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Nitin Sawhney Philtre Review

Album. Released 2005.  

BBC Review

He's often angst-ridden and energetic and can deliver raps and rants with gut-twisting...

Chris Moss 2003

Nitin Sawhney is never at ease. Since the release of Human in 2003, he has DJd all over the world from the Hollywood Bowl in LA to London's Fabric, assisted the Royal National Theatre, starred in award-winning TV programmes and written scores for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and about a dozen films. Back in the studio doing his own material, it's the same crisis: no genre quite satisfies Sawhney, no suit ever fits.

On Philtre, he travels restlessly though global club beats, Indian classical music, hip-hop,Bengali folk and occasionally somersaults away from this already eclectic milieu to toy with Flamenco, Americana and old-style Soul. No single tune is exactly representative, but "Dead Man" is typical: you're not sure if you're in Arizona or Assam. Oh, and it's slow pounding rhythm, grinding guitars and blues-Bollywood vocals (shared with soundtrack star Reena Bhardwaj) are just sublime.

Collaborations are the crux of Sawhney's work. With Barcelona-based flamenco-hiphop collective Ojos de Brujo he teases out a stunning, fast-plucked two-parter, "Noches en Vela" and the equally frantic "Footprints". Tracing a melodic line from flamenco to raga, it's a subtly modulated burst of Hindu-lusian passion. He also teams up with Ninja Tune's Fink and human beatbox Jason Singh, as well as regular invitees Tina Grace, Tai and Sharon Duncan - and Mrs. Sawhney, his mum, guests on a Rag Doll, bright Hindi poem about a walk along the Ganges.

He's often angst-ridden and energetic and can deliver raps and rants with gut-twisting anger, but Sawhney also knows how to slow down: much of this album is meditative and mellow. It opens with a slow, pulsing triphop 'Everything' and often makes excursions into yogic, relaxing ambient: "Void", "The Search", "Sanctuary". Elsewhere, the danceable beat hasn't gone - but it's now more of a deep, subdued groover pulsing through all the songs. Imagine Moby with a cultural heritage and an attitude.

Prolific, polyglot, political - Sawhney preserves modern music's mental health. In many ways, he's Britain's Indian Manu Chao, but this album suggests he is not so much a global magpie in the postmodern mould as an aspiring craftsman. He weaves fusions with delicacy and pays tribute to well-established, traditional styles and genres rather than slapping and scratching them into a cacophonous collage. 'Philtres' are magic potions, healing balms - they make life better - and only canny, cunning wizards like Nitin Sawhney know how to mix them and serve them up.

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