When I met Kavus Torabi at the Deaf Institute in Manchester just before Christmas, it was the fifth time I’d seen him perform in a matter of months, firstly with Gong, then with Steve Hillage, then with both, and latterly twice with The Utopia Strong, his experimental trio with Steve Davis and Mike York. He was buzzing after an amazingly productive year, and when I suggested that he must be knackered, he quickly rejoindered with ‘Well, I’ve always wanted to be this busy’, marvelling at the breakneck speed of it all.
2020 was set to be (and may still be) just as productive. More gigs at the start in Ireland; a limited edition release of some new and particularly wigged out performances by The Utopia Strong; the release of this, his first complete solo album; further Steve Hillage Band and Gong tours (this time separate); and the promise of progress on a new Gong album, the third since Daevid Allen passed on the mantle entirely to Kavus and co before his death.
The new world order has already cancelled an exciting trip to South America, and Steve Hillage Band gigs in the early summer have followed suit. In the midst of it all, however, that promised solo album has materialised right on cue, in fact, somewhat ahead of schedule. It was preceded by a quite wonderful solo concert on Facebook Live which, I suspect will remain one of my pervading memories of the no-gig lockdown. From Kavus’ front room, with daughter Sima in tow on violin, this was a wonderfully intimate hour or so with guitar, voice and harmonium, and despite enjoying Kavus’ previous EP Solar Divination (reviewed here), this was the moment I truly ‘got’ him as a solo performer.
‘Hip to the Jag’ sets out Kavus’ stall fully as a solo artist: a diverse yet cohesive mix of gentle songs, invocations and genuinely inspiring moments, but always with a hint of something otherworldly, not entirely comfortable, just around the corner. The only previous time I’ve heard the harmonium played live was with Daevid Allen’s erstwhile partner Wandana Bruce (and prior to that on record in a somewhat different context with Ivor Cutler) , but on ‘Hip To The Jag’ it is used with intent, from its backing of the droned-out, chugging guitar of the opener ‘Chart The Way’, to the discordant ‘Radio To Their World’, (reprised from the EP), which bends the harmonium in all sorts of inappropriate directions.
Amongst the other early tracks ‘A Body of Work’ is a lovely piece akin to Soft Machine’s out-of-kilter ‘Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening’. Acoustic guitar and vocals follow each other in a delightful, obtuse melody to create the album’s first peak point. ‘The Peacock Throne’ in contrast is almost atonal, a sweep of sound akin to an orchestra of harmoniums tuning up, the flickering reverb sounds slowly engulfing the listener.
The centrepiece of the album consists of two beautiful pieces, both of which were aired during the broadcast. First up the simply stunning ‘You Broke My Fall’ – based around a simple two chord harmonium backdrop, which adds guitar, glissando, before opening out into a triumphant, uplifting progression of the main theme. ‘Cemetery of Light’ is similarly evocative but again so simple in its basic accompaniment, three rising and falling guitar chords. Even though Kavus turns in probably his only guitar solo of the album to conclude the piece, a brief, subtle turn, this relatively gentle fayre is the paradox of Kavus Torabi as a musician – the fiendishly complex Gong compositions (‘The Unspeakable Stands Revealed’ for example) , the guitar heroics of ‘Rejoice!’ and the wild man persona of live Gong performances are temporarily put aside for this most spiritual of projects. Even where there are hints of the song writing talents which helped produce ‘The Elemental’ or ‘Through Restless Seas’, they are subsumed into a gentler manifestation, the otherworldly ‘My Cold Rebirth’ being a case in point. ‘Where The Eyeless Walk’ recalls a little the folky hypnotism of Glastonbury bard Tim Hawthorn, before it is into the concluder ‘Slow Movements’, eerie and meditative and the longest piece aired, which closes out the album in something of a reverie.
I’ve heard some social media comments that ‘Hip To The Jag’, could be Kavus’ ‘Now Is The Happiest Time of Your Life’ moment, echoing a project where Daevid Allen’s showmanship was fully stripped away to reveal a more contemplative alter ego. That’s something of a high bar to aim for, but what’s for sure, the combination of this fine album and its associated performance on that Facebook feed have got me looking out for a solo Kavus set somewhere – whenever that may be…
Buy Hip To The Jag at https://kavustorabi.bandcamp.com/album/hip-to-the-jag