New York Music Daily

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Tag: Nitin Mitta

Sitar Star Roopa Panesar Kicks Off Her US Tour With an Electrifying, Dynamic Lincoln Center Debut

Sitarist Roopa Panesar is a rising star in the world of global Indian music. This past evening was her Lincoln Center debut and the first stop on her first headlining US tour. She was joined by Prishanna Thevarajah on mridangam and Nitin Mitta on tabla, two drums which aren’t often found on the same stage together. In Panesar’s recent work, the addition of the mridangam typically raises the energy and also anchors the rhythm with a boomier low end. As innovative as the concept  may be, it was Panesar’s matter-of-fact, purposeful sense of melody and wildfire attack on the strings that finally got the crowd roaring. 

Her first piece, the North Indian raga Jhinjhoti, was a duo with Mitta. “It’s very romantic,” she told the audience. There was a calm, tender, starlit quality to her spacious alap (improvised intro) – it was as if she was literally caressing the strings. A couple of striking swoops upward signaled Mitta, who gave the piece a spare, steady, elegant pulse. It’s not often that you hear a piece of music so unselfconsciously playful yet with the kind of lingering grandeur that Panesar gave it.

As the dynamics rose and fell, steady, suspensefully melismatic cadenzas gave way to an irrepressibly jaunty, rapidfire tabla solo and steely sitar intensity that resisted easy resolution – evening ragas are characteristically restless. Finally, Panesar landed on a tantalizingly catchy four-bar riff, smiled, then built a kaleidoscope of variations. A feral high note foreshadowed the long tsunami of glistening, ringing, oscillating, insistent waves at the end.

The full trio, with Thevarajah adding subtle accents on kanjira,  debuted a suite of raga themes, easing their way into a plaintively swaying gently circling ambience. As the music rose almost imperceptibly, there was broodingly meditative gravitas and then allusively waltzing angst and longing, the Silk Road stretching to the cold, unforgiving Russian steppes. Then the mridangam kicked in and there was no stopping this harried, paradoxically bouncy march, up to a big audience clapalong. Mitta’s hailstorm tabla brought back a momentary suspense before a thunderstorm percussion duel.

They broke with tradition to end the show with segments from a morning raga, the kind you hear at the end of a wild allnight party if you’ve lasted that long. This one had an irrresistibly edgy Middle Eastern tinge over a tricky 13/8 groove that quickly became a stampede.

This could be what Panesar will be playing at the next stop on her current US tour , at the Chicago World Music Festival in the wee hours of Saturday, Sept 9. That’s happening at 5 AM at the Chicago Cultural Center, Preston Bradley Hall,78 E. Washington St., 3rd Floor South. Admission is free.

This also happened to be the first installment of Lincoln Center’s new cutting-edge concert series Outside India, a collaboration with the Brooklyn Raga Massive and the India Center Foundation, which continues tomorrow night, Sept 8 at 7:30 at the atrium space just north of 62nd St. on Broadway with visionary trumpeter/santoorist/singer Amir ElSaffar leading an octet with Naseem Alatrash on cello plus Firas Zreik on kanun; Arun Ramamurthy on violin; Abhik Mukherjee on sitar; Jay Gandhi on bansuri flute, and Shiva Ghoshal on tabla.

A Couple of Fun, Cutting-Edge Upcoming Indian Music Shows to Put on the Calendar

Mridangam player Bala Skandon leads Akshara, a Brooklyn Raga Massive spinoff who play dynamic, innovative, propulsively cheery instrumentals based on ancient Indian carnatic themes. The band’s debut album, In Time – an apt title from a group led by a drummer – is due to be up at Bandcamp soon.

It opens with Mind the Gap, a joyously dancing, verdant piece fueled by Jay Gandhi’s bansuri flute over a subtly morphing shuffle groove. As it builds steam, there’s a lushly rippling hammered dulcimer solo from House of Waters’ Max ZT and a couple of grinningly microtone-infused violin solos (either Arun Ramamurthy or Karavika‘s Trina Basu – it’s hard to tell who’s who).

