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The Ragas Live Festival 2022, Part 2: Hits and Misses

This year’s return of the 24-hour-plus Ragas Live festival of Indian music and related sounds was so epic that it requires two parts to reasonably digest. The frequently rapturous first half was reviewed here yesterday. The second part was also often transcendent, with some issues.

Let’s tackle those and then get to the good stuff. You’re never going to see fusion jazz on this page: with rare exceptions, good jazz is basically acoustic music. So if you enjoyed the tropical midnight act and the interminable Moroccan fusion interlude yesterday afternoon, glad you had a good time.

It would have been fun to catch sitarist Abhik Mukherjee‘s set to begin the second half of the marathon. Who knew that a trip for coffee a little earlier in the morning would also have turned into a marathon, a much less enjoyable one.

Back at Pioneer Works, bansuri flutist Jay Gandhi took an absolutely harrowing detour, running variations on a haunting, wary chromatic theme with Ehren Hanson on tabla for what seemed the better part of an hour. Beyond Gandhi’s breathtakingly liquid, perfectly modulated sine-wave attack, the somber mood was impossible to turn away from. These are troubled times: nobody has channeled that with such subtle power in recent months as these two. Which made their clever and allusive permutations on a bouncy nursery-rhyme-like riff afterward such a stark contrast. And yet, the darkness lingered, if at a distance.

Trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, whose most recent specialty has become oceanic Middle Eastern big band jazz, followed with about an hour of brooding electroacoustic sounds. Starting off on a labyrinthine rack of analog synthesizers, he rose from enveloping ambience to an achingly gorgeous, regal solo trumpet fanfare in a moody Iraqi maqam. Next, he looped an austere, baroquely churchy organ processional, then employed it as a backdrop for a constellation of santoor riffs which echoed Gandhi’s pervasive angst. He wound up the set on vocals with a similarly cautionary clarion call, more or less.

Another santoorist, Vinay Desai kept the angst at redline with a saturnine tribute to the late, great Shivkumar Sharma, who left us this past spring. We don’t know for certain if the lethal Covid injection took him out. With Vivek Pandya on tabla, the two musicians developed an absolutely gorgeous, elegaic, allusively chromatic theme and variations. Remaining mostly in the midrange, Desai rose for the great beyond with a somber glimmer before bringing it down to a dirge and the tabla entered. As the hour went on, Desai’s ripples off the walls of the space echoed into a galactic drift. Eventually, the duo took the theme skipping into the stars, a sober but energetic farewell to a pioneer.

ElSaffar returned for a second turn on santoor, joining percussionist Zafer Tawil and violinist Sami Abu Shumays behind impassioned veteran Iraqi crooner Hamid Al Saadi. After the sober, stately initial march, the maqam singer would begin the rest of the set’s expansive numbers with darkly dynamic, rubato intros, one leading to a surprisingly subtle call-and-response with ElSaffar. A little later, the group made their way into a swaying, ebullient major-key tune with a starkly contrasting santoor-and- violin break. They closed with undulating, biting chromatic theme with even more lusciously intertwined santoor and violin and a machinegunning coda.

Violinist Arun Ramamurthy gets credit for the festival’s most pyrotechnic performance, a role he’s become accustomed to. This time out he had his Indian jazz trio with bassist Damon Banks and Sameer Gupta on drums. This was the symphonic Ramamurthy: in the boomy space, with the natural reverb bouncing off the walls, he was a violin army. Banks would typically shadow him, Gupta inventively doing a nimble churning groove with tabla voicings on his kit, as the bandleader made his way through a rising and falling epic in tribute to his ancestors, to moments of icy ambience as well as frequent excursions through the bluesy raga riffs that he likes to mine in this context. Nobody knows how to draw an audience in with foreshadowing and judiciously spectacular slides and stabs better than Ramamurthy.

After that it was dance time. All-female Moroccan trance-dance ensemble group Bnat el Houariyat, featuring New York’s Esraa Warda took over the stage and then stomped and twirled and spoke power to male hegemony.

