The Way To Be Free
Though I'm hardly the world's foremost authority on Indian classical music, Mike Tamburo's The Way To Be Free strikes me as an excellent entry-point for the listener interested in the genre. The forty-one-minute recording's strong melodic focus enhances its accessibility in a major way, plus Tamburo, a Pittsburgh-based multi-instrumentalist known by the Brother Ong name, also draws upon the American folk and minimalist music traditions for the material; one therefore might describe The Way To Be Free as music with clear ties to multiple genres yet dressed primarily in Indian garb. Don't be surprised if while listening to the album you're reminded at different times of artists such as Alice Coltrane, Robbie Basho, and John Fahey.
Composed between 2010 and 2015, The Way to Be Free features Tamburo playing hammered dulcimer, harmonium, electric guitar, bass, and percussion on four tracks, three of them long-form inner journeys that push past the ten-minute mark. The mesmerizing opening setting, “Old Gypsy Way of Calling Upon Spirit,” unfolds across fifteen minutes with the hypnotic thrum of Tamburo's hammered dulcimer accompanied by Gallina Tamburo's harmonium. The music gallops at an at times furious pace, with Tamburo sending endless volleys of dulcimer sparkle into the harmonium-scented air. As satisfying is the second setting, “Evil Spirits Be Damned/Clan of the Kukeri,” which finds the hammered dulcimer cartwheeling across a wavering organ-styled drone. Initially cued to move at a slower and dreamier pace than the opener, the second piece gathers steam at the half-way mark to dazzle the listener with a number of ecstatic, dance-driven variations.
Short but sweet, the title track breaks the pattern in two ways: at two minutes, it's obviously a miniature compared to the other pieces, and its soundworld is differentiated by the addition of Michael Dodin's tablas and Anthony Molina's mellotron. It's telling that if there's one piece on the album that impresses less, it's “The Unknowing” as it's the one that's the least Eastern-sounding of the four. The dulcimer is still present, but it's now accompanied by electric guitar textures and, eventually, drums and percussion, and consequently the plodding music begins to feel a little too much for its own good like a ‘60s psychedelic-rock jam. Still, three out of four isn't a bad batting average, and the album's opening tracks are stand-outs.