This Shye Ben Tzur article was written by Siobhan Scarlett, a Gigsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson.
Last year, Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood and Israeli musician Shye Ben Tzur set themselves up in Northern Indian palace Mehrangarh Fort. Long-time Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich joined them with the contents of the band’s studio. Documented by filmmaker Paul Anderson and together with The Rajasthan Express – a collective of 19 Israeli and Rajasthani-Indian musicians – they made a collaborative album of traditional Indian music. The outcome, as ever with Jonny Greenwood work, is both exquisitely studied and magnificent.
Although the album has a complex backstory and uses multilingual lyrics (Hebrew, Hindi, and Urdu), ‘Junun’ is a fairly accessible album. Aamir Bhiyani’s rhythmical and fresh trumpet glides out over programmed and acoustic percussion during the first minute of the album’s opener and title track, thus establishing its driving celebratory feel. The singer then brings in a warm mystical sound with Sufi poetry. At first you feel this piece could lose your attention, but the tempo drops down, bringing the ensemble into full glory.
There are interesting musical touches galore here, which make Ben Tzur’s songs feel so emotionally understandable. The bowed strings of ‘Hu’ have an exposed quality that contrasts well with the song’s more strong vocal exclamations.
Ben Tzur’s light and airy flute playing complements Greenwood’s minimal and twinkly digital programming on the opening of ‘Kalandar’, whilst vocal-driven track ‘Eloah’ also adds to the vast range of textures this album has to offer.
‘Chala Vahi Des’ begins with a slow build of beautiful melancholic vocals, before hitting into a harmonium-and-drums beat. Towards the end of this track, Greenwood’s funky bass style enters into an interchange with the vocalists and drums. This track has such a relentless beat, you cannot help but move with the rhythm.
‘Allah Elohim’, a catchy triple time track features the haunting, sliding tones of the ondes Martenot, an early electronic-keyboard instrument that is one of Greenwood’s favourites. It injects an intense atmosphere, which is reminiscent of Greenwood’s Kid A style. This is the main track in which one can hear Greenwood’s prominence. It is one of the rare moments on ‘Junun’ where the sounds are recognisably influenced by Greenwood‘s other work.
‘Junun’ is an accessible album which allows listeners to try otherwise unfamiliar music in today’s market, in which this would be classed as ‘world music’. Ultimately though, ‘Junun’ is not a Greenwood solo album. The guitarist and his normally hands-on producer are enablers, with Tzur as the star, which makes a really fresh piece of work. This might upset Radiohead fans expecting a side project, but this should not detract from what is a fundamentally stimulating record.