Fri 13th Nov 2009, The Scotsman

Simon Thacker and the Nava Rasa Ensemble 
****
QUEEN'S HALL, EDINBURGH

SUSAN NICKALLS 

GUITARIST Simon Thacker is an uncompromising musical explorer, and for this Inner Octaves programme, presented by ECAT, he blended Asian and Western musical styles to great effect, particularly in the new commissions played by the specially formed Nava Rasa Ensemble. Alongside Thacker this features the Edinburgh Quartet, percussionist Iain Sandilands, double bassist Mario Caribe and, giving the music its pulsating heartbeat, Indian carnatic violinist Jyotsna Srikanth and tabla master Sarvar Sabri.

Nigel Osborne's The Birth of Naciketa is based on ten thaats, or scale patterns, which correspond to different parts of the day. These were beautifully evoked in this delicately layered and atmospheric work by the exotic keening of the carnatic violin and ghostly sigh of the waterphone, an intriguing circular instrument with tonal rods that emit an eerie resonance when bowed, or struck.

The guitar was used more as a solo instrument in Shirish Korde's Nada Ananda, Ecstasy of Sound. Taking the raga Lalit as a foundation, Korde's lively, episodic work was toe-tappingly rhythmic, paying homage to John McLaughlin's 1970s jazz-inspired Shakti ensemble. Thacker demonstrated his virtuosity with some nimble fingerwork backed by the tight throb of the double bass and tabla.

The surprise of the evening was two Japanese dance-inspired gems for string quartet written in the 1930s by John Blackwood McEwen, contrasting with Minoru Miki's Nuori verso (A Young Sprout), the theme from the film The Realm of the Senses, written for koto and transcribed for solo guitar.