Aided by a group of Thai friends, in 2018 Morinaga travelled to the Maha Sarakham province in the Isan region, arranging to meet Simla in a remote spot surrounded by rice fields. Then and there, Morinaga recorded the solo performances heard on the LP’s first side. At Morinaga’s request, Simla began with a rendition of the train song ‘Lot Fay Tay Lang’. Beginning with long tones that seem to mimic a train horn, the performance soon moves into a rapid chugging rhythm, interrupted at points by vocal exclamations and the remarkable timbre Simla produces by singing through the khene. To listeners unfamiliar with Thai music, the pentatonic scales and rhythmic chug of many of the pieces can have surprising echoes of the rawest American blues. The range of Simla’s performance is astonishing, moving from compulsive rhythmic workouts on single chords and rapid-fire runs of single notes to gentle sing-song melodies, and using a fascinating array of techniques, including a rapid tremolo that sometimes sounds almost electronic.
Later the same day, Morinaga followed Simla to a cattle shed where he met percussionist Mali Moodsansee to play some molam (folk songs found in Isan and neighbouring Laos), with Pattardon Ekchatree joining in on cymbal. At times, these molam songs have a wistful, romantic character quite different from the solo pieces. Backed up by the propulsive hand drums, Simla again dazzles with his melodic fluidity, rhythmic drive, and wild displays of unorthodox technique.
As Morinaga writes, ‘It felt like they had been playing together so long that their breathing was perfectly in sync, and it was like listening to the precision of James Brown’s funk’. Accompanied by extensive liner notes by Morinaga detailing the day of recording, this is a stunning document of a master musician, seamlessly integrating tradition and innovation.