State of Bengal Visual Audio

State of Bengal - a moniker for DJ/producer Sam Zaman - came to prominence as part of the Anokha club collective in London's East End and contributed two tracks to a brilliant melee of Asian electronic music compiled by Talvin Singh in 1996. Since then, it has been a question of waiting for more ingenuity from Zaman and his collective. Visual Audio brings together 12 tracks that range from a seamless blend of Bengali folk aesthetics with dance music to drum & bass sensibilities driven by sitar-mimicking guitars. "Flight IC 408" and "Chittagong Chill," previously on the Anokha compilation, return here as less sparse versions, fore-grounding jazz-inspired saxophones and greater intricacy in instrumentation. The track "Elephant Ride" sets the tone for Zaman's entire concept, evoking the image of its title. A meditative, lumbering track with a sampled shahnai (Central Asian oboe) melody, it combines Indian percussion with dance beats that make for a sense of urgency without giving up a laid-back dub groove. While the first half is an idiosyncratic combination of violins, tabla and Bengali vocals with infectious dance beats, the latter half of the album - particularly tracks like "Hunters" and "Ek Bullet" - returns to the minimalist sound so powerfully created in the Anokha tracks. But Zaman manages the transition and mood as the myriad instruments drop out and allow for his talents as a DJ/producer to emerge. As State of Bengal counterparts Asian Dub Foundation point out, this isn't "fusion music" but instead a tribute to the divergent sounds that many of us grew up on, from classical Karnaktic music and folk songs to dub and reggae. Zaman pays his tribute with real class. (Six Degrees)