BY LEAPS AND BOUNDS
Byline: Nandini D’Souza
NEW YORK — Kurt Vonnegut and Robbie Williams on the same CD? “It’s kinky,” says Duncan Bridgeman.
And that’s just the beginning. For “1 Giant Leap,” a CD/DVD Bridgeman wrote and filmed with partner Jamie Catto, formerly of the band Faithless, the English duo spent six months traveling through five continents recording “people who inspired us through our lives,” he says. Their list of 47 collaborators reads like a who’s who of influential musicians, authors, spiritual leaders and pop icons, among them Dennis Hopper, Michael Stipe, Ram Dass, Grant Lee Phillips, Baaba Maal and Asha Bhosle.
The resulting 12 tracks are more than just a feel-good compilation of Kumbaya sing-alongs. Each focuses on at least one shared human experience — love, sex, money, death, etc. — without waxing overly philosophical. The CD won’t necessarily be relegated to the World Beat section at HMV, either, since such heavy-hitters as Brian Eno, Stipe and Williams are involved. Bridgeman and Catto will be presenting “1 Giant Leap” tomorrow night at the Angel Orensanz Foundation.
Starting in Senegal, the duo moved east, from Africa to Asia, Australasia, North America and finally Europe. They sought artists out, literally landing on doorsteps with just one laptop and two digital cameras. The simple equipment allowed them to improvise and move quickly from place to place. Most of the recordings were happy accidents. “We just wanted to meet good musicians,” Bridgeman says. “The best sessions we did were with people we met on the street.”
“In Rajasthan, we didn’t go to see anyone in particular,” Bridgeman explains, “but to find a particular style of music.” That’s how they bumped into Bhosle, a Bollywood legend who has sung in more than 1,000 movies. They spotted her lunching in a Jaipur hotel and asked her to sing for them. “We went out to the garden, set up under a tree and waited for her to finish her curry,” Bridgeman recalls. She laid down her track in 20 minutes. Three months later, they layered in Michael Stipe’s vocals from the REM frontman’s Athens, Ga., garden. The final version of the song, “The Way You Dream,” is a heavenly melody that spins his weather-beaten voice with her soft Hindi crooning.
They also caught Kurt Vonnegut on the fly. After cold-calling him, they cabbed it to a New York City apartment to record him in a hurry. Vonnegut opens the song “Daphne,” riffing on music: “It is so extraordinarily full of magic. In tough times of my life, I can listen to music and it makes such a difference.” His musings quickly swell into harmonic bursts from Johannesburg’s Mahotella Queens. But unlikely pairings are what make the album work, including the hip-hop/pop number “My Culture” with Robbie Williams and DJ Maxi Jazz.
With such a mind-boggling number of artists and locations, things could have gone horribly wrong, but Bridgeman insists that the project never overwhelmed them. “It was only when we finished it, sat back and looked at it that we thought, ‘How the hell did we do that?”‘
Though “1 Giant Leap” is receiving glowing reports from all continents, he still has his doubts: “People may freak out and say that it’s a load of rubbish.”