Music: Beyond Raga

Michael Manring and Todd Mosby blend genres

By Lily O’Brien

“Many of my friends are seeking to make music that’s relevant in this extraordinary time we’re living through,” says Grammy- and Bammy-nominated bass player Michael Manring. He and guitarist Todd Mosby will be performing at Fenix in San Rafael as part of Mosby’s New Horizons Ensemble. They have created a sound that they believe reflects the impact that new technologies and cross-cultural influences have had on music.

Earlier this year, Mosby released his debut recording with the New Horizons Ensemble, On Eagle Mountain, produced by Will Ackerman, the Grammy Award–winning, guitarist, producer and founder of Windham Hill Records, the iconic label known for outstanding new age music.

The group, which Mosby calls “a once-in-a-lifetime ensemble,” also includes Grammy-winning percussionist Jeff Haynes, multi-instrumentalist Premik Russell Tubbs and Bryan and Lola Toben, a duo from St. Louis, on vocals, piano and guitar.

They create a dreamy, melodic blend of Western jazzy-folksy, new age acoustic guitar music, with Eastern percussive rhythms and shimmering Indian sitar-style riffs; some songs are slow, soulful and raga-like, others are upbeat, bouncy and jazzy.

“We’re trying to find balances between old and new, high-tech and low-tech, improvisation and pre-planning, East and West, complexity and simplicity, emotion and intellect,” says Manring. To do this, they have both created unique new instruments.

Mosby, a native of St. Louis, spent many years studying Indian classical music, along with bluegrass, folk and classical. He was eventually inspired to create his own instrument—the Imrat Guitar, a hybrid of guitar and sitar. “As cultures mesh, new instruments need to be designed,” Mosby says. “The Imrat Guitar allows western musicians to access eastern melody and phrasing, and allows eastern musicians to access chords.”

Manring, a Bay Area resident for 30 years who has played on numerous Windham Hill recordings, is well known for his signature silky-soft ethereal tone and groundbreaking use of the bass not just as a musical backbone, but also as a solo instrument. The fretless HyperBass that he frequently plays is specifically designed for alternate tunings, and was created just for him.

Mosley and Manring believe that music is the ultimate expression of emotion for both performers and audiences, and that magical moments occur as a result of that interaction. “It’s a work in progress and we feel our audience is a vital part of it,” Manring says. “We revere the process of opening up to the spirit of the moment and allowing that to guide the creative journey.”

Mosby concurs. “My mission as an artist is to connect with audiences at the spiritual, emotional and physical level,” he says, “and as such, change lives.”

The New Horizons Ensemble performs on Thursday, Aug. 25 at Fenix, 919 Fourth Street, San Rafael; 8pm, $15-$18; 415/813-5600.

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