In her New York debut, singer/dancer and mystic Parvathy Baul brought ancient archetypes to life in a fervent but utterly unselfconsciously spiritual set of Bengali ritual songs. Showing off a soulfully soaring, meticulously melismatic, carnatically-infused voice which took on a grittier edge as her set went on, she sang innumerable mythical metaphors and cheerily translated them for the English-only crowd. Moving from ecstasy to tenderness and then an acerbic insistence, she cut loose and reminded that crowd that the truth is like a lion. All you have to do is set it free. Or words to that effect. Let’s hope there’s a Ragas Live festival in 2023.

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The Ragas Live Festival 2022, Part 1: The Magic Is Back

It was great to see the Ragas Live festival of diverse Indian and Indian-adjacent sounds return after a two-year absence. The Brooklyn massive at Pioneer Works last night wasn’t overwhelming, but by the time the concert was over this past evening, a raucous crowd had packed the house. That so many people would come out to the fringes of Red Hook on a raw, unwelcoming afternoon to see what by any standard would be considered niche speaks volumes about what audiences in this city have been missing since March of 2020. Whether that need will be filled in 2023 is a loaded question.

Since the all-night concert was such a feast, this first part concerns the past evening, with part two here. It’s been ten years since the all-night marathon first began in a radio station studio and quickly spread to a series of venues around town. Previous incarnations have been more jazz-oriented: this was a mix of frequently rapturous traditional sounds juxtaposed with more modern ones. Some of the segues were jarring, and the location was suboptimal: if you thought trying to score a cup of coffee at five in the morning in Manhattan was tough these days, try Red Hook, never mind Carroll Gardens. But the performances made the trip worthwhile.

Veena player Saraswathi Ranganathan, backed by Sriram Raman on mridangam and Shiva Ghoshal on tabla, was a fantastic choice of opener (she got a rave review here awhile back for her show at a venue which has since been weaponized in the ongoing mass murder campaign). She dedicated her bouncy, cheery first raga to the men in the house, alluding to how it’s time for the dudes to speak up, stand up and be counted. After the trio built to an immutable, imperturbable drive, there was a wry high/low exchange: the girls schooling the guys on what time it is, maybe?

She followed with raga Mohanam, which she described as an antidepressant: as she put it, releasing the gunk all the way up as the notes rise to the heart chakra. And her attempt at a singalong with the crowd actually worked! Parsing the theme from shivery, steady melismas to a fleeting, thorny complexity and a distant, starry sense of longing, the trio channeled a bustling, determined cheer into an equally imperturbable stroll: it was impossible not to get swept up in Ranganathan’s momentum. There was a wry sotto-voce duel with the mridangam; her interpolation of a call-and-response into the final charge out was masterfully subtle within the volleys of notes and bracing, hold-onto-your-seat ornamentation.

Kora player Kane Mathis and tabla player Roshni Samlal followed with an often celestial set. Samlal grew up in Queens listening to the Ragas Live broadcasts as a kid, and was psyched to be playing now as an adult (actually, she shows up pretty much every year). Mathis delivered feathery, harpsichord-ish waves with an effortless, weightless precision while Samlal drove the occasional unexpected crescendo up to the rafters.

A liltingly dreamy, syncopated number built around a circular kora riff featured the occasional striking polyrhythm by Samlal, who incorporates grooves from her Trinidadian heritage into the mix. Then they picked up the pace with the Mathis tune Rue du Jardin, set to a scampering. cumbia-esque beat.

A little after one in the morning, sarod player Manik Khan and tabla player Sudhakar Vaidyanathan played a tribute to the former’s father, the iconic Ali Akbar Khan to celebrate the centenary of his birth. Their first tune was a serioso evening raga which began with a searching alap built from the simplest ingredients. Khan dipped to a pensive interlude where he parsed the low strings, then subtly rose to an allusive stroll. This was raw magic.

From there he hung allusively as the pace picked up, landing on a chugging, moody theme. Hints of a heroic ballad punctuated by a few downward slashes and then a somber, low tremolo-picking interlude followed in turn He ended it it cold and sudden.

