I can always count on Al Gromer Khan to provide me with slinky, sultry, Middle Eastern-inspired grooves, and I get plenty of them, along with nice touches of jazz and more, on the excellent release Chakra Noir. There’s a great variety of styles at play here, all based around Khan’s signature sitar, keeping the album fresh and interesting the whole way through. We open in the dreamy, mystic space of “A Simple World with Flowers,” with smoky chants, light piano, and an ending that fades to wisps. Then Khan surprises us with that light jazz flair on “Degrees of Tenderness.” Listen to the shush of brushed drums, the rolling voice of the keys, and the slack-and-slide tone of the sitar. It has a definite small-combo feel, plus you get some chirping accent sounds that are either field recordings or a neat trick on strings. (Either way, nice touch.) The jazz vibe comes in again on “A Summer Tale,” mostly through the shuffle and snap of the drums. Again, Khan slows the pace down, keeps things quiet, and sets you gently rocking to his groove. “Rose of All My Days” adds a laid-back and turned-down beat to long pads and more of the gorgeous voice of the sitar for one of the most enveloping tracks on the album. The long pauses between sitar phrasings feels contemplative, like Khan is considering and formulating his next moment before playing. “Adya Shakti” moves into a folk-music space, leading with acoustic guitar over a very quiet backdrop. The sitar feels in spots like a slide guitar, a soulful tone drawn from the strings. It’s a short piece, but very engaging. “IM NU” sounds like Khan went for a walk with Enya to talk about music. Built around a clipped vocal sample and slowly paced chords, this is an ear-tickler of a track with an undeniable hook. It mostly loops back around on itself, with new elements laced in here and there. I like the track a lot, but feel like it could have been shorter for what it has to say.
Chakra Noir is the third release I’ve reviewed from Al Gromer Khan (his back catalog is impressively deep) and each new step has gotten better and better. This is a confident, relaxing, and firmly engaging album that bends the artist’s signature core around differing styles and makes them all work. Each new tune has something fresh to offer while staying true to the spirit of the music overall. The spidery lines of Khan’s beloved Eastern music always make it feel sensual and mysterious, but he’s ready to play with the sound and bring it into other schools of thought. That alone makes his music worth listening to. You think it will be one thing, because you see a sitar, and then Khan skillfully guides you elsewhere—and you quite gladly follow along. It’s been suggested by other reviewers that this album may represent Khan at his absolute best. I find it hard to disagree, and strongly suggest you take this trip. A superb release from a masterful artist.
Available from CD Baby.