Natacha Atlas’s previous work, both with electro-world-dance alchemists Transglobal Underground, and on solo albums like Ayeshteni and Diaspora, has mostly combined the chugging rhythms of the dancefloor with exotic Eastern and Arabian melodies – not unlike a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer in the middle of Ministry of Sound.
But where these previous offerings made a combined appeal to both head and feet – and most parts in between – this new “project” (labelled as such, presumably, to distinguish it from the rest of Natacha’s work) makes a direct pitch to the intellect, offering complex, dream-like pieces that draw, for their subject matter, on Sufi epigrams and phrases from the work of the Eastern mystic Gurdjieff (a major influence, incidentally, on King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, but that’s another story).
Gurdjieff taught that the individual can only achieve true spiritual fulfilment through strict discipline and work – both of which free the would-be acolyte from the state of semi-torpor in which most of us drift through our lives. Natacha makes no such lofty claims for the music on this album, but the delicate beauty of Etheric Messages and the well named Therapeutic Space, certainly encourages a contemplative state of mind – even if experienced, as this most certainly will be, in a chill-out room at 4am.
That’s not to say this is bland, background muzak – far from it. True appreciation of the album’s many treasures demands a certain amount of concentration on the part of the listener (Gurdjieff would have approved) as Natacha and co-producer Marc Eagleton weave their magic in the company of qanun wizard Abdallah Chahady, zither maestro Andrew Cronshaw, Greek group Avaton, violinist Salim Benouni and Natacha’s old Transglobal Underground colleague Hamid Mantu.
Natacha once described herself as a “human Gaza Strip” – a reference to the complex influences that have shaped her music and her life, and such influences are very much on show here. Predominant are the North African and Arabic textures and melodies that have become her signature, and these are interweaved with psychedelic phased guitars (on the rather sombre Sobek On The Prowl) and the cyclical rhythms of Western minimalism (themselves derived from Indian music).
Another album is already in the works – a follow-up to the rather more energetic Ayeshteni – but Natacha will find it hard to top this.