The Sanskrit word tīrtha (THEER-tha) literally means a ford, or a shallow place in a river that can be easily crossed over. Within a spiritual context, tirtha denotes a holy place near a body of water - somewhere where everyday struggles fall away, and where one passes easily into a deeper and more profound state of being. Aptly, Tirtha is now also the name of a phenomenal trio featuring three powerhouse musicians who at once honor and traverse the streams of tradition. It is also the name of their exciting new album on ACT. Individually, Indian-American pianist-composer Vijay Iyer, Chennai (formerly Madras)-born guitarist-composer Prasanna, and Hyderabad native and tabla player Nitin Mitta are already highly accomplished artists who shift easily among multiple musical languages.
The two guitarists take the opportunity on “Father And Son” to explore and to exploit these multiple possibilities to the full: “Irish Vagabond” combines full-on Irish folk music with Arabic elements. “Mistral” is rhythmically punchy, almost like a rock tune, and also has echoes of Al Di Meola. In this tune Ulf Wakenius recounts an experience he had while on tour with Youn Sun Nah. At the Avignon Festival, a powerful wind from the South “almost blew me off the stage, so I decided to write a song about it.” Their “Eleanor Rigby” is captivating; as they honour the Beatles, they achieve a sonority remarkably close to a string quartet. “Paco’s Delight” pays tribute to the unforgettable Paco de Lucía, but their Spanish flamenco technique is also imbued with the buoyancy and verve of Django Reinhardt’s Hot Club swing.
“The Big Wig” is a masterpiece by the multi-talented vocal marvel Andreas Schaerer. This is a work which situates him quite clearly and definitively among the most important composers and interpreters of contemporary music of his generation.
Nguyên Lê is a maverick, a hyper-fluent guitarist with a penchant for mixing up genres. Born in Paris of Vietnamese descent, he’s regarded as a jazz musician, though his most celebrated albums pay tribute to 60s rock gods like Hendrix and Floyd. Here he teams up with a young traditionalist, Ngô Hong Quang, on fiddle and lute to portray “the soul of Vietnam” and its quickening evolution. There are jaunty folkish tunes, temple bells and ethereal melodies with titles like Heaven’s Ground, but nothing arrives without surprises. One moment you are among mountain clouds, then Lê unleashes a storm of widdly-diddly electric axe. Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu adds elegant Milesesque licks to a remarkable fusion of ancient and modern.