Rachel Grimes first came to prominence as the composer of a soundtrack that utilised a piano and small ensemble – Rachel’s Music for Egon Schiele, written for a stage play and which is rightfully regarded as a masterpiece of modern chamber music (by the contributors to this site, at the very least). Now, over 25 years later, Rachel Grimes is the composer of a soundtrack that utilises a piano and a small ensemble (of two), and pleasingly The Doctor From India holds its own against the earlier work in terms of mood and composition. Like that album, you don’t need to see the source material to appreciate the music.
Rachel Grimes doesn’t need many ingredients to create her works, but the scope of The Doctor From India has allowed the addition of Jacob Duncan (on saxophone and flute) and Scott Moore (on violin). Jeremy Frindel, the film’s director obviously has good ears, as his previous work – One Track Heart, a documentary released in 2012 – had J. Mascis and Devadas providing the music. That was about a musician in the 1970s who trekked from New York to India on a spiritual quest, and eventually returned as a teacher and chant master. The Doctor From India follows Dr Vasant Lad’s mission from India to the West, bringing the ancient health care approach of Ayurveda to a new audience. Ayurveda is, as he explains it, living in balance and harmony with your environment – which sounds like a hippie-era fad but on reflection seems like a pretty good notion at this point when big pharma charge ridiculous amounts for life-saving medicine. Medicine doesn’t grow on trees, the corporations claim. Try these leaves, suggest followers of Ayurveda.
‘Balance’ and ‘harmony’ are the key words here, and they have arguably always informed Rachel Grimes’ compositions; there’s never a sense of a wasted note, and here all the pieces fit together beautifully. It’s not always the case with soundtracks, but as this is a documentary there isn’t any need for artificially heightened moods. What we have is a range of gorgeous interwoven pieces, which vary from the understated plucked strings of “Humble Beginnings” through the brief harp interlude of “The City Breathes” to the lush pastoral landscapes of “The World Is You”, a piano and organ work that presumably plays out over the end credits. There are hints of other inspirations which I think may stem from the director’s requests, such as the Philip Glass-sounding of “The Flowering Of Ayurveda”; “Ancestral Home” has the briefest nod to Ralph Vaughn-Williams’ The Lark Ascending too.
Drawing a line from Music From Egon Schiele to this album is not to overlook any of Rachel Grimes’ other works but there does seem to be something a little bit extra special about this album; it should send other soundtrack commissions her way in the near future and she may be reaching wider cinema audiences soon. In the meanwhile, stick on this record, kick off your shoes, and dig your feet into the soil. The Doctor From India – it’s good for what ails you. (Jeremy Bye)