Paul Metzger and Debashish Bhattacharya

Gedanken Splitter

Calcutta Chronicles: Indian Slide Guitar Odyssey
Riverboat Records

Paul Metzger and Debashish Bhattacharya are two peas in a pod—possibly the world's longest: The 49-year-old guitarist/banjoist and 45-year-old guitarist/ukuleleist live in St. Paul and Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), respectively. But what's 7,000 miles compared to their mutual passion for Indian classical music?

Hindustani slide-guitar role model Bhattacharya plays a ton of it on the Calcutta Chronicles' fourth installment, all on his self-designed "Trinity of Guitars." The three long tracks on Metzger's Gedanken Splitter ("Head Splitter")—all created solo, on self-customized banjo—reflect the ex-TVBC frontman's ongoing trysts with Indian sound sources and his affinity for the work of sitarist Nikhil Banerjee and surbahar master Imrat Khan.

Granted, Bhattacharya has the edge on immersion. Spawned by professional vocalist parents, the prodigy got his first guitar at age three. A year later he made the first of many appearances on Indian National Radio. While deeply schooled in the Hindu classical tradition—the world's oldest and most complex—in sitar, vocals, and guitar, he by no means hews exclusively to it. He's performed with jazz fusion guitarist John McLaughlin, recorded with guitarist Bob Brozman, and rubbed elbows with Hawaiian steel guitar great Tau Moe. Buttressed on the CD's opener, "Sufi Bhakti," by a compact ensemble featuring sibling Subhasis on tablas, the maestro slips hints of many of those eclectic interests into bursts of serpentine melody. "Gypsy Anandi" makes his xenophilia explicit, with Bhattacharya festooning a raga chassis with moves inspired by Hawaiian and Arab-Andalusian music.

Like Bhattacharya, the extensively rock-schooled Metzger is an admirer of Django Reinhardt. But he keeps any influence from the French Gypsy jazz legend on the down-low throughout Gendanken—apart from simple virtuosity. The title track (vinyl-only alert!) is a luxuriously chorded exercise in repetition and variation that segues into methamphetimated rats tap-dancing on a honky-tonk piano's soundboard.

Metzger reveals his romantic side on "Geschenk," coaxing viscous torrents of color out of his banjo with a bow. Easily the album's most Indian-sounding (not counting the resonating-string arpeggios on "Zudentgleisung"), the track also shows how thoroughly he's assimilated the heaven-bent sensuality of Pakistani Sufi vocal deity Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Bhattacharya's no prude, either. Nestled among Odyssey's morning and evening ragas lurks all-purpose fuck raga "Ganga Kinare," a lasciviously slow quickie that flashes passages from the same block as "Geshenk"'s juicier interludes. But nowhere on the album does the guitarist match Metzger's penchant for playing hooky from tonality: He's a classicist at heart, and his heart's at least partially always in Kolkata. His experimentalist's-experimentalist counterpart in St. Paul is as American as foosball and apple Pop-Tarts; it's no accident that last year's Deliverance dropped on Locust Music, a label best known for releases by avant-hillbilly Henry Flynt. When a player gets good past a certain point, he or she is almost bound to start Hoovering inspiration from other cultures. Greatness only lubes the intake. Still, it'd be fun to hear these dudes play together and/or trade instruments for a week. A liter of our mutual favorite booze and 650 Euro says both would adapt just fine.

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