One of the outstanding releases from 2018 was Deep Energy Orchestra’s Playing With Fire, so with the announcement earlier this year of the follow-up, the succinctly titled The Return, anticipation was high. For those who purchased DEO’s debut album, I would assume that a review of the sophomore album is fairly superfluous. Barring a world pandemic – as if that could happen 😉 – this would be one of those rare but obvious auto-buys.
Led once again by composer and bassist Jason Everett (aka Mister E), who recalls, from the previous release, percussionists V. Selvaganesh and Anil Prasad, Warr guitarist Trey Gunn, Radhika Iyer on violin, along with the string section of Rachel Nesvig, Aleida Gehrels and Phil Hirschi. Joining them on the return journey are a dozen or so equally gifted musicians, and on this release, we really do have an orchestra.
The Return follows similar paths to the band’s debut combining World and cultural Indian music, jazz/fusion, classical, Flamenco and progressive rock. The Return opens with the four part, seventeen minute epic Moksha. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, moksha in Indian philosophy and religion, is the liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara). “Derived from the Sanskrit word muc (“to free”), the term moksha literally means freedom from samsara.”
The Moksha: The Elimination of All Duality cycle begins: “in a traditional village, to a battle with death, to a liberated soul, and then the Return to this world with musical echoes of the past and present”. Each part of the cycle has its own distinct flavour, from tranquil and restful transitioning sections, to the fiery salvos of instrumental mastery. It may be seventeen minutes long, but time passes very quickly and all too soon we reach the concluding Moksha – IV The Return, which does exactly that, completing the cycle and bringing us back the wonderful rhythms, melodies and themes culled from The Return – the stunning opening track from Playing With Fire.
At this point I’m minded to offer comment on individual performances within the piece, and there are many worthy candidates, however I fear I would be doing the music itself a disservice as, and as the saying goes, the whole is greater than some its parts. As a side note, the version of Moksha: The Elimination of All Duality I have is from the original release which was edited into four movements “to facilitate easier listening”. In August DEO released an unedited version of the track can which can be heard HERE.
Not one prone to comparators, but musically, and in the Western hemisphere, John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, along with the much lauded Shakti album from 1975 must surely poke their heads around the corner. As influences and as pointers. The cover of Lotus Feet, which appeared on the debut album and inclusion of Mahavishnu percussionist V. Selvaganesh surely strengthens this notion further. The more Latin flavours, on both DEO albums, also recalled pioneering fusioneers Return to Forever. This said DEO’s Playing With Fire and The Return have their own voice and stand proudly in such revered company.
The album continues with a reworking of Paco de Lucía’s Zyryab, from the album of the same name and released some thirty years ago. Fareed Haque has the daunting task of tackling the guitar parts, which he performs with flare and gusto, and alongside Jason Everett performs the vast majority of the improv sections here.
Elsewhere we have the evocative Call of Kali, a slow burner that simply could go on forever for me. Special note here of drummer Don Gunn, (no relation to Trey), who dissects the themes with precision and menace. The tempo remains suitably restrained for Grapes of Khan, another piece that could well have been extended, and probably does in a live environment. Concluding this trio of ‘mellower’ tunes is the delectable Resolve, the opening section of the epic twenty minute Resolve/Improv/Caravan from Playing With Fire. Resolve is held throughout by Jason Everett’s innate grooves and Anil Prasad’s sympathetic tabla – underpinning the numerous top line excursions. Radhika Iyer’s wonderfully interwoven, silken violin tones and featuring Fareed Haque’s many splendoured and differing guitar styles. All succinctly bookend by Mister E’s slithering fretless…
The album concludes with a version of Mysterious World from the debut album, which along with pieces from Ravi Shankar, Anoushka Shankar and Paco de Lucia were commissioned by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra for a full-length concert entitled From Spain to India. Speaking to Jason, following publication of this review, he said: “Mysterious World was one of the highlights of the concert and even though we had the version on PWF, we wanted to capture a piece with the full orchestra, so again, we thought it was too good not to share.”
If I had any criticism of The Return it would be regarding the revisiting of material performed on the previous album, however it would be a minor gripe, as the reworked versions are fresh, vibrant and taken from an extremely strong source. Once again the recording is top notch with each and every instrument transparent and crystal clear in the final mix.
Subsequent to this review I chatted with Jason Everett and he was kind enough to offer in depth insights into the recording and performances on The Return. One area touched on was the revisiting of tracks from the first album. For instance the decision to include a reworked version of Resolve came about when Fareed Haque visited Jason and recorded some new pieces for the album. Within those sessions he recorded new parts on Resolve, which both Jason and Trey (Gunn) agreed were too good not to be included. I certainly wouldn’t argue with that sentiment, as Fareed’s playing across the album is superlative.
Currently Jason and DEO are working on a third and possible fourth album, which is excellent news indeed!
01. Moksha – I The Village / II The Battle (4:48)
02. Moksha – III The Journey (4:38)
03. Moksha – IV The Return (7:31)
04. Zyryab (4:31)
05. Call Of Kali (7:31)
06. Grapes For Khan (6:29)
07. Resolve (9:24)
08. Mysterious World (video) (5:16)
Total Time – 50:08
Jason Everett (aka Mister E) – 7-string Fretless & 6-string Acoustic Basses
Fareed Haque – Guitar
V. Selvaganesh – Kanjira, Konnokol, Custom Drum Kit (track 1)
Suhail Yusuf Khan – Sarangi (track 1)
Vishal Nagar – Tabla (track 1)
Eric Smith Doc – Zendrum (tracks 1,6 & 8)
Steve Sklar – Throat Singing (track 2)
Trey Gunn – Warr Touch Guitar (tracks 5,6 & 8)
Radhika Iyer – Electric Violin (tracks 5,6,7 & 8)
Chaz Hastings – Tabla (tracks 5,6 & 8)
Anil Prasad – Tabla (track 7)
Rachel Nesvig – Violin (tracks 5,6 & 8)
Aleida Gerhels – Viola (tracks 5,6 & 8)
Phil Hirschi – Cello (tracks 5,6 & 8)
Karin Choo – Violin ( track 3)
Gaye Detzer – Viola (track 3)
Annie Roberts – Cello (track 3)
George Heidorn – Double Bass (track 3)
Wesley Peterson – Drum Kit (track 3)
Ken Jacobsen – Guitar (track 3)
Don Gunn – Drum Kit (track 5)
Ujwal Nagar – Vocal (track 3)
Neyveli Radhakrishna – Double-Neck Violin (track 3)
The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra (track 8)
Record Label: 7D Media
Country of Origin: U.S.A./Multinational
Date of Release: 21st February 2020