Get local news delivered straight to your phone

We can't make City Paper without you

$
$
$

Your contribution is appreciated.

“World music’’ usually refers to (a) African or Asian musicians incorporating elements of Western pop or (b) Western musicians borrowing African or Asian melodic, rhythmic, or tonal motifs. But there’s a growing, and encouraging, trend of non-Western musicians experimenting with styles from non-Western traditions beyond their own. A prime example, alas, is not A.R. Rahman’s Between Heaven and Earth. Adapted from a score the South Indian filmi-music prodigy composed for a Chinese flick, Warriors of Heaven and Earth, the 15-part, 51-minute suite follows an old route that’s lately become very fashionable: the Silk Road. Yet rather than directly juxtapose Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Turkish styles, Rahman has suspended them in the aspic of European light-classical music. Such Chinese instruments as erhu (a two-string zither) and dizi (a buzzing flute) are heard, and Japanese taiko (drums) and metallic percussion punctuate two of the livelier, more engaging pieces, “Escape’’ and “Dacoit Duel.’’ But most of the suite belongs to the Czech Film Orchestra and Chorus, which during such elegies as “Buddha’s Remains’’ swells to the sort of symphonic bluster associated with moments of self-sacrifice mimed by Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson. The problem is not that the musically chameleonlike Rahman can’t write orchestral music; it’s that he can, all too glibly. The Czech-dominated passages would probably be more interesting if the composer had begun his career playing the sitar rather than the piano. Perhaps the central issue, however, is not musical heritage but form: Rahman is foremost a songwriter. The album’s standout track is “Warriors in Peace,’’ a sinuous, clattering Hindi song that would uplift any Bollywood soundtrack—or the next Tricky album. (The tune is also included in a less interesting English-language version.) Between Heaven and Earth may be the composer’s first official, nonanthology album released in the United States, but it can’t compete with the song-oriented Rahman import CDs behind the cash register at most of the area’s Indian groceries.

—Mark Jenkins