Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Archive for October, 2012

Recommending the late genius Terry Callier


SUNDAY, October 28, was a rather sad day for American music, with news that Terry Callier had passed away. Now, a lot of people ― specially in India ― may not have heard him, unless they’ve caught some of his later work that did the rounds on the London underground scene from the late 90s onwards. So for those who’ve missed his brilliance, let’s begin with a few basic introductions.

To start with, Callier was a Chicago-bred soul singer-songwriter-guitarist whose music also embraced the jazz, blues and folk spectrums. Secondly, he was rather under-rated, probably because he never got into marketing himself. Thirdly, after doing a string of albums in the 70s, he gave up music for nearly 18 years to study and pursue computer programming and look after his family, only return by guesting with acts like Massive Attack, Beth Orton, Paul Weller and Koop.

The most important thing about him, of course, is that he possessed one of the most haunting and soulful voices, something that gripped you with its sheer panache, perfection and phrasing. Even in terms of lyrics, the songs were way above par, dealing with romance, peace, unity and even revolt. A true musician, in every sense.

If one has to really get onto Callier’s music, where does one begin? Sadly, one may not find his records in Indian stores. Luckily, YouTube contains a wealth of his material. One can spend hours admiring him.

The trick, of course, is to start with the right songs. And here, we’d like to recommend them, based on your age. The reason is that Callier had two distinct sets of audiences ― one which was exposed to his earlier soul and folk songs, and the other which heard him in collaboration with modern-day trip-hop, electronica and club artistes.

So if you’re over 35, the best bet would be to begin with ‘What Color Is Love’, a breathtakingly beautiful and charmingly-orchestrated love song. Check out the lines: “Is it wrong or is it right, is it black or is it white, what color is love?” You could follow that up with ‘Dancing Girl’, a nine-minute romantic masterpiece which travels in different tempi, beginning with the lines “I saw a dream last night, bright as a falling star.”

Then, you could get into the blues-rock beauty of ‘You Goin’ to Miss Your Candyman’, with its smooth guitars and keyboards.  Up next could be his version of the Beatles’ ‘And I Love Her’, followed by blues ballads ‘Blues for Billie Holiday’ and ‘Paris Blues’, and the Bob Dylan-styled protest classic ‘Fix the Blame’. These songs are good enough to get you hooked.

Now, if you’re under 35, the ideal recommendations would be ‘Live With Me’, with British trip-hop group Massive Attack, and ‘Lean On Me’ with Brit ‘folktronica’ singer Beth Orton. Other beginners would include the peppy ‘In a Heartbeat’ with Swedish electronic jazz duo Koop, and the wonderfully-written and moving ‘Brother to Brother’, with well-known 90s singer-songwriter Paul Weller. London club favourites 4Hero have used his voice on their mixes of ‘The Day of the Greys’ and the mood-enhancing ‘Love Theme from Spartacus’.

Having gone through the basics, whichever age you are, you can try some of his other gems. There are the funk-driven ‘Sign of the Times’, the beautifully-rendered ‘Butterfly’, the very old folk-blues  songs ‘Work Song’, ‘I’m a Drifter’ and ‘Be My Woman’, one of his late 90s songs ‘Time Peace’, the saxophone-driven ‘Nobody But Yourself To Blame’, the jazz piece ‘Tokyo Moon’, the club-friendly ‘Wings’ and all-time favourites like ‘Ordinary Joe’, ‘Jazz My Rhythm N’ Blues’, ‘Spin Spin Spin’, ‘Lazarus Man’ and ‘900 Miles’. Many, many more.

Callier had once rendered a jazz-soul song called ‘When The Music is Gone’, which talks of how life would be without music. The lyrics go: “What can we lean on when the music is gone, I don’t know… The song will be truth, peace, freedom and justice, the song will be love… What can we depend on when the music is gone, we don’t know, so we can’t let it die.”

What an apt way to sum up your own approach to life, Terry Callier. Hope your music spreads as far and wide as it deserves to.

The magical Santana experience


THE excitement actually began around three weeks ago, when I first heard that Carlos Santana would be playing in Bangalore on October 26. Instantly, I decided to make the trip from Mumbai, and kept myself in a Santana mood by changing one of my passwords to something connected, posting a daily dose of trivia on Facebook, listening to some of the old classics on CD, discovering live footage on YouTube, and preparing my own list of songs I wanted him to play. Fans can be crazy, and I’m no exception.

Obviously, I was looking forward to a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and joining me on this Santana pilgrimage were my music-loving buddies Raj Zaveri and Navin Salian. A few other friends like Bobin James and Zameer Vahanvaty had come down from Mumbai too, and before the show, Raj and I were keenly hoping against hope that he’d play one of our favourite pieces ‘Oneness’.

As expected, Santana didn’t play ‘Oneness’, but we had no reason to complain. He and his entire band took the stage at the Vladivar Rock n’ India event at 6.55 pm, a few minutes after Indus Creed concluded their opening act, mostly consisting of songs from their new album ‘Evolve’. Suddenly, we saw the guitar god up there, dressed in white with some colourful designs on his shirt and his trademark hat, playing his PRS Santana signature guitar to the accompaniment of a thousand drum beats, Benny Reitveid’s thumping bassline and David Matthews’ wailing keyboards.

What song would he play next? That was the question we kept asking for the next two hours.

Rock concert set lists are understandably very tough to prepare, especially when the musician has been playing for well over four decades and has a string of hits. It’s difficult to please everybody in the audience. The older fans wouldn’t want to miss any of their ancient favourites. The younger crowd would want something more recent, video-familiar and Grammy-ish. And Santana would have himself wanted to promote his latest instrumental album ‘Shape Shifter’, though he surprisingly decided to skip that totally.

We knew Santana would play many of the classics, but curiously enough, he began with a few lesser-known numbers. A short musical dedication called ‘Stopover in Bangalore’ (the same tune might be changing its name in every city) was followed by ‘(Da Le) Yaleo’, the opening song from his 1999 album ‘Supernatural’. Vocalists Tony Lindsay and Andy Vargas added to the festive atmosphere, and Jeff Cressman came up with a trombone solo that took the energy levels to another planet. The ultra-talented drummer Dennis Chambers, percussionist Karl Perazzo, conga wizard Raul Rekow, rhythm guitarist Thomas Maestu and trumpeter Bill Ortiz partied along. Gooseflesh!

Song number three, and the crowd screamed in instant delight, as Santana began the opening bars of ‘Black Magic Woman/ Gypsy Queen’, one of his biggest hits from the 1970 album ‘Abraxas’. Honestly though, this wasn’t one of the high points of the evening, as the Peter Green/ Gabor Zsabo medley composition was marred by vocals that didn’t seem quite there. Maybe we are so used to hearing the age-old version sung by Gregg Rolie, that any other timbre sounded odd. Never mind, the majority loved it.

Bang came ‘Oye Como Va’, originally written by Tito Puente and set to a Latino-salsa-jazz-rock flavour by Santana on ‘Abraxas’. And to woo the youngsters, Santana next chose the more poppish ‘Maria Maria’, originally played with The Product G&B in ‘Supernatural’. Also on the newer side was ‘Foo Foo’ from the 2002 album ‘Shaman’, with its infectious dance beat, Latin American chants, and melodic trumpet and trombone.

The all-time instrumental favourite ‘Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile’) from the 1976 album ‘Amigos’ was played marvellously for a few minutes, really giving everyone a high. Then shockingly, Santana decided to leave out the famous ending riff, much to the disappointment of those who’ve grown up on that song.

Just as we were wondering what on earth and heaven happened there, Santana brought in a change in drummer, calling his second wife Cindy Blackman for a guest appearance. She played on the ‘Supernatural’ song ‘Corazon Espinado’, which suddenly moved into a very short extract from the 1971 masterpiece ‘Guajira’ from ‘Santana III’, and followed up with a pounding seven-minute drum solo.

Even before the applause died down, Dennis Chambers was back on drums, joined by congas and trademark guitar lines as the famous Babatunde Olatunde composition ‘Jingo’ rent the air. One of the classics from Santana’s 1969 debut album, this was definitely one of the evening’s highlights, and was soon followed by a string of early hits ― ‘No One to Depend On’ (from ‘