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New Pick of the Week

October 06, 1994|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN

Various Artists

"Trance Planet"

Worldly Music/Triloka Records

When you feel more like swaying than praying, spiritual but not ritual, "Trance Planet" has the potential to take you that one realm beyond with nary a note of preachiness.

Intelligently compiled by world music radio producer Tom Schnabel of KCRW, Santa Monica, "Trance Planet" is a world music sampler of virtuosos playing their traditional music through contemporary lenses, in the process often imparting a sensual overlay to the divine and primal impulses.

Each of the 14 tracks seems to bypass the brain and speak directly to the heart, the underlying rhythms drawing you inexorably into the music and outside of yourself. Content can be decidedly secular, as on the gently affecting first track, "Nwahulwana" by the Orchestra Marrabenta Star de Mocambique, wherein vocalist Wazimbo laments about women who end up as prostitutes, and on the final track, the lone live track, Latin American singer Mercedes Sosa's persuasively powerful "Gracias a la Vida."

Traditional Indian music seems to go country-Western when Ali Akbar Khan, master of the sarod, a 25 metal-stringed instrument, offers his take on a folk song from the Indian desert province of Rajasthan in "Two Lovers." Bringing ecstasy (the word is not used casually) to the album is qawalli singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, something of a scat-singing Sufi priest or prophet; he puts a contemporary spin on his rapturous art in "The Game."

The album also includes some real ear-stretchers.

From Tuva, between Mongolia and Siberia, comes Sainkho's "Tanola Nomads," a jarringly contemporary take on the region's indigenous music; that whistling you hear is throat-singing, a technique by which two or more tones are produced simultaneously. New York native Jai Uttal studied sarod with Ali Akbar Khan, but his "Petition to Ram" starts off with piano riffs before settling into a mix with far-flung influences.

Most fascinating of all, however, is the Tahitian Choir's "Morotiri Nei," from the island of Rapa Iti; the song's tonality eerily shifts downward by steps, in midtone. It couldn't be more different from the sensual and visceral rhythms of Hassan Erraji's "Hammouda," yet they make perfect album mates.

A promotional piece on "Trance Planet" says that listening to the album is "like listening to the heartbeat of humanity." There's something to that.

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