 Matt & Phred’s Jazz Club Manchester, UK
- Mar 26 Ronnie Scott’s London, UK
- Mar 27 Social Hull, UK
- Apr 09 Derby Museum Derby, UK
- Apr 23 Symphony Hall Birmingham, UK
- Apr 29 Glad Café Glasgow, UK
- Apr 30 The Globe Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK
Categories: Live review