Swimming in Bengal – “Walking Alone”

Posted by on July 22, 2014


Sacramento trio Swimming in Bengal makes music like hookah smoke. Slow, sensual and snakish, their Indian-influenced blend of drone and raga builds exponentially past mere Eastern imitation and into a state of pure, hypnotic Param dhama. Since 2011’s Early Plunges Jed Brewer (gourd), Tony Passarell (sax, bass, percussion) and Alex Jenkins (tablas) have worked slowly – this year’s excellent Vol. 1 on Portland’s Lather Records is only their second release and the first with label backing.

But when you hear Swimming in Bengal it all becomes clear. So delicate and intricate are their compositions that it’s no wonder they take years to master – the patience that must go into their construct is worthy of the Godheads the resulting music evokes.

Yet there is something that grounds the band, keeping them earthly even when all around them begins to take flight. The elephants they refer to in their track titles and album artwork are perhaps an integral detail; as well as summoning Ganesha and Indra’s Airavata, the very fact they’re pictured swimming on the covers of both Early Plunges and Vol. 1 lends the enclosed music a definite element of weightless joy that is nonetheless forever tethered to the arid ground it must eventually set foot upon. Post-rock progression and flourishes of jazz help to maintain an equilibrium that ensures the trio doesn’t stray too far into all-out hippiedom and bears comparison with similarly-minded outfits like Eternal Tapestry or solo explorers such as Bird People.

“Walking Alone” is Vol. 1‘s long opening statement, building upwards from a simple weave of percussion and quivering gourd into an expansive drape of minute detail. It exhibits Swimming in Bengal at their most transcendent point before “Scattered” and “Slow Burn” begin to bring things back down; the feeling of mystic abandonment that grows to an almost frantic extent throughout “Walking Alone” is tangible in an almost heartbreaking sense – this is where the lost must work hard to find their place on this plain or the next. Vol. 1 is available now via Lather Records’ Bandcamp.