BY CHANTS ALONE
Reviewing Nadav’s INVOCATION (Suriya Recordings 2019)
From a low drone the chant that aspires to heaven is the first sound to reach us from Nadav Khan’s Invocation, a song and prayer cycle that attempts to soundtrack peace itself. Gentle chords rein and strain the listening minute, as Nadav’s voice and harmonium begin harmonising with the celestial breath that’s released. The piece Supreme Guru is an opening mantra that sets the musicians’ thoughts into motion, and ours too; our attention is held in their hands. Hearts are leased.
With a recording team that includes legendary Producer and Engineer John Leckie, the Suriya Recording label continues its explorations of the sacred and sublime in globally sourced music. Invocation is an attempt to direct the listener back to the sounds of their own being, its playing of melody, harmony and rhythm follows the eastern/asian tradition, with Nadav himself an Israeli born resident of Australia. That these disparate beginnings fuse so seamlessly with the aspirations of native sources is the first source of wonder, showing how the enchantment of this music can spread to practitioners and audiences from anywhere in the world, including many of the performers on the record, who form part of Youthsounds resident staple of musician producers, from Ned and Maf Scott on piano and percussion respectively, Michael Rendall and Youth on synths, and Luke Fitzpatrick on percussion and saxophone. These aural experts are joined by Lawrence Harvey on bass and guitars, Frederick Stitz on slide, Jackson Scott on Flamenco guitar, Danny Baxter on the immaculately named singing bowls and Laurits Hvirvelkar on Kora. This mix of instrumentation stirs the soul that Nadav’s music is attempting to invoke from the initial moment, allowing for a smooth path towards musical transcendence.
Ganesh scorches in on a distorted wail that soon serves and soothes us. The sound seems to enter us somehow, artfully guiding us as we encounter it. The tone is leavened and spread by a piano flurry, the sustain pedal adding to the most dreamlike of airs. As gentle notes pierce and pulse Nadav’s voice summons us from the mountain, its rich lowered tones both seductive and transformative. The effect is a mix of gentility and strength that is at once uplifting, filling the listener like steam in the most precious of jars.
Narayani opens with a horizon like chord in which a musical dawn is heard breaking. There are the traditional ‘oms’ heard in the vocal that one expects from transcendental music of this kind, but they seem placed in a new way, as if the opening Ashtanga mantra of Supreme Guru was the progenitor of a sky or sacred earth full of similar testaments to the soul. What might be described as a bright rainfall of percussion now descends to create a wholly energised feeling of spirituality. One can feel one’s own inner resources joining with the external environment, as synth fed spirals and near liquid guitar and piano notes populate an imagined sky of constantly changing colour. This is the music of true invocation as it brings entirely new worlds into being. What sounds like a repeated phrase gains greater profundity and a real sense of joy as it continues, taking flight like a flock of winged songbirds formed by a quaver and stave. It is a remarkable song that one doesn’t wish to end. When it does it leaves a trail on the inner ear that will constantly play and set these sources into prolonged motion.
Shakti comes in with guitar, a minimal pattern of notes that reminds the western ear of Blur’s Tender, but which soon transforms into a prayer and further invocation of transcendence. It has flecks of George Harrison’s Hare Krishna pieces running through it too, and the song acts as an effective and accessible distillation of the album’s grander pieces. It is relatively stripped back, a short film in the wake of the previous song’s glorious mind symphony.
Sat Nam rides on voice and a glistening keyboard pattern, before a breathtaking burst of acoustic guitar and a refined and youthful sounding Nadav vocal. The striking of certain notes on string while the electric ambience sets the context is remarkable and the clarity of Leckie’s production shows that this master of sonic painting wields the brush and faders as effectively as ever. The Mantra like phrases compel and implore the listener to join with it in a fundamental way, with lead and backing vocals combining to form a bright song of the heart. As the minimal patterns play, phrases and textures are beautifully introduced, as the guitar flows like water across the bread like breaking land. In the animation that plays as you close your eyes you see abstracts joining with God’s golden creatures of land, sea and sky. Expressive chords form that sky as the instrumentation moves with you across the landscape until you are borne aloft by the power of the simplest phrase played to a pitch of perfection. This is not just an album of prayers but also the thing that they prayer for; a unique sublimation of everything music does and is supposed to do.
Ganga slithers in across the harmonium soundscape; slightly ominous, as if warning, as Nico did with hers, of dark fates. The guitar moves like a snake through this undergrowth cast in darkness and the vocal’s invocation is far more wary in tone. The resonance grows and with it the feeling that if we are to survive the oppressing forces that face us we will need the strength that this music and what it represents , promises. Each note reverberates and extends as the peaceful land finds disruption and the sounds call for caution, even across sacred space. As Ganga opens out there is a muscular sense of defiance as if the strength of the holy is not just reflective, but something to call on at times of disaster, opposition and war. There is a sense of narrative here and soon these Indian words ape the English; one can hear our words in these words and somehow, instrinctivelly, an important lesson is learned.
The final closing Ashtanga Mantra Peace is charged with low wisdom. As the drone oscillates we return to the mountain, where the production clarity summons sunlight and where the final offering has been made. Invocation is a digital release only but it breaks through the cybernetic interface with all of the force and majesty of a far more ancient, seminal and it has t be said, influential age. It is a call across the cosmos, unifying time and circumstance with the magic and mastery of what only music is capable of. As an album it is a prime example of the traditions it honours and as a creative edifice on its own terms it has the potential to house a world of listeners, if they are dedicated to pursuing similar paths of devotions. The old Gods are not distant. They are there in our hearts and our hands.
David Erdos December 4th 2019