Used in Indian classical dance and theater, Navarasa refers to the nine emotions -- nava meaning "nine" and rasa meaning "emotion" -- that humans most often show in any given situation. Ranging from anger and disgust to laughter and courage, this menu of expressions offers a broad palette from which an artist may attempt to translate. With their peculiar confluence of U.K. and Hindustani folk, jazz, and Sufism, the nimble trio of James Yorkston (guitar, vocals), Jon Thorne (double bass, vocals), and Suhail Yusuf Khan (sarangi, vocals) gamely offer their own adaptation of the Navarasa on their third collaborative outing. Culturally, the group's East-meets-West format remains vaguely exotic, if not particularly shocking, though their 2016 debut felt remarkably fresh and chock-full of original ideas and arrangements. They took it a step further on 2017's Neuk Wight Delhi All-Stars, deepening their musical conversation and expanding their range and skill. United this time under a conceptual banner, Yorkston/Thorne/Khan continue to thrive, devoting a single piece -- in their typically sparse manner -- to each of the Navarasa's nine emotions. Despite its structural conceit, the results are looser than one might expect and woven through with the trio's distinctive mix of patience, pathos, and subtle whimsy. Mirroring his ethereal sarangi bowings, Khan's aching vocals introduce the album on "Karuna," expressing sorrow with a gentle tranquility which soon gives way to Yorkston's strangely wistful adaptation of the Scottish traditional song "The Shearing's Not for You," which here is meant to represent disgust. The trio's now-established instrumental combo feels at home in such a setting, with Khan's eerie sarangi working its magic as naturally in the highlands of Scotland as in India. As a player, Thorne again takes the more neutral role that bridges the tonal gap, though he continues to shine as a lyricist and vocalist on the original standout "Song for Oddur," a bittersweet harmonica-assisted ode representing love and beauty. One of the more affecting collaborations here is an a cappella reading of the British ballad "Twa Brothers." Evoking the emotions of fear and terror, the dark tale of accidental fratricide builds in intensity as Yorkston's lead vocal is punctuated by Khan's increasingly frantic, tabla-like rhythmic exhalations amid the menacing sound of crows in the distance. The instrumental pieces are a bit harder to suss out with, both "The North Carr" (laughter) and "Darbari" (peace/tranquility) coming across as more mournful than their subjects might suggest. As a whole, though, Navarasa: Nine Emotions is another strong effort from this agile and unexpectedly prolific trio.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger