A few weeks ago, a Pune-based guitarist and composer released his debut solo album, Shibumi; an album I have been waiting for since I first heard – and equally importantly, saw – him playing for the first time way back in 1997-98.
Pune has a long-established reputation as a cultural centre in Maharashtra and India. Through the ages, it has produced world-renowned classical musicians, poets, writers, playwrights, theatre artistes, among other artistic denominations. In more recent times (last three-four decades), it has also garnered reasonable attention for talent in newer musical genres (fusion, rock, painting, new-age art-form, fiction, et al).
There have been instrumental albums of note in the recent past, most notably the fusion and world music works of Milind Date. On the rock front, there have been albums from Agni, Strange Brew, Tungzten, and singles and worthwhile work from several new musicians. But what makes Sanjay Joseph’s debut album, Shibumi, newsworthy is that it is an instrumental jazz album. A well known guitar-player, Sanjay Joseph was a co-founder and axeman of Ezee Meat, one of the most iconic rock acts out of Pune in the 1990s. In 1997, the band’s single, That’s All, made it to the compilation album, The Great Indian Rock Volume II. He was part of several other bands including Airwave, and The Sanjay Joseph Quartet, and collaborated with several musicians and bands playing live concerts and recording guitar for songs.
Shibumi is an honest piece of art: honest because Sanjay Joseph could have taken a more commercially-oriented debut land released a rock album (expected given his early rock roots), or a new-age jazz-rock band album (given his exemplary work in the genres the past decade) with lyrics, songs, and the related works.
But he’s a guitar player. And so he’s strung together a set of little fresh-water pearls of musical pieces and released an album that does what music should: tickle your attention, make its way into your senses and then take you on individual journeys which are each different in mood and outcome. The album is as unexpected as it is familiar since it is all about conversations – between the music and the listener, and between the various instrumentalists with each other, and finally between the instruments and their instrumentalists. Quite remarkable in that sense.
Songs for Joe Dispenza, Mahalaxmi, Meditate Or Medicate and foursatch are heavier with a lot of intricate work that reflects deep personal journeys that Sanjay Joseph has undertaken. Of these, ‘foursatch’ is an absolute delight and left me wondering what it would sound like with a string section on certain parts; the adroit drum-work towards the end is scintillating.
Brother Kang is a poignant song and Dominique Cerejo’s vocals lift it to a different orbit. Santiago de Compostella which is a gem – Mediterranean in flavour, the interplay between the fluid finger-plucking guitar work, the precocious bass, and the subtle yet powerful drumming transports you to beaches, white sand by blue waters, and margaritas.
My pick from the album is Lullaby because it is a piece that is pure art: It defines what melancholy at its core feels like – a suspended twilight of peace between heaven and hell, when you are out of deep grief, been through the aftermath of lingering sadness, are on the threshold of being in the light of a positive feeling, but are not yet there. It’s a brilliant piece of music.
I have been listening to the album for close to two weeks now (standard procedure for an album review), and two of the tracks (Santiago and Brother Kang) are on my ‘Don’t Disturb Playlist’ for serious work, along side Bucket Head’s Look Up There, Chris Rea’s Miles, Batzorig Vaanchig’s Beautiful Steppe, and others.
The album has several famous musicians from Mumbai playing on various songs – Naresh Kamath, Kurt Peters, Dominique Cerejo, Jai Row Kavi, Rushad Mistry, Clinton Cerejo, and Jarvis Menezes; The recordings and production have been done by accomplished artistes and sound engineers – all a testimony of the goodwill and faith of the music fraternity in Sanjay Joseph and his bond with them.
It’s taken close to 20 years but it’s been the worth the wait. Shibumi, by Sanjay Joseph, is an independent album released available through OKListen right here.