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Tag: indian music

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.

Surreal, Individualistic Music For Sitar and Bass From the Travis Duo

Just the idea of a bass-and-sitar duo is enticing. The two players in the Travis Duo. ubiquitous bassist Trevor Dunn and sitarist Jarvis Earnshaw, join with some first-class special guests who make colorful contributions to their utterly surreal new album Hypnagogia, streaming at Bandcamp. It seems completely improvised, it’s often invitingly enveloping and psychedelic to the nth degree.

Much of the music is akin to a palimpsest painted wet: the undercoats bleed through, sometimes when least expected. To open the album, Dunn’s wryly warping, bowed lines linger below the judicious, warmly spare sitar lines, then the bassist adds more emphatic layers and dissociative loops. The sparse/busy dichotomy is a recurrent trope throughout the album. Earnshaw’s big payoff – a false ending of sorts – is worth the wait.

Daniel Carter and Devin Brahja Waldman’s saxes waft in to introduce the second track, FAQ, then there’s a steel pan-like xylophone line, Earnshaw a distant gleam behind the gently percolating upper-register textures. Dunn punctures the bubbles and joins with guest drummer Niko Wood to introduce a pulse as the sitar grows more prominent, then recedes.

Orchid Hoodwink has Earnshaw’s stream-of-consciousness vocals over a mingled web of sitar, xylophone and metal percussion. Is there a sense of betrayal in Fair Weather Friend? It doesn’t seem so; the washes of bass beneath the resonance of the sitar and Earnshaw’s earnest tenor vocals give the song a warmly rustic feel.

Carter floats in on flute over the hypnotic, sustained textural contrasts of Hitherto. He brings an unhurried, exploratory vibe on sax over increasingly bracing chaos in Uncanny Valley…and then gets pulled into the vortex. Meanwhile, Dunn is having tongue-in-cheek fun at the bottom of a waterslide.

The closest thing to a raga here, and the most contiguous piece, is Folie a Deux, Dunn bowing astringent harmonics and then taking over a very minimalist tabla role as Earnshaw chooses his spots. It’s very Brooklyn Raga Massive, and quite beautiful. There’s also a bonus track, Lollop, which could be a Sanskrit pun. Xylophone and sitar ripple and ping, the horns hover and flutter while Dunn pulses tersely in the midrange. The keening overtones emanating from the bass strings as the group wind out slowly are the icing on this strange and beguiling sonic cake.

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.

Magical Middle Eastern Dichotomies on Opium Moon’s Lavish New Double Album

Opium Moon picked a good bandname. They play rapturous, often haunting original Middle Eastern themes with influences that span from Egypt, to Iran, Israel, Turkey and sometimes India. Their music is psychedelic, otherworldly and infused with the occasional dubwise touch. Their new double album, Night and Day, is streaming at Bandcamp. They love long songs: pretty much everything here isn’t finished until after the seven-minute mark. The first disc is nocturnes, the second a party record which in many ways is a reverse image of the first.

They open the record with the title track, a spare, slinky nocturne which rises almost imperceptibly out of a one-chord jam, Lili Haydn’s violin soaring over a backdrop of MB Gordy’s boomy dumbek, Hamid Saeidi’s spaciously rippling santoor and Itai Disraeli’s warpy, hypnotic fretless bassline.

Wisdom is slower and even more mysterious, Haydn’s gentle, graceful chromatics wafting overhead, throughout more than eleven minutes of austerely enveloping rapture. They pick up the pace with Dhikr (Night), violin and santoor elegantly exchanging phrases over a suspenseful flamenco-tinged drumbeat.

Likewise, the group make a dusky flamenco-tinged theme out of an ancient Jewish prayer in Ahava Ve Shalom, a tantalizingly brief santoor solo at the center. They slowly coalesce out of an Indian-flavored theme in When Their Wings, swooping bass contrasting with the violin’s terse resonance. With Messengers, the group take a stab at making Indian carnatic music out of a famous British folk theme and follow with I’ll Wait For You, a quasi trip-hop number and the album’s most hypnotic interlude.

The second record begins with a lively clip-clop depiction of birds in flight: “They’re smoking the opium of pure freedom,” Disraeli asserts. Dkihr (Day) is a brisk, psychedelic Balkan dancefloor variation on its parallel theme from the first disc, with some wryly amusing flourishes from the bass.

Likewise, they take the first album’s carnatic melody and make Feast of Sevens out of it. With its blend of Indian and classical influences, Dream is much the same. La La Lai, a pulsingly joyous chromatic romp, features Turkish-Kurdish ensemble MiRaz as well as two of the album’s most adrenalizing santoor solos. The final cut is 100 Ways to Kiss the Ground, which seems to be more about kissing the sky. Despite global conditions that have made it almost impossible, so many groups have put out transcendent albums this year, and this is one of the best of them all.

A Characteristically Soulful Alice Coltrane Rarity Resurfaces

While Alice Coltrane did not live in the shadow of her iconic husband, her work is too often overlooked. During her life, she was revered as a creator of longscale, spiritually-inspired jazz compositions. She was a talented improviser on the concert harp, organ and piano. There’s a reissue of an obscure, limited-edition 1981 Alice Coltrane album, Kirtan: Turiya Sings, just out and streaming at Spotify. If her better-known music resonates with you, this a special treat because it’s a rare opportunity to hear Coltrane on both vocals and Wurlitzer organ.

Coltrane shared her husband’s love of Indian music and spirituality – her son Ravi, named after Ravi Shankar, produced this album. Here, she takes her time with a series of ancient Indian kirtan themes, singing in Sanskrit in a modulated, often stark alto voice over slowly shifting organ chords. The music draws more on the blues and 19th century African-American spirituals than it does the Indian carnatic tradition, often very anthemically. Listen closely and you’ll discover variations calmly unfolding. And the hypnotic sixth track could be a Doors song. Essentially, these are hymns, easy to sing along to as part of a yoga practice, for meditation or as just plain good chillout music.