If “Voice Of The Eagle” marked the peak of Robbie Basho’s immersion in Native American culture and history with an emotional gamut of vocal blockbusters, 1974’s “Zarthus” saw him in his Persian period.
“I went through my Japanese period, my Indian period,” he explained. “Now this is my Persian period. I really love classical Persian music; Hindu raga…in a Persian way.” To this end he announces the title track with swathes of guitar and a stately, even Fahey-like theme ushers in a Queen announcing herself before he ripples through one of those stretches where it seems like only Robbie can hear what he‘s aiming for and broadcasting the climb. ‘Khoda É Gul É Abe (The Lord Of The Blue Rose)’ is Basho’s take on a Persian raga, underpinned by tablas as he takes off on one of his classic flights with subtle stealth. ‘Mehera’ (Persian for Mary) sees Basho at the piano, maybe even better suited to his direct-line outpourings as his fingers follow his ode to this “beloved higher mind”. The only artist now working anywhere near this level of pure spiritual catharsis in their music isFrance’s Christian Vander, drummer in operatic progsters Magma, whose life mission is spent in homage to his idol John Coltrane.
The combination of the more controlled singing and delicate intricacy of Basho’s guitar work which graces ‘Khalil Gibran’ results in another pure affirmation of faith, nodding at The Lord’s Prayer midway, while ‘Bride Divine’ continues the shimmering, timeless celebration.
The side-long ‘Rhapsody In Druz’ could stand as the furthest out Basho took his total disregard for what was going on musically elsewhere with his most ambitious epic yet. Referencing Lebanon’s deeply religious Sufi mountain wise men (Druz), Basho uncurls rolling, shifting piano melodies, over which he delivers what he described “a spiritual journey of many short vignettes of going to, and coming from, linked together by a common theme of love”. He said the 20-minute epic was “the first little thing” towards a far bigger work along the lines of Franz Liszt’s ‘Hungarian Rhapsody’.
Tragically, he didn’t live long enough to realise his ambition. Going on to issue albums on Windham Hill and other labels, he died on 28 February 1986 after his chiropractor damaged his neck trying to perform an adjustment. He was only 45.
Robbie Basho never knew mass recognition when he alive and was almost forgotten for years as Fahey, Kottke and his contemporaries carved out their legends. Now this often astonishing album stands with “Voice Of The Eagle” as a snapshot of a voraciously unfettered talent at its most expansive peak. Or as he put it, “I decided to see how high and beautiful I could go, but then you leave the masses behind.”
By Kris Needs