Bending The Dark - The Imagined Village
It's five years since Simon Emmerson took a break from the Afro Celt Sound System to embark on a new venture called The Imagined Village. Recognising the multicultural balti that England had become, Emmerson brought together an extremely diverse bunch of musicians to help bring English Folk kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.
There have been quite a few personnel changes along the way to this, their third CD, and these changes have only added to the spice and variety of the project. This incarnation has brought together English Folk legends Martin Carthy and daughter Eliza, Jackie Oates, sitar player extraordinaire Sheema Mukhterjee, dhol drummer Jonny Kalsi, and the rock steady drum and bass duo Andy Gangadeen and Ali Friend, together with a red hot brass section.
The set opens with Jackie Oates and a sweetly sung but sad and perfunctory finger-in-the-ear story about the heartless slaying of "The Captain's Apprentice" on a ship bound for Spain. It segues into "New York Trader", which introduces the whole ensemble with a brightness and communal vigour that we haven't quite heard in their previous releases. The schedule of writing together, playing live, then recording and then touring to promote the CD seems to have paid handsome dividends.
Some of the tracks, such as "The Guvna", have great immediacy - Lush arrangements, with touches of dub and drum & bass and bursts of dhol drums, are overlaid with fiddles and sitar. But for the first few listens, some of the songs don't quite gel - there is so much going on that there is a danger of it all becoming just too muddy. But perseverance pays off. While not as immediate as the first two releases, Bending The Dark is a complex, adventurous work, with twists and turns and layer upon layer of rewards in store.
The best example of this is the 12 minute title track which finishes off the CD. Written by Mukhterjee as a commission for the River of Music Festival that was held during the Olympic Games, it plays on the theme of "bending the dha" (a note on the sitar) and with time signatures that thoroughly test the ensemble, it is a remarkable celebration of the modern day multicultural nature of England.