The second Yorkston/Thorne/Khan album, released by Domino in April, represents a confluence of currents, among them the north Indian sarangi; jazz-tinged bass, reminiscent in places of Danny Thompson; acoustic guitar that owes a debt to Elizabeth Cotton, Dick Gaughan and Mississippi John Hurt; and three very different vocalists. The combination is unusual: YTK’s Everything Sacred’, released in 2016, may be the only precedent. Yet while, on paper, the constituent elements might seem disparate, the new album is, if anything, even more coherent than its predecessor and boasts the truly magnificent title: Neuk Wight Delhi All-Stars’.
“The combination of a singer-songwriter, a jazz bassist and an Indian classical sarangi player is totally unheard of, says Khan. “For me, the lack of percussion, especially, gives me the freedom to do loads more sonically. I can be minimalistic and more extravagant at the same time. YTK is also different to anything else I’m involved in because I am constantly responding to the musical energies of James and Jon, trying to absorb the influences they bring to the table and react to that. It’s a process of sharing and learning.”
I first saw Yorkston Thorne Khan a year or two ago at the Great Escape festival. Their short show was a peculiar mixture of all their backgrounds and influences. I enjoyed everything they did, but when they finished with Sufi Song my eyes filled with tears and I was genuinely transported.
Yorkston Thorne Khan are a strange group. Superficially they seem to have little in common, but they clearly enjoy each other’s company enough to tour for a couple of years, record two albums, and keep producing surprising and beautiful music together. And they’re relaxed, confident, capable and utterly charming.
They all talk to the crowd with equal humour, humility and levity. Just as they play their instruments around each other whilst never treading on each other’s retrospective metaphorical toes. Suhail Yusuf Khan’s stunningly powerful voice and ethereal sarangi bring a heady exoticism to the acoustic guitar and double bass of Folk legend James Yorkston and peripatetic jazz bassist Jon Thorne, but they share everything equally, and never try to overpower each other. This music doesn’t need percussion to find deeply infectious hooks and beats in Thorne’s funky bass and Yorkston’s light touch with the guitar.
One thing that Yorkston brings is a love of Scottish surrealist poet/musician/comedian Ivor Cutler. I never thought I’d hear someone cover Little Black Buzzer but, amazingly, they make it work.
They play Sufi Song again today, and what a transcendent, sublime blending of their skills it is! Although Khan carries us away with his voice, they work together like a well-oiled machine, the looping guitar and insistent bass-line pushing them forward. Much like a raga, they weave repeating phrases around and around, and build steadily to a deeply dramatic ending.
Simply three guys who somehow met and got on, having fun and being absolutely brilliant at what they do!