Next was Raga Kirwani, another evening piece, this one a theme imported from the south of the Hindustani subcontinent. Khan let this biting pavane of sorts resolve a lot more than the first number. Again, he hung in the lows for the most part, saving his upward stabs and a fleeting bluegrass flatpicking motif for dramatic effect. The two finally picked up – those slashes were real foreshadowing, but ultimately this was more about brooding intensity than pyrotechnics, even when Khan went pirouetting through an understatedly undulating groove. It made for a great segue.

Dawn of Midi’s Qasim Naqvi was up next with about an hour of Eno-esque electronic ambience. It didn’t have the slightest thing to do with Indian music, but it was pleasant and cocoony.

Sarangi player Suhail Yusuf Khan and tabla player Pranav Ghatraju went back to the fifteenth century for a couple of timeless pieces, the first beginning with an acerbically resonant, swoopingly ornamented alap. While it underscored the eternal appeal of the endlessly otherworldly microtones in Indian fretless string music, the set was also very riff-driven. The two made their way up to a rather stern, stark stroll, methodically building to a triumphant, heroic coda. They launched into a rather solemn processional with the second number, which they could have continued for twice as long, and nobody would have complained.

It was five in the morning when sax-and-synth loopmusic act Kroba built echoey, dystopically warbling soundscapes that went on for almost two hours. A little after expressive singer Samarth Nagarkar took the stage with Khan and tabla player Shank Lahiri, it became clear that despite the quality of his set, it would be impossible to get through the rest of the marathon without more coffee. More on that and the rest of the show in part two here.

A Rare New York Concert by a Paradigm Shifter in Indian Music 

Violinist Rupam Ghosh got his start in his native India when he was a gradeschooler and has since toured the world playing not only the North Indian repertoire he mastered as a child, but also blending in many other styles. This irrepressible innovator’s latest New York show is on September 3 at 7:30 PM with Utpal Ghosal on tabla at the Chhandayan Center For Indian Music in midtown; cover is $25. Considering the venue, Ghosh will probably be playing more traditional sounds, which he excels at.

His music page has about an album’s worth of both intriguingly cross-pollinated and centuries-old melodies. The first video features Antoine Narhem on violin, Eric Navet on vibraphone and ghatam and Antoine Marineau on percussion. Quickly, it becomes clear that they’re playing a pulsing series of variations on Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1! From there they straighten out into a steady waltz rhythm and the piece shifts closer to a wistful Romany theme. Ghosh’s elegant melismas and stark resonance raise the underlying plaintiveness, while Narhem spirals around with an Indian-influenced Stephane Grappelli liveliness. When’s the last time you heard that at a performance of traditional Indian music?

Ghosh and the band take their time building a suspenseful, anticipatory theme with his judicious swoops and striking ornamentation in A L’Aube (Daybreak): when they finally bust through the clouds: the effect is breathtaking. The vibraphone plays a lilting Balkan groove in the third number, From Serbia to India, the two violins rising and falling as they shift uneasily between chromatically-charged, transcontinental modes.

Ghosh also has four tantalizingly brief clips with tabla  player Ananya Banjerjee, where he ranges from lyrical, to mystical, to grittily rhythmic, including two excerpts from Raga Bhairavi and Raga Bageshree. The latter features an excellent, unidentifed santoorist. The final tune is a cheery country dance. Clearly, Ghosh has a lot of flavors and likes to explore all of them.

A Disciple of the Great Shivkumar Sharma Brings Nocturnal Raga Magic to Midtown

Some of the dreamiest Indian music is played not on the sitar or, say, the harmonium, but on the santoor. This magically rippling, pointillistic instrument doesn’t have a centuries-long history in Indian music because it’s not native to the Hindustani subcontinent. A relative of the Eastern European zither, its oldest ancestor is the Egyptian kanun. The santoor originated in what is now Iran and tends to have a deeper, more resonant tone.

This past May, we lost one of the greatest and most rapturously thoughtful Indian santoorists, Shivkumar Sharma. But a leading light among his students, Vinay Desai, is playing on July 23 at 7:30 PM at the Chhandayan Center For Indian Music on 43rd St. just off Times Square with tabla player Mir Naquibul Islam; cover is $25

Desai released his album Chidakasha in 2019, although it hasn’t made it to the web. Beyond that, he’s a bit of a mystery man online, although there are a handful of very auspicious live clips which reveal him as a purposeful and sometimes electrifying soloist. A brief video from this same venue five years ago captures him building a nocturnal mood, meticulously working feathery dynamics with the hammers on the keys. Another one from the same show captures him subtly developing variations on a hypnotically circling phrase.

And another clip, also from 2017 features young tabla prodigy Vivek Pandya in a similarly dreamy but increasingly kinetic take of Raga Bageshree.

The most mysteriously evocative performance at his video page (click on “all video” and then scroll across to find it) is a rewardingly epic version of Raga Megh: his extended technique is subtle but pretty amazing. And the best of all the Desai on the web so far may be a sparkling fourteen-minute take of raga Kaunsi Kanada in tribute to his guru, where he spaciously and energetically orchestrates a riff that the Grateful Dead famously ripped off. The lightning precision of his volleys about halfway through will give you goosebumps.

Rajrupa Chowdhury, Individualistic Virtuoso of the Sarod, Plays Ragas Tonight in Midtown

Tonight, June 25 at 7:30 PM there’s a rare chance to see a rising star in Indian music when sarod player Rajrupa Chowdhury makes an appearance at the Chhandayan Center for Indian Music at 4 West 43rd Street. She’s joined onstage by brilliant tabla player Samir Chatterjee; cover is $25.

Her album Evening Ragas came out in 2017 and is streaming at youtube. In general, she’s a very precise player who opts for subtlety, thoughtfulness and an often disarming directness in lieu of shredding. She plays raga shyham kalyan first, her lingering alap peppered with brief, restless phrasing and a persistent, lingering angst. As the music drifts into an anxious, anticipatory lull on the wings of Chowdhury’s gentle, questioning riffs, it’s nothing short of Romantic. From there she makes the lightning volleys of a lithely waltzing interlude seem easy. Her slow, graceful theme on the way out is a striking contrast beneath the flurries overhead.

Parimal Chakraborty joins her on tabla on raga rageshree: reduced to lowest terms, this 34-minute performance is a love song, sometimes coy, sometimes playful, with moments of exuberance and joy. Tantalizingly brief scampering runs, expectantly insistent melismas, bracingly shivery clusters and moments of subtle humor each figure in turn.

If you’d like to hear what she’s done since then, here’s a clip of her playing raga jaunpuri solo a couple of years ago. She uses the entirety of the fretboard, beginning with the lows and a suspenseful spaciousness: it’s stately and on the somber side. Moving from her meticulously steady attack, she veers away with sudden, breathtakingly impetuous intensity. And then does it again. Machete tremolo-picking, a devious glissando…and suddenly it’s over!

And in her take of raga bhairavi, from a year after she made the album, she builds a tender, mystical ambience, then follows a joyously, light-fingered, dancing trajectory. There’s plenty more of her up at youtube to inspire you for the show tonight. If you miss this one, the Chhandayan Center has resumed their regular series of mostly-bimonthly concerts which typically pair established artists with up-and-coming talent, often from the organization’s nationwide network of music academies.

Sonny Singh Reinvents Ancient Sikh Themes As Catchy, Slinky Dance Tunes

Sonny Singh is best known as the soaring trumpeter in New York’s well-loved, ecstatically brassy bhangra dance group Red Baraat. But he’s also a composer and bandleader. His debut album Chardi Kala – streaming at Bandcamp – resembles his main band in that the music draws on ancient traditions from the Hindustani subcontinent, but it’s less thunderously percussive and more enveloping. Tantalizing hints of the Middle East and Afrobeat filter in and out of the music as well. For lyrics. Singh draws on medieval Sikh chants which celebrate subversion and defiance in the face of repression: spot-on choices for this moment in history.

To open the record, Singh and ensemble make a ringing, resounding guitar rock anthem out of an old Punjabi melody. Red Baraat are a large band, and there’s a small army playing on this album. Singh sings, plays trumpet and harmonium, joined by the core crew on most of the rest of the tunes: Jonathan Goldberger on guitar, Wil Abers on bass and Dave Sharma on drums, plus Ernest Stuart on trombone.

The title track is a balmy, lilting tune with brightly sailing trumpet. Track three, Ghadar is a darkly gorgeous bhangra-rock number with Andalucian-tinged chromatics and flaring Goldberger guitar. Singh makes a swaying, starry anthem out of a kirtan theme in the album’s fourth cut, followed by an undulating melody with bright horn counterpoint, swirly harmonium and stinging guitar from Nadav Peled.

After that, we get psychedelic trip-hop with swooshy keys; a bright Punjabi soul song; a chugging bhangra brass anthem that sounds like a Punjabi Burning Spear song; an ecstatic, dub-tinged ghazal; a revolutionary-themed Bollywood spy theme; and an airy coda. All of this you can dance to.

Singh’s next restriction-free New York show is July 10 at 5 PM in the parking lot at Culture Lab in Long Island City.

Breathtakingly Gorgeous Interpretations of Rumi Love Poems From Katayoun Goudarzi

Singer Katayoun Goudarzi‘s voice is Albert Camus’ concept of lucidité brought to life. She sings with a disarming, viscerally breathtaking, completely unselfconscious clarity and, ultimately, hope. Her latest album, This Pale – streaming at Spotify – is a series of incandescent settings of Rumi love poems, played by her longtime collaborator, sitarist Shujaat Khan with ney flutist Shaho Andalibi and tabla player Shariq Mustafa. Goudarzi took her initial inspiration for the project from the irony that Rumi’s work would be reaching a peak of popularity in America in the months after the 2016 Presidential election, when hatred and bigotry were seeping out from under every rock.

Wild, the album’s first track, has a matter-of-fact tenderness – and when Goudarzi becomes more assertive, the effect is breathtaking. Likewise, Khan develops a backdrop that begins starry, then he adds triumphant ornamention. Meanwhile, the percussion grows more energetic, Andalibi’s dreamy solo at the center.

The second track, One is more of an amiably lilting ghazal. Mustafa doesn’t waste his time bringing his flurrying beats front and center; Khan’s glistening solo sets up Goudarzi’s soaring crescendo. He takes a bright, tantalizingly curlicuing alap to introduce Tender: Goudarzi varies her vibrato from a resolute gentleness to a shivery expectancy.

Andalibi’s mystical, mysterious ney trades off with Khan’s bracing Middle Eastern-flavored modal work as Sweetest gets underway. Paradoxically, it’s the most hypnotic yet most energetic and arguably most straightforwardly beautiful track here.

Khan builds a barely restrained vigorousness to begin Still Here, then Goudarzi engages in wistful exchanges with Andalibi. Sitar and tabla join in a pensive, purposeful stroll, Goudarzi reaching for the night sky before the group calmly recede. She decided to record the final poem, All I’ve Got after hearing from a woman fan in Afghanistan who would sing quietly, in secret, around the house and hoped that someday Goudarzi would sing it for her. From Khan’s spellbinding chromatic intro, to Goudarzi’s resolute, impassioned vocals and Andalibi’s desolate ney, it’s a stunning way to close the album.

In the most troubled time in world history, we are fortunate to have artists like Goudarzi to remind us that the forces of love and compassion are infinitely more powerful than anything any wannabe tyrant could throw at us.

A New Album of Warm, Imaginatively Textured Sikh Spiritual Songs From Manika Kaur

For those who like the idea of Enya but find her music insubstantial and samey, singer Manika Kaur is your elixir. Her latest album Ek (“Oneness”) – streaming at Bandcamp – has everything that’s made her a favorite among fans of Sikh sacred music. It’s a mix of new and ancient kirtan themes and ambient music with occasional, playful hints of jazz.

