Dream Shanti is the latest project to evolve under the aegis of woodwind player Jeff Coffin, a former member of Béla Fleck & the Flecktones who has also put in time with the Dave Matthews Band and leads his own ensemble, Jeff Coffin & the Mu’tet. Here he gathers an estimable group of musicians from India (tabla player Subrata Bhattacharya and sitarist Indrajit Banerjee), Japan (Ryoko Suzuki on harmonium), and the U.S. (Jordan Perlson, Dave Matthews henchman Carter Beauford, and Flecktone Roy “Futureman” Wooten on drums and percussion, Chris Walters on piano, and Stefan Lessard, also from the Matthews band, on bass) to create an unselfconscious coming together of aesthetics and spirit that only occasionally crosses the line into archness.
Historically, many “East/West” fusions of this nature have emphasized grafting Western instrumentation onto Indian scalar, harmonic, and rhythmic frameworks. Coffin & Co. do plenty of that (“Miles Meets the Mahatma,” “Dancing with the Moon,” the title track), but they also take things in the opposite direction: The opening track, “Joy,” finds the classical Eastern instrumental voices dancing unfettered in a free-spirited, pop-brightened romp. “Take It to the Bridge,” updating James Brown’s concept of transforming an entire ensemble into a rhythm instrument, goes even further: Hearing instruments like tablas and sitars, usually associated with meditative spirituality, in a tougher, sweatier context is a little surreal, but once you get used to the climate change, it’s bracing and fun, with Beauford’s on-the-one funk beat, Coffin’s neo-Maceo alto sax screams, and Bhattacharya‘s rhythmic vocal scatting keeping the party cooking.
Only during “Live in 5,” on which the drums sound uncharacteristically ponderous and rock-heavy, does the “fusion” conceit get labored. But even here, the interweaving of voices (guitar, sitar, Coffin’s bass clarinet and flute) imbues the proceedings with redemptive, and deeply satisfying, color and depth.