Somnambule - Writing About Music

Roland Ramanan ~ Shaken

Before actually listening to this cd I was predisposed to liking the music. How come? Well, there’s a very sweet picture of Roland on the cover taken when he was a child. This triggered in my mind an association with Sufi’s gentle first album. Naff as it might seem, there seems some courage (and confidence) to displaying that kind of innocence upfront. The liner notes underline this initial impression, firstly by displaying a very likeable humility and generosity, secondly by explaining that the release is dedicated to the artist’s father, the late Shake Keane - most famous for his work with Joe Harriott - of whom Roland writes “I will never be a tenth of the musician that he was, and although I never got to know him that well, he remains an inspiration.” There seems much unsaid here. Despite the foregoing, the music here is not easygoing, gentle or cuddly, it’s serious, detailed music which demands and repays concentration.

The group is a heavyweight quartet composed of Ramanan on trumpet and flutes, Marcio Mattos playing cello and electronics, Simon H Fell double bass and Mark Sanders percussion. They launch into ‘before’ with Ramanan’s keening wood flute supported by scurrying bass, cello and bells. Moments later his trumpet notes sound a call out across this sonic landscape, emotion betrayed by vibrato, slurs and runs and upper register screams that cause your heart to surge. Things slow down three minutes before the end for some gorgeously tensile, electronically-augmented cello which recalls the astral spaces of Sun Ra’s Heliocentric Worlds.

The level of interplay is fascinating, you can almost hear them listen. The choice of instrumentation creates a singular soundscape; contained on this recording is a whole cyclopaedia of aural gestures: stabs / slides / trills / tappings / dashes / high-pitched scrapings broken by pensive pauses – all of which weave a fertile, febrile atmosphere traced through by Roland’s long mournful trumpet notes.

I’m reminded a little of Wayne Shorter’s 69/70 trilogy of albums (Super Nova, Odyssey of Iska, Moto Grosso Feio). There’s something shared in the high seriousness of the music, the sense of questing spirits, of a strong percussive element and the evocation of crepuscular movement. At the end of his biography, Roland writes “I have been described as a late developer, so I hope this is worth the wait.” Oh yes indeed!
Colin Buttimer
February 2003
Published by the BBC