Red House Records has done a bit of bending its artist criteria to step outside a strict folk-roots bag far enough to release Heather Masse’s triumph Bird Song with its jazz and even pop leanings. They’ve done it again for sort of an East-meets-West aesthetic as tabla player Marcus Wise and guitarist Dean Magraw pair up for beatuifully laid back, richly inventive fare on their fascinating EP, How the Light Gets In.
The only other tabla players I’ve heard are Danny Bolt with David Daniels and the Talkin’ Roots crew here in the Twin Cities and, ages ago, Ali Akbar Khan when he recorded with sitar legend Ravi Shankar. So, this was an interesting prospect, checking out Marcus Wise. Interesting and rewarding: I ought to get out more and listen to more artists doing their thing on a very expressive percussion instrument. Magraw is key, here, as the one responsible for making the melodies. Accordingly, he threads a deft excursion into delightfully unpredictable idea. Wise provides marvelously subtle counterpoint. Together their aural tapestry has gorgeous texture.
Wise, well regarded as a purveyor of classical Indian music, has performed and recorded with such artists as the Doors’ keyboardist John Densmore, sitar player David Whetstone, R&B star Alexander O’Neal, India’s Nirmala Rajasekar, and more. He has toured the globe, been on MTV, VH1 and accompanied Minnesota Poet Laureate Robert Bly and Coleman Barks on spoken word projects. He composed music for the Guthrie Theater’s 1991 production of Medea and played for the opening of the new Walker Art Center wing in 2005. One of the first professional tabla players in the United States, he’s been at it more than 35 years now. Magraw, an in-demand sideman who’s been featured on more than a hundred recordings, lists in the Red House catalog, such albums as the duo’s first outing Wise-Magraw, Broken Silence, Seventh One, and Duo, recorded with Emmy Award winning multi-instrumentalist Peter Ostroushko.
“Marcus and I have been playing together for years,” said Magraw, “but during this project, we listened to each other in a way that was really new. We spent more time in silence—hearing the notes, feeling them. It was an amazing environment and the music just seemed to play itself.” Listening to how the music on How the Light Gets In flows in a virtual river, one is inclined to take Magraw at his word. See for yourself. The release event for the disc is November 9 at the Artists’ Quarter.