Many Western musicians have played Indian music, especially with authentic Indian instruments. Several have even played Indian music with synthesizers and electric guitars, the latter of which can sound like sitars with the aid of effects pedals, signal processors, and amplifiers. However, I have never heard a Western musician play Indian music entirely on a single acoustic guitar – until now. Such is the brilliance of West Coast guitarist Rich Osborn.
Based in San Francisco, Osborn uses a nearly one-hundred-year-old acoustic guitar to channel the spirit of Indian ragas, a free-form improvisational style of Indian classical music that is structured loosely enough to allow musicians to take the music in whatever direction their muse leads them. As a result, Osborn starts with basic ideas and rough sketches and ends up creating music in the moment, basically composing as he performs. This gives the music a sense of spontaneity and unpredictability, making it a living, breathing, organic process.
Although Osborn’s compositions and the cultural inspiration behind them are remarkable, it is Osborn’s overall performance that is the real star. He plays with no accompaniment, and with little or no overdubs. All the sound is pretty much him in the act of musical creation. He plays lead, backup, melody, and harmony all at once. And if that weren’t enough, he manages to achieve the full sound of Indian ragas all by his lonesome. This is a rare art form delivered with masterful skill and craft by an even rarer artist.