It would have been Pran Nath’s 92nd birthday on Wednesday and, to celebrate the music of the singer, the great minimalist composer Terry Riley made a very rare appearance in London as part of a short tour with saxophonist George Brooks and Asian Underground innovator Talvin Singh, during the London International Festival of Exploratory Music at Kings Place.
A concert of ragas, typically slow alap variations of the form, the concert started some half-an-hour late which seemed to increase the already heightened air of anticipation in the completely sold-out Hall One. Riley who turned 75 earlier this year, a kindly smiling presence on stage with his long white beard, twinkly spectacles and red robes, played mostly piano with some pitch bend keyboards later and sang in the most delicious deep Hindustani classical manner, particularly in the second half of the concert. When the trio moved into deep spiritual territory on songs billed as ‘The Ecstasy’ and ‘Waltz of The Insomniacs’, the concert took on a further dimension and was so jazz-inflected that at times it was like listening to music inspired by the Eastern-influenced period of John Coltrane.
Riley’s trademark interlocking patterns coupled to the wonderfully searching full bellied tone of Brooks especially on the tenor saxophone and Singh's metrical alchemy on tabla seamlessly moved into areas that belied their method, a stoned soul picnic of the senses. It’s no wonder that bands such as The Necks and Portico Quartet draw so much inspiration from Riley. For him to perform such a concert in tribute to his great guru Pran Nath also showed the dignity of the whole concert. Let’s hope it was recorded.
- Stephen Graham
The tour concludes in Manchester tonight at the Royal Northern College of Music