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Shez Raja
Journey To Shambhala

by Howard Lawes

 

 

 

Shez Raja

 

Where is Shambhala? In his latest album bass player and band leader Shez Raja imagines a journey by a hero, Raj, and tells the story of Raj's quest. The Telegraph says of Shez Raja's music: “I thought my head was going to explode. It sounds like it’s come from the future. In fact I don’t even think there is a correct term for this kind of music just yet” . For us, Howard Lawes listens to the album and describes the journey:

Shez Raja's album Journey to Shambhala is his seventh album with other relatively recent releases being Gurutopia (2016), Soho Live (2014) and Mystic Radikal (2010).  Raja continues his practice of inviting guest artists to perform his music alongside regular band members and for Journey to Shambhala the guests are Oregon born and raised Wayne Krantz (electric guitar) and "serial collaborator" Trilok Gurtu (tabla, konnakoi, djembe, cajon).  Apart from himself on bass guitar his regular band members are Monika Lidke (voice), Chris Nickolls (drums), Pascal Roggen (violin), Alex Stanford (keyboards, piano) and Vasilis Xenopoulos (saxophone).

Shez Raja has imagined a series of scenarios and composed appropriate music for each one.  Track 1, Shambhala, represents the singing and dancing at a farewell party as the hero of the story, Raj, sets out on his quest. This lively tune, a great dance groove, becomes even more lively with wah-wah guitar on top and then Dharma Dance highlights Trilok Gurtu performing konnakol, a traditional form of voice percussion.

 

 

Listen to Dharma Dance

 

 

 

In Lakshmi, Raj meets a young woman and discovers their mutual passion for ancient poetry and mythology. Monika Lidke sings a lovely melody scat style with a gentle accompaniment from guitar.  Get Cosmic gives Wayne Krantz plenty of opportunity to cut loose on electric guitar.

With Epiphany, featuring Monica Lidke, Pascal Roggen on violin, Wayne Krantz and Trilok Gurtu, Raj and Lakshmi overcome misfortune and danger to continue their quest. A guru on a white elephant called Airavata is encountered and Guru's Gift has a slow tempo symbolising the elephant's ambling gait, Monica Lidke's haunting melody evokes the feeling of cooling and refreshing rain which Airavata conjures up. 

 

Listen to Guru's Gift

 

 

 

Battles are fought and travels completed before Raj and Lakshmi realise that Shambhala is an impossible dream but track 8, Devotion, celebrates their love for each other which provides everything they were looking for. The music is a undeniably romantic with piano and violin accompanying Monika Lidke's sweet-sounding voice before saxophone takes over with a carefree solo.

 

Listen to Devotion

 

 

 

Raja says, “My vision for this recording was to merge my rich musical heritage with my diverse playing experience to create exciting and passionate music that blends East with West."  

This musical combination has been termed 'Indo-jazz Fusion' with one of the first exponents being London based Jamaican saxophonist Joe Arun GhoshHarriott who released Indo-jazz Suite in 1966. In the 1970s, a guitarist much admired by Shez Raja, John McLaughlin and  the Mahavishnu Orchestra (with Trilok Gurtu) and later with the band Shakti continued the development of the genre. Trilok Gurtu was involved in another band in the 1980s with L Shankar, Jan Gabarek and Zakir Hussain releasing Song for Everyone.  Indian born John Mayer had collaborated with Joe Harriott in the 1960s and also released his own albums as John Mayer's Indo-jazz Fusions in the 1990s.

 

Arun Ghosh

 

Another more recent exponent of the Indo-jazz genre, Arun Ghosh, has released albums and played with Shez Raja several times.  However Raja has gone further than composing interesting music by writing a short story, with each track on the album accompanying a stage in the Journey to Shambhala. South Asian culture has both a rich literary and musical heritage, ancient works such as the Mahabharata, an epic poem composed in the 4th century BCE (Before the Common Era) are very much part of modern life with a Bollywood film being proposed, while classical Indian music and dance tradition considers the chants and melodies in Samaveda (believed to date from 1000 BCE) as one of its roots. 

 

Patrick Symmes Journey to Shambhala

 

According to Tibetan Buddhist teachings, paradise exists in the shape of Shambhala, a lost kingdom somewhere in central Asia. Armed with directions gleaned from ancient texts and Google Earth, Patrick Symmes embarked on a quest to find it (click here).

In 2007 he wrote about Shambhala, stating that it was first mentioned in the Mahabharata, calling it "the oldest Asian vision of enlightenment" and "invisible to ordinary people, yet reachable by supreme effort and various methods". 

 

Photograph by Seamus Murphy

 

 

 

 

Visits to his father's home region of the Punjab, provided the inspiration for Shez Raja to write his own story of adventure and romance and compose the fusion of traditional music and jazz to go with it.

The album contains three bonus tracks which are Happy Cat Jay remixes of tracks 1, 3 and 5.  The sound on these tracks add another dimension to Shez Raja's music and seems likely to appeal to audiences in clubs and festivals during DJ sets.  

This is a great album from Shez Raja and is a  significant milestone in his own and his band's development.  The guest artists are very good as would be expected but Monika Lidke's voice really stands out and Shez Raja has clearly given her a much larger share of the action on this album.  The Indo-jazz fusion genre has a long history of great music and Shez Raja and his band are worthy successors to those virtuoso musicians of the past.

 

Shez Raja Journey to Shambhala

 

Click here for Shez Raja's website. Click here for details and samples from the rest of the album.

 

 

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