Many people will have arrived at this because it features Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. He managed to shrug off any guitar-hero claims well over a decade ago and is as revered these days for his film score work as for his (still) key role in the development of Radiohead’s sound. Here you will hear him play guitar – the track Allah Elohim is a revelation, in that it takes from Bollywood and Qawwali musics but has this distinct Greenwood guitar line as thread through it, making it – somewhat/somehow Radiohead-influenced, despite, as is the case with all of the glorious music on Junjun, coming from the pen and mind of Israeli singer/composer Shye Ben Tzur.
If Shye Ben is the star here – and he is – The Rajasthan Express, a 19-piece backing ensemble, offers stunningly clever ‘background’ support. The various “Indian music” textures, rhythms and melodic drive from The Rajasthan Express takes each piece, sonically, to its destination – each and every song across the double album arrives somewhere different, occupies its own space.
Greenwood then is the tourist? Yes. But he’s a tourist in the sense of Robert Plant and Peter Gabriel’s excursions. He’s not Sting. Nor is he Paul Simon. This is no thunder-stealer, this is a multi-talented composer seeking a new space, he’s never the scene-stealing guitarist or even keyboardist on this record. His name might be what attracts a lot of people to the party but his involvement is sincere, serene as well.
Yes, Greenwood was flanked by buddies, his Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich captured and shaped this sound. And his frequent film collaborator Paul Thomas Anderson was on hand to film a documentary that aims to promote but also contextualise the music – a la Buena Vista Social Club.
But again, these are not things to be mocked, this is light-shining, finding a pocket of music hitherto unexplored for so many and yet so instantly infectious as the supple rhythms and the hypnotic mantra-like vocals create an easy spell to live inside.
Greenwood does introduce electronic elements to the organic ensemble sound (most stunningly on Kalandar where he locks into a duet/duel with Shye Ben Tzur’s dreamy flute) and there’s celebratory brass (Julus) that gives a proudly symphonic feel to a type of dirt-music.
Junjun is a set of revelations – an amazing exploration of music from great conjurers. We’re lucky to have something like this made so accessible.