The odyssey that would lead British musician Stephen Dunster to his spiritual name of Chinmaya began during a post-college jaunt through Afghanistan and India, where he studied local music, eventually becoming enamored of the sarod (a kind of cross between sitar and guitar) at a performance by Amjad Ali Khan. Dunster spent the next 13 years studying the instrument, achieving mastery and earning his new spiritual name before returning to his native lands to share what he had learned. Paul McCartney heard him play and was so entranced he invited him to play at his 2002 wedding to Heather Mills. A collection of Dunster’s favorite tracks from his 13 albums for the New Earth label, Land of the Buddhas is a clear indicator of what McCartney was so enamored by; it’s haunting in intimacy and quietly sweeping in its breadth and scope.
Ranging comfortably over an array of spiritual styles, Land of the Buddhas opens with the straightforward, spiritually rooted “Rag Shivranjani,” which blazes warmly along with the spine-tingling slide sound of the tamboura and the tablas of Manish Vyas. Dunster’s lyrical sarod later accompanies wooden flute tranquility (“Gir Forest”), classical acoustic guitar (“Chance Finding”) and ghostly Asiatic drones in the mysterious “Full Moon,” which seethes forward on nerve-tingling Indian slide guitar and clay pot percussion as Dunster’s sarod slithers and slides around the shadows, etching in barely tangible forms of divine, transitory figures in the flames.
Whatever the accompanying instruments or style variant, Dunster’s sarod is always at the emotional center – at once rooting, homey and forever alien in its mysterious yet comforting sound. We can feel eternity stepping in and out of the river of time like a nervous bather via Dunster’s knowingly succinct instrumentation.Land of the Buddhas works both as a meditation/healing arts disc and a great introduction to the sounds of the Indian continent for anyone interested in Eastern spiritual music but not sure just where along the river to dive in. As the artist himself puts it: “If you’ve ever wondered which Chinmaya Dunster CD to buy, this is it!” With his unerring ear for mixing eastern and western musical ideas, Dunster makes Land of the Buddhas inviting enough for even the most wayward and unwitting lost traveler.
April 2014 | DailyOm.com