Debashish Bhattacharya and Bob Brozman, Mahima (Riverboat/World Music Network, 2003)

Calcutta native Debashish Bhattacharya and American Bob Brozman, both slide guitar virtuosi in their own traditons, have joined forces to create a masterpiece. Mahima is a joyous marriage of two major world music forms into something new and beautiful.

The two have known each other for some time and admired each other's work, but it wasn't until the summer of 2002 that they got together on Brozman's home ground in California to record. Brozman participated in three earlier cross-cultural collaborations, including two with Takashi Hirayasu (JinJin in 2000 and Nankuru Naisa in 2001), and one with Rene LeCaille, so he has a pattern by now that works. He and his collaborators live, play and work together, getting a feel for each other's personalities as well as the music, which is allowed to organically grow with the relationship.

In the case of Mahima, it's a family affair. Debashish plays the 24-string Hindustani slide guitar he created based on the Hawaiian guitar, while his brother Subhashis plays tabla and other percussion, and their sister Sutapa sings on about half of the tracks. Brozman plays various American resonator guitars, plus the Andean charango, which he promotes as a universal instrument that fits with acoustic music from many cultures.

Although Bhattacharya's more complex instrument most often stands out in these works, the concept of lead and rhythm guitarists falls by the wayside, as Brozman and Bhattacharya join in a true collaboration. It's a real blending of eastern and western sounds into something exciting and new.

It's exemplified by the joyous and almost silly "Digi Digi Dom Dom," based on these nonsense syllables. As the guitarists rapidly run through a cultural blend of melodies, from "Home on the Range" to Mexican and Cuban standards, Sutapa multi-tracks her vocals in a round, sometimes singing words, sometimes echoing the "takka-takka-tum" of the tabla, and everybody joins in on the "Digi-digi-dom-dom" choruses. The whole thing sounds like a soundtrack for a silly love scene in a Bollywood musical.

There are many other cross-cultural moments. "Maa," based on an ancient raga, blends Western harmonies with Eastern melodies. "Tagore Street Blues," a Brozman composition, is based on a 16-bar blues done in traditional Indian scales. "Bana Bali" is an African take on the raga form, blending the 4/4 beat of Mali with the 16-beat rhythm of Subhashis on tabla.

Perhaps the most evocative tracks are "Jibaner Gan (Song of Life)," a slow, dark and stately tune reflective of the forests of Assam; and "Loomba Re Loomba," which brings forth the sounds and rhythms of a camel caravanserai in old Calcutta. Sutapa's most moving moment is in "Sujan Re," the song of a woman whose fisherman husband has not returned from the sea, which can also be read as a devotional song: "Day and night, I've been sitting in the doorway, watching the path, waiting for you to come."

The package comes replete with excellent liner notes and photography, including lyrics in English and Hindi.

Anyone who enjoys slide guitar, Hawaiian music or Indian music will find something to like about this album. I'm probably biased toward guitar works, but Mahima gets my vote for best World Music CD of 2003.

[Gary Whitehouse]