The opening track has santoor, tabla, synth and Kaur’s airy, inviting, expressive voice. The second, spiced with melismatic violin and tanpura, is titled Magic Mantra – but it’s a lot more lively than that. After that, there’s a mix of harmonium, shennai oboe and glockenspiel, then acoustic guitar and veena: how’s all that for interesting textures?

Bansuri flute and strings? Check. Tender vocals contrasting with stark string orchestration? Doublecheck. Liberation theology? Check, check, check. There’s also a catchy folk-rock tune, a lingering, rustically rubato soundscape and a couple of quasi trip-hop anthems. Good stuff for unwinding and lighting up your chakras.

Aakash Mittal Reinvents Nocturnal Indian Sounds on His Magical New Trio Album

Musicians tend to be night creatures, and nobody knows that better than alto saxophonist Aakash Mittal. His new album Nocturne – streaming at Bandcamp – is a magical, evocative suite celebrating afterdark sounds, particularly several styles native to Kolkata, where he pursued an intensive study of Indian music and had many epiphanies along the way. It was a lot of fun watching him work up the material on the album in concert in venues across New York prior to the lockdown.

Mittal’s Awaz Trio take their name from the Hindi word which, depending on context, can mean sound, noise, or voice. Mittal is a connoisseur of all three. From Coltrane to Rudresh Mahanthappa, scores of reed players have used Indian music as a springboard for jazz, but Mittal’s alternately bright and mysterious sound is uniquely his own, in many ways closer to the otherworldly sources of the themes he draws on here.

The first sound on the album is Mittal’s Kolkata teacher Prattyush Banerjee urging him to keep his ears open. Mittal’s oboe-like, microtonal melismas over Rajna Swaminathan’s casually bounding mrudangam rhythm will give you goosebumps. He follows with the first nocturne and its contrasts between the insistence of Swaminathan and guitarist Miles Okazaki against his own wafting, fluttering atmospherics and semiquavers.

Mittal bookends a tantalizingly modal miniature, Street Music, with samples of Kolkata percussionists building a qawwali-like groove on the street outside a temple of Kali. Nocturne II draws on the restless Raga Marwa, an evening piece: the group circle through simple, clustering cell-like phrases, Mittal joining the interweave with gently assertive riffage, then hovering and bounding overhead. Those who don’t know the raga may not catch the Indian vernacular. Okazaki’s variations on what’s essentially a catchy, trickily syncopated bassline are a tasty touch, as is Mittal’s choice to go the mysterious route afterward.

Mittal loves rarely-played late-night and wee-hours ragas, which have some of the most delicious tonalities in the raga cycle, evidenced by the third nocturne, which draws on Raga Bageshri. The dichotomy is much the same as the first nocturne; perhaps ironically, it’s more vampy but also more lively. The group’s build to a Morricone-esque taxi drive through a maze of Kolkata backstreets of the mind is irresistible.

A raucous found-sound street scene introduces the album’s acerbically gorgeous fourth nocturne, a mini-suite inspired by Raga Yaman, a piece for sundown. Mittal’s airy, microtone-infused lines over Okazaki’s spare, bristling incisions, a couple of bracing crescendos and persistent modal eeriness scream calmly for the repeat button.

The well-known Raga Jinjoti serves as the catalyst for the amiable final nocturne, a funky romp that’s the closest thing to straight-up postbop here, although once again, Mittal works the rhythmic/misterioso dialectic for all it’s worth.

The final street scene has a great backstory. Mittal’s Kolkata neighbor was a security guard who had plenty of time to practice his homemade shennai oboe, made out of “PVC pipe with drilled finger holes, utilized a metal cup as the bell, and was played with a double reed. The timbre was raw, buzzy and completely outside of any tuning system. His playing was a reminder to me that music and creativity do not need to be bound by rules: they are innate to our spirit as humans,” Mittal explains in his liner notes. His shift between calmly pulsing energy, aching modalities and a coy deviation at the end of the tune perfectly summarize his individualistic, boundary-defying, resolutely melodic approach, Assuming that best-of-2021 jazz album polls are still happening at the end of the year, it’s a good bet we’ll see this one on a bunch of them.

