Ustad Fateh Ali Khan
Musicians from Pakistan
Ragas and Sagas
Ustad Fateh Ali Khan voice
Jan Garbarek soprano and tenor saxophones
Ustad Shaukat Hussain tabla
Ustad Nazim Ali Khan sarangi
Deepika Thathaal voice
Manu Katché drums
Recorded May 1990 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher and Jan Garbarek
With Ragas and Sagas, Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek surely turned not a few heads by collaborating with legendary Pakistani vocalist Ustad Fateh Ali Khan (not to be confused with Nusrat). With attuned support from sarangi, backing vocals, tabla, and a fairly young Manu Katché, this album fulfills every promise it makes on the cover alone. The tremulous waters of “Raga I” are enough to prove this point. This utterly selfless meditation shapes the listener’s spirit by inhabiting it with lines spun from a higher power. The sarangi’s raw S-curves pair beautifully with Garbarek, who remains graceful and restrained, serving each moment as it comes. “Saga” brings the latter’s electronics to bear upon Khan’s vocal spreads. Unfortunately, their brilliance, hanging like a water droplet from a spider’s thread, is sometimes drowned out by that powerful tenor. This is only a minor quibble in the face of the album’s constant wonders. In any case, any such imbalances are immediately rectified in “Raga II.” Pulling a percussive vocal thread from the floating sarangi, this lovely journey imparts equal weight (if not lightness) to every musician, though the voice of Deepika Thathaal as it weaves in and out of view is notable for its counterpoint to Garbarek’s ethereal adlibbing. Khan’s ululations are indescribably beautiful and are sure to transport you to places unknown yet comforting. “Raga III” is another well-unified piece, showing Garbarek’s chameleonic abilities in full swing, while “Raga IV” kicks up the dust to dizzying spiritual heights.
Ustad Fateh Ali Khan is a treasure, and this appearance, as ECM listeners have come to expect, is a carefully calculated one. Gone are the tired clichés and empty synergies of other such projects. This album also represents yet another evolution in Garbarek’s tonal biology, and is one of the finest examples of “world fusion” you are likely to come across, leaving us with a mind meld of sweeping proportions. Purists from any angle will want to give this one a chance.