Likewise, there are two cellos on the majestically swaying Mohana Blues, which is up at Bandcamp. Dave Eggar and Amali Premawardhana anchor Gandhi’s spare, enigmatic midrange lines, then join with the violins for a lilting, Celtic-tinged melody.  Opus in 5 follows a traditional raga tangent, violin and flute in tandem as the lively tune builds and the rhythm grows more energetic, then the band backs off for some takadimi drum vocalizing and a spare conversation between Skandon’s mridangam and Nitin Mitta’s tabla.

The dulcimer more or less assumes the role a sitar would play in Shadjam, strings and flute doubling the increasingly energetic melody line, down to a moody, nocturnal Gandhi solo and then a lusciously melismatic, crescendoing violin solo – that’s got to be Ramamurthy! 

The album winds up with the epic Urban Kriti. A long, spare dulcimer solo builds suspense up to an almost frantic peak, uneasily shivery cello and symphonic cadenzas trading off with lively riffage from the drums.  The band don’t have anything scheduled this month, but Basu and Ramamurthy have a rare duo show this September 10 at 3 PM at the Noguchi Museum, 9-01 33rd Rd. in Long Island City. The concert is free with museum admission, take the N to Broadway and then a healthy 15-block walk. And Akshara are playing the album release show on Oct 12 at 7:30 PM at Drom; adv tix are $20. If you love the cutting-edge collaborations that have been fermenting in the Brooklyn Raga Massive over the past several months, don’t miss this.

A Characteristically Rapturous Album and a Rare Outdoor Show by Magical Singer Kiran Ahluwalia

Singer Kiran Ahluwalia is one of the world’s great musical individualists. Her cool, clear, lustrous vocals are distinctive, blending the soaring peaks and hairpin-turn melismas of Indian music with the introspection of Pakistani ghazals. She’s carved out a niche for herself as a cross-pollinator, a woman of Indian extraction singing Pakistani and Malian melodies. Her latest album, Sanata: Stillness is streaming at Spotify, and she has a rare outdoor show on July 22 at 7 PM at Madison Square Park.

Ahluwalia’s not-so-secret weapon on the new album is her husband, guitarist Rez Abbasi, who does a one-man Tinariwen impersonation with his bristling pull-offs and spark-shedding, minutely nuanced, reverbtoned rhythm. That should come as no surprise, since Abbasi’s playing can be as protean as his wife’s vocals – and also because Ahluwalia featured Tinariwen on her previous album. The opening track sets the stage perfectly, an undulating, mystical Saharan groove, Ahluwalia’s Punjabi vocals sailing over her bandmates’ practically sinister low harmonies. Throughout the album, Nikku Nayar and Rich Brown take turns on bass, each contributing tersely tasteful low end. Nitin Mitta plays tabla, Mark Duggan alternates between vibraphone and percussion and Kiran Thakrar adds color with his harmonium.

Jaane Na – meaning “Nobody Knows” – is a scrambling, scurrying, funk-tinged number, a metaphorically-charged contemplation of personal demons and how to conquer them; it’s a lot closer to Abbasi’s brand of spiky guitar jazz than anything Ahluwalia has done up to this point. The guitarist’s meticulous multitracks give the the anthemic, subtly crescendoing title track – a wistful breakup ballad – a slow simmer. He grounds Tamana – an anthem for living with impunity – in nebulously jazz-tinged chords, matching Ahluwalia’s wary midrange and gentle melismatics.

Ahluwalia sings vocalese on Hum Dono, a minimalist progressive jazz sketch. The first of the two covers here is Jhoom, a qawwali drinking anthem reinvented as duskcore; the other is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Lament, done as a psychedelic epic, part 90s trip-hop, part Pink Floyd.

Taskeen opens with a swirly harmonium improvisation and builds slowly and carefully, with judiciously biting Middle Eastern tings; it’s an original setting of a poem about not being jealous of your significant other’s past lovers. The last of the originals is the enigmatically fluttering, folk-rock tinged Qaza:

The truth of the heart has many doors
Some open some don’t
Don’t get lost in them

Who is the audience for this? Anyone who likes to get lost in the mystical sound of ghazals or hypnotic Saharan guitar bands, and for that matter anyone looking for a moment of elegant sonic serenity.