The WVC Malaysian Jazz Ensemble Reinvent Fascinating, Famous Themes From Their Home Turf

The WVC Malaysian Jazz Ensemble are famous on their own turf and deserve to be vastly better known around the world. 2020 was as hellish a year for them as it was for everybody other than the likes of Klaus Schwab and Bill Gates, and saw the ensemble pared down to a trio. Their latest album, Purnama – streaming at Bandcamp – was originally scheduled for release last year, and merges two themes. The first is the moon and the mysterious lore associated with it. The other is the music of the pre-independence era in Malaysia, where traditional native songs blended with influences from points on the Asian continent, from India all the way to China and around the globe as well.

Interestingly, Asian tonalities come front and center here less than half the time. Vintage jazz and blues vernacularss, and a lyrical neoromantic sensibility, are just as prevalent in these reinterpretations. The band open with an elegant, increasingly jaunty instrumental trio version of Hitam Mamis. a big 1950s hit for crooner R. Azmi. Pianist Tay Cher Siang adds graceful ornamentation to the pentatonically-infused melody, bassist Aj Popshuvit taking a dancing solo as extrovert drummer Adriel Wong – the Malay Rudy Royston – rises from a gentle jazz waltz to a sizzling coda capped off by the piano.

A lively, Brazilian-tinged, similarly crescendoing remake of another crooner hit from a few years later, Bing Slamet’s Lenggang Mak Limah features resonant guitar from Rizal Tony. Then the quartet shuffle jauntily through their reharmonized reinvention of the 1953 Ahmad Jaafar love song Ibu, up to an unexpected shift into swing ballad mode with Janet Lee on vocals.

Wong’s colorful, counterintuitive bursts propel Main Shayar to Nahin, a theme from the 1973 Bollywood crime movie Bobby, into unexpectedly animated terrain beneath the piano’s brooding neoromanticisms. Great song, great new interpretation.

Malay jazz hero Jimmy Boyle’s Putera Puteri also gets a memorably turbulent bustle from Wong, along with austerely purposeful alto sax from Yow Weng Wai. a powerful, McCoy Tyner-esque piano solo and a conversationally triangulated guitar/piano/sax outro.

The simple, folky guitar-and voice version of the love ballad Jingli Nona here – sung by Tony – draws on the bawdy Portuguese-Javanese patois version Siang heard as a kid. Tunggu Sekejap, a lament from the 1958 Malay film Sergeant Hassan originally sung by director P. Ramlee, gets a mutedly lilting piano trio remake with singer Izen Kong out in front. Siang’s scrambling solo comes as a real jolt.

Lee returns to the mic for a coy, knowing version of Penang Samba, a bouncy 1950s hit for Malay chanteuse Lena, referencing the city’s hotspots of the era. Jocelyn Wong sings another Lena hit, Hatiku Rindu, ranging from a mysterious hush to a moody intensity as the band sway matter-of-factly through its thorny, enigmatic chromatics. The duel between Tony and Siang before the last chorus is one of the album’s high points.

Siang’s emphatically articulated chromatics fuel an aggressive take of Joget Malaysia, a 1964 P. Ramlee shout-out to post-imperialist nation-building: it’s the best instrumental on the album. Song of Crossing at Dawn is based on a funny don’t-want-to-wake-up folk song from the Chinese immigrant community, Tan Jie’s frantic shakuhachi giving way to Siang’s insistent piano and a growing monsoon from the drums. This dude does not want to get out of bed!

The band wind up the album with the title track, mashing up a 1954 film musical number with Debussy. Tan Chee Shen’s dramatic vocals and Ng Chor Guan’s theremin add a chilling Lynchian edge. What an absolutely fascinating and unique way to end a fascinating and unique album.