Some people’s idea of travel is to insulate themselves from the local culture, while others like to wallow in it. The former bounce from plane to hotel to tour bus to tourist attraction, perhaps rubbing shoulders with the “natives” in a market or, gulp, a restaurant.
The latter try to get to grips with everything from the public transport system to the food and even the language. The parallels with world music are obvious. Much of the output in this all-encompassing category suggests musicians having flirtations rather than love affairs. Or perhaps the metaphor should be food-based: Want instant Indian? Just add sitar. Instant Celtic? That will be a bodhran and a pint of Guinness.
Kim Sanders is a “wallower” who has immersed himself in the music of Bulgaria, Macedonia and Turkey, in particular. These cultures inform his vocabulary as an improviser and contribute instruments to his arsenal.
But because he is not a Bulgarian, Macedonian or Turk, and because he is an improvising artist, he then looks to cook these influences up in his own pot, and what comes to the boil is more home-made than homage.
The line-up of his band ensures this. Besides his own tenor saxophone, assorted flutes, bagpipes and double-reed instruments, he has the double-bass of Steve Elphick and the tablas of Bobby Singh. The band’s texture immediately heaves the pot into a kind of musical fantasy land. However much the bass throbbed and goat-skinned bagpipes wailed Balkan laments, however much the deft rhythms came in time signatures of 10/8 and 18/8, the very sound of the tablas drew us to an imaginary land in central Asia, perhaps colonised by eastern Europeans and keen on jazz.
This was offset somewhat when the trio was joined by Peter Kennard on tambourines and dhaf (a bodhran-like drum played with the hands). He helped pull the music west of Afghanistan again, but it remained a fascinating cultural tug of war.
I will never view animals in quite the same way after seeing Sanders’ inflated managerie of bagpipes. But it was the saxophone that most warmed the blood: a big, braying, honking beast of a thing that could unexpectedly whisper sweet nothings in your ear.
– John Shand, Sydney Morning Herald