Friday, 6 July 2007

Album Review: Healing The Divide

The concert captured on Healing The Divide was organised by Richard Gere's foundation of the same name, and recorded live at the Lincoln Centre in New York. It features performances from Tibet's Gyuto Tantric Choir and India's Anoushka Shankar, as well as genre-bending duets from Tibetan avant-garde musician Nawang Kechong with Native American master R. Carlos Nakai; and maverick composer Philip Glass accompanied by Gambian virtuoso Foday Muso Suso. It also features a four-song set by Tom Waits, backed by Grammy award-winning, California string group, The Kronos Quartet.

After a five-minute special address from the Dalai Lama, the music begins with the Gyuto Tantric Choir, ten monks who chant with the subterranean bass tones and simultaneous ethereal overtones of Buddhist sacred tradition. Short by Indian classical standards, Anoushka Shankar's offering, Nivedan, lasts eleven minutes, which is just time enough for her and tabla player Tanmoy Bose to give the piece a mode and melody.

The collaboration between Philip Glass and the Gambian griot Foday Musa Suso has a basic, almost waltzing ostinato that supports plaintive melodies from Jon Gibson on soprano saxophone, quick arpeggios from Glass on piano and, best of all, flickering syncopations from Suso's kora, the traditional instrument of African griots.

Two wooden flautists - the Tibetan composer Nawang Khechog and the Navajo-Ute composer R. Carlos Nakai - combine on a recording simply titled Peace Chants. Khechog opens the piece with the deep tones of a long Tibetan horn below Nakai's hovering flute phrases, and recites the bodhisattva vow to work for the enlightenment of all sentient beings.

Closing the concert and the disc is a unique series of collaborations between musicians who personify the spirit of adventure in contemporary music, as Tom Waits performs four of his classic songs accompanied by The Kronos Quartet. Waits plays up to his role of the indecorous oddball as he struts through ingenious variations of Way Down In The Hole, God's Away On Business, Lost In The Harbour and Diamond In Your Mind, quipping, "So his holiness goes to bed at 7:30? That's not the holiness I used to know."

If Healing The Divide was intended as the perfect musical embodiment of the foundation's mission, it has totally succeeded. From the Dalai Lama to Tom Waits in just under an hour; how's that for bridging a cultural gap?

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