Collin Walcott: Grazing Dreams (ECM 1096)

Collin Walcott
Grazing Dreams

Collin Walcott sitar, tabla
John Abercrombie electric and acoustic guitars, electric mandolin
Don Cherry trumpet, flute, doussn’gouni
Palle Danielsson bass
Dom Um Romão berimbau, chica, tambourine, percussion
Recorded February 1977 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

A plaintive, leisurely journey from Collin Walcott, North American pioneer in the art of the jazz sitar and ECM visionary whose life ended all too soon at the age 39. To anyone put off by this summary, I cannot stress enough the soulfulness of his playing. Walcott, who studied with the inimitable Ravi Shankar, does not treat his instrument as a mere substitute. Rather, he awakens the sitar to a whole new method of understanding, constructing a viable world around it rather than simply tossing it into the mix as a gimmick or afterthought.

Like the previously reviewed Survivors’ Suite from Keith Jarrett, Grazing Dreams is structured as long-form whole in which individual tracks blend into the overarching power that binds them. “Song Of The Morrow” starts things off right with flirtatious sitar riffs appearing and disappearing against a reverberant wash of guitar and trumpet while subtle and varied percussion sections sneak past in the background. “Jewel Ornament” is a personal favorite here, unfolding like a child’s raga. The hold and release of Cherry’s flute and Abercrombie’s insect-like guitar mesh beautifully with Walcott’s tabla stylings. By the time we get to the title track, which plays out like the folk tune of some undefined diaspora, we begin feel the weight of travel on our shoulders. And so, the final “Moon Lake” stretches out like a diffuse reflection across its titular surface, providing rest and replenishment beneath the sheltering sky of our nocturnal wanderings.

The engineering of this album is ahead of its time. Considering the way each track evolves, an attuned sensibility was clearly required to bring out the music’s full breadth. Case in point: the way the buzzing solitude that opens “Gold Sun” gradually develops into a honeyed elaboration of sitar and bass is nothing short of astonishing. Each tune is spun from the same cloth, dyed in real time with the languid syncopation of improvisers who feel what they hear. Gentility through strength is the backbone of Grazing Dreams, a poignant and timeless statement spun from the ether of dreams.

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4 thoughts on “Collin Walcott: Grazing Dreams (ECM 1096)

    1. I think you phrase it perfectly. One might easily characterize his aesthetic as “otherworldly” when in fact he is drawing upon the richness that already exists in all life as we know it and the world that sustains it.

  1. I really don’t think denigrating the very special musician, composer and spiritual seeker who was George Harrison was necessary at all to this review. Disappointing.

    1. Dear Ed,

      I take your critique to heart. I had always been under the impression, from a trusted source, that Ravi Shankar had been offended when he heard George Harrison’s sitar playing in a popular context. My comment was merely referencing that piece of (mis)information. It is entirely my fault for not doing my research to confirm or deny this, and so I was unaware that the two musicians (very special indeed) maintained a deep and spiritually active friendship. I never meant to insult either legacy. I have removed the sentence in question. Allow me to apologize deeply and sincerely for an uncalled-for comment, and to thank you for addressing my error.

      Best wishes,
      Tyran

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