UZBEKISTAN: Infinite Rhythm - Abbos Kosimov
Updated: Mar 6
Easy, relaxed vibes pulsate through this collection of upbeat, jazzy tunes
Two things set off warning signs within me when I was given this album to review. First off the bat was the fact that on the album cover of Infinite Rhythm, Abbos Kosimov himself is referred to as the ‘Master of Percussion’. I know many musicians have honorific titles like that – Elvis was the King of Rock ’n’ Roll, Madonna is the Queen of Pop, and even in our own sphere of world music, Khaled is the King of Raï and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is known as the Shahenshah (Emperor) of Qawwali – but it seemed presumptive to place it on the front cover. In addition, even though I am a seasoned fan of rock music, I don’t like – and never have liked – drum solos, yes, not even the drum solo in the middle of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love, which is a great song otherwise. I can appreciate a good drum track, like Phil Collins’s In the Air Tonight or Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, but songs where drums take centre stage, even when it is impressive, have never really done it for me. Infinite Rhythm, with its 12 songs and 71-minute runtime seemed like a struggle to get through, though I was of course aware that, being an Uzbek folk musician, Kosimov’s music was not like the rock drum solos to which I was accustomed, and so there remained hope that I would enjoy it. On the face of it, Kosimov had an uphill battle to climb to win me over. However, after several listens, not only does he completely earn his titles of Master of Percussion and Master of Doyra (which is a particular type of Uzbek drum), the music itself is enjoyable, complex, and varied throughout.
“Kosimov has a real understanding of how to make drumming interesting to listen to, by which I mean the complexity of the music complements and is integral to the song itself.”
The opening track, Rhythm Walk, starts with the distinctive sound of a karnay, a long woodwind instrument that produces a horn-like sound, played by Bobir Rafiqov. Considered the national instrument of Uzbekistan, using it to start his album seems to be like a rallying cry of sorts, a message to his Central Asian compatriots as well a signal to any Westerners like myself listening to pay attention. I have to admit it is a striking way to begin. The song itself is one of my favourites on the album, with some genuinely spectacular drumming on the doyra, which increases incrementally in tempo to a breathtaking finale. His hands must have been raw after recording that particular session. But, it’s great. Kosimov has a real understanding of how to make drumming interesting to listen to, by which I mean the complexity of the music complements and is integral to the song itself, and not just him showing off (which, I might add, he has every right to do). Some songs are frantic and fast-paced, like this, others are more contemplative and moodier, like Eleven Sacred Pools, or Magic in Tajik, and some are barebones drumming like Trotting Pony and Storms in Africa, and others have full instrumentation like Sultans of Soul or Dunes on the Horizon, but always Kosimov’s mastery of the doyra remains at the fore. Heart of Samarqand is another excellent track – one of the few to rely on vocals as well as other traditional instruments as well as the doyra – fair enough, his hands need a break, imagine how many blister plasters he’d have needed after recording this album – and it works as an extremely evocative song, painting in one’s mind images of ancient cities and bustling markets emblematic of Central Asia.
Though overall I do enjoy this album, it could have benefited from some trimming down. Creating 71 minutes worth of interesting percussion music is certainly impressive, yet still I believe it could have been even stronger if some of the weaker songs had been cut. That said, there are no real obvious clangers here, and as such I can understand why the album is as long as it is. All in all, it is a very impressive album with enjoyable elements as opposed to an enjoyable album with impressive elements. I didn’t revisit this album much during the time between the initial listen and the re-listen for this review, and that could be because it is so complex and intricate that there’s no hooks to bring you back, no standout songs with a catchy chorus. That said, I can’t hold it against the album, after all, that is not what it is about. It is an excellent showcase for Uzbek folk music, and it maintains a high level of quality throughout its hefty runtime, and that is no mean feat.