Thursday, August 8, 2019

Sliding "Across Oceans" : Ross Hammond and Poly Varghese

Ross Hammond and Poly Vaghese  Across Oceans
There is a recently released album by a Sacramento, CA based resonator guitarist Ross Hammond and the Indian Mohem Veena player Poly Varghese and if you like your music played without a net you owe it to yourself to experience this vibrant collaboration.

The cd is aptly titled Across Ocean. You might expect the music from these two culturally diverse musicians to be oceans apart as the title suggests, but in actuality these string masters have found a strong, aurally rooted commonality in the music they spontaneously created in these five musical mantras.

The Mohen Veena is an instrument built around a Hawaiian guitar. An expressive, drone producing, Southern Indian inspired slide guitar that was modified and created by the Indian master Vishna Mohan Bhatt. Bhatt taught and was mentor to the musician Poly Varghese, who has become quite proficient at this unique instrument and is also an experimental theater actor.


Mohen Veena

I have followed the Californian based Ross Hammond for a while and he is a master of the soulful, Americana sound of the steel resonator guitar that is used predominantly in country, bluegrass and blues music. These two met at a concert in Sacramento and were inspired to play together, explore their common love of improvisation and use the expressive use of the slide over strings to make their music.


Ross Hammond (photo credit unknown)

The songs are impromptu elaborations that bring out the best of these creative artists. They establish a symbiotic connection when they play together; a mood created when the vibe is right, and the music is flowing.  The titles include “The First Glimpse of the Morning,” “Rashmon Blues,” Global Blues,” “For Mary Oliver” and “Across Oceans.”  The music has a spiritual element to it. Two instruments that can lead you on an unexpected journey of exploration and wonder, if you let yourself be absorbed by it.

The opener “The First Glimpse of the Morning” is a musical representation of dawn accentuated by the duel sounds of the two slide masters. The men listen intently, sometimes providing background, sometimes introducing a new direction. The intensity of their instruments rise in anticipation like the radiance of the morning sun.  The blue-based tunes like “Rashmon Blues” and “Global Blues” seem to provide the basis for the most exciting, loose improvisational excursions from both these players.  Hammond’s resonator has a warm, melodic tone and Varghese’s Mohenn Veena offers a higher pitched, drone-based sound that creates a spiritual chant-like undertone to the music.

Well respected American poet Mary Oliver recently passed at the age of eighty-three in Florida in January of 2019. Hammond’s “For Mary Oliver” is a dedication to the poet whose work was a helpful inspiration to the guitarist. The song is a mournful combination of Hammond’s modulating slide work and Varghese’s cascading, sitar-like explorations. 

 “Across Oceans” is a wonderfully peaceful song with Hammond playing a delicate finger-picked guitar and some bottle slide. Varghese finds his way into some country-inspired slide guitar sound on his Mohen Veena. The music is a fusion; two identities that merge from two cultures Indian and American. Hammond and Varghese create an inspiring conversation, trading ideas, leading each other into new and exciting musical directions, and they take us willingly along with them.

There is another element to this music. Ross Hammond and Poly Varghese are two travelers from different worlds, from Across Oceans, who have found a bond in their music and in their cultural differences. If we all could learn this simple lesson of inclusion there is no doubt that this would be a lot better world to live in.

You can listen to and buy his album by clicking here.


Ross Hammond on Resonator Guitar "Codes"



Poly Varghese: