Our Easter review is a tribute to the lost years of Jesus, during which he purportedly traveled throughout the Middle East, studying other traditions and learning about the diversity of humanity. This is all speculation, but it’s a compelling story, compelling enough that Kit Wilmans Fegradoe felt it worthy of deeper excavation. The composer chose to retrace Jesus’ path, albeit in spirit rather than in geography. Over the course of a year, he visited churches and temples, studied eastern philosophies, and picked up a few instruments along the way, which begs the question: what would Jesus sound like if he never spoke?
Issa is one answer. There are many, as Jesus has been the inspiration for everything from plainsong to heavy metal. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the music that he has inspired is that the genre termed “Christian music” (search for it on iTunes) is all so similar, devoid of risk; even the heaviest bands tend to follow a formula. The Gospels portray Jesus as the opposite: a teacher and a provocateur. Issa represents the journey itself, and as such serves as an intelligent alternative to praise and worship music. Each has its place, but there’s not enough of this.
In tone, if not in subject, the album is a descendent of Peter Gabriel’s Passion. Fegradoe doesn’t use a pop or rock setup, but integrates the sounds of guest musicians into a larger setting. The technique of laying out various sounds and deciding how they might fit together is similar to that of sifting through philosophies or historical clues. As a person in his early twenties, Fegradoe is exactly where he might be expected to be in life: seeking, not yet committed, but eager to learn.
The artist does choose to adopt a specific tone: reverent throughout, with low to mid-volumes and meditative tempos. Fegradoe’s narrative has Issa setting out on the Silk Road, joining first merchants, then brahmans, narrowly escaping death as he begins to preach to the poor. This may be a little much in terms of conflict, as the music fails to echo the danger; “Shruti” descends into an extended drone that is more peaceful than distraught. “Mary” fits better, a vocal piece recalling a song his mother used to sing to him. In every piece, Fegradoe seems to make the same decision: that Jesus should sound like peace. Even within Christianity there is dissension over this point, as many gravitate to the religion’s more confrontational points, ignoring the fact that on many subjects, Jesus never said a word.
The album’s second half is Buddhist in nature, populated by bells and singing bowls. These too tend to be on the quiet side. Fegradoe misses out on a great opportunity by being too reverent, but brings something new to the table by concentrating on mood rather than dogma. The first few blossoming minutes of the 18-minute “Nabbana” are the album’s finest: richly orchestrated, like seeds that fall on good soil and yield thirty, sixty, even a hundred times more than what was planted. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 14 April