The story of this collaboration and the album it produced is as interesting as the music thereon. After travel in India, Sydney saxophonist Matt Keegan (Matt Keegan Trio, Steve Hunter Band, Phil Slater’s Sun Songbook project, Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra) was awarded the 2011 Freedman Fellowship for the idea of transforming Piramal Haveli — a stunning Italian inspired structure at the tiny town of Bagar deep in the Rajasthan desert — into a recording studio for an eclectic ensemble with links to India, Australia and New Zealand to make music.
Keegan describes the journey thus: “Bagar was a bugger to get to as no one seemed to know where it was. The group travelled for five hours from Delhi in two SUVs that were packed to the hilt with musicians and equipment.” Challenges included “power cuts and a barrage of extraneous sounds like hooting peacocks, crickets at night, car horns, thunderclaps, distant gunfire and obscenely loud party music! Some of these sounds found their way on to the takes”.
The Three Seas line-up includes young Indian folk singer Raju Das Baul, expatriate New Zealander guitarist/composer and now Indian resident Cameron Deyell (Lior, Katie Noonan), multi-instrumentalist and singer from Darjeeling Deoashish Mothey on dotora (Bengali banjo), makta (clay pot) and esraj (bowed, fretted harp), drummer Gaurab ‘Gaboo’ Chatterjee from Kolkata on drum kit and dubki (a tambourine-like hand drum). Matt Keegan on alto clarinet and tenor sax, and Tim Keegan on electric bass and vocals complete the ensemble.
Recording engineer Richard Belkner (PVT, Thirsty Merc) utilised various locations in the building, employing the deep resonance of the merchants’ hall, reverb from the tiled washrooms, the peace of the courtyard and the “eerie calm” of the chambers at night.
The most interesting aspect of what emerges from this brief collaboration is that genre is forgotten and traditions, while evident, are subsumed into a soundscape that is varied and unpredictable. Voices — individual and grouped — are given equal status to the (other) instruments, which are employed with diversity of rhythm and timbre.
The listener can be caught up in the clear sound of strings, then find voices changing the mood. Yet the compositions — by various members of the ensemble — allow for instrumental soliloquies and mesmerising vocals. Deyell’s Godfather offers a more focused, minimal feel as a break from the variety and eclecticism.
Haveli is a journey that will, like the incredibly diverse country in which it was created, reward revisiting.
Haveli is available also via Bandcamp