Recommended listening this week
SparkMusic Today, CD, Rs. 295The album cover prepares you for fusion. You know it will be yuppie, fast-paced and contemporary. Because it has Taufiq Qureshi, the path-breaking percussionist and Zakir Hussain's younger brother, along with violinists Ganesh and Kumaresh. You know it will be Carnatic music with global sounds on percussion from various corners of the world, considering Taufiq's amazing repertoire. But the opening phrases of the album leave you zapped, because there is no sound you recognise. It has an operatic beginning and you wonder if you got it all wrong, and then, the high-pitched violin racing to the upper octave comes to your rescue. It is the unmistakable Hamsadhwani again.
Going by the overwhelming response the album has on an Internet poll, Spark is a big hit. With a rating of 9.2 on a music website, the album doesn't have a single negative reaction. But if I don't gush over it like the others, pardon me.Like most fusion albums, Spark too has its strengths and weaknesses. The strengths are that it has roped in musicians of extraordinary talent - Taufiq, Ganesh and Kumaresh - who not only have a firm grounding in tradition, but also are pioneers in having moved beyond the beaten path. And so you expect something unusual, in the experiment mode, and it offers nothing new. In fact, talking of novelty, I remembered Bikram Ghosh's Rhythmscape, which was a fine piece of fusion. There are parts where the music plunges into incoherence and ends up being mere noise.Spark has for its theme the navarasas. The treatment is way too different from our existing notions about the rasas. For instance, if you thought the Veer (valour) piece would be based on the march beat, you are in for a surprise. The digital sounds of the piece conjure up images of a new world: a go-getter, consumerist young man on the dance floor, confident and rearing to go. That fits into not just the new globalised image of the country, but also of the changing values of a generation. After all, don't we belong to a time that wakes up to Bankim Chandra's 130-year-old, grand, lyrical "Vande Mataram" with A.R. Rahman's electronic version of it? Adbuth (Wonder) is a racy piece. The Hamsadhawani that we talked of earlier belongs here. The violins by Ganesh-Kumaresh are very fluid and dwell mostly in the higher octave. Backed by heavy percussion, the piece has some interesting phrases. The violin duo does a fantastic job. (One is reminded of Yanni.) The clarity in the drum patterns is quite remarkable, and there are portions where the ghata's style (Vikku Vinayakram influence on Taufiq Qureshi) on the drum is quite distinct.
The slow-paced, syncopated violin bit comes as a relief, and they try some taana kind of phrases. Suddenly the rhythm, the mood, the tempo, the raga change and lapse into too many different moods and ragas, breaking the flow of the piece. There is one portion where they do something like what Ilaiyaraja does in Nothing But Wind (a takeoff from Tyagaraja's "Tulasidala"). And even before you settle down to it, it goes back to Hamsadhwani. It builds to a frenzy and the climax is rather noisy.Karuna (compassion) sounds like Charukeshi and is quite a contrast to the first piece. It is slow, with long contemplative flute passages. The signature melody is nice and catchy. Somewhere along the way, while the flute plays in the main track, the guitar and drums work out an interesting interaction. Of course, this piece doesn't get the thunderous applause Adbuth gets, obviously because of its pace. I like this piece for the sense of peace it instils.
Krodh (anger) doesn't have a definite melody and the opening passages are based mostly on rhythm. The konnakol doesn't bring out the desired emotion, though in itself it is very fascinating. Shringar (romance) is beautiful and has a lovely voice that explores the emotion in Hindola. In fact, there are some lovely, lilting passages on the guitar, violin and keyboard. Strangely, Bhakti (devotion) sounds like Shoka (grief) but the human voice takes over and redeems it. Bhayanak (fright) has a rather silly, insipid opening. On the whole, this album does take you through with each of the musicians putting up an outstanding performance. But after all these years, you expect them to move ahead of trendsetters like Chittibabu and Brijbushan Kabra.DEEPA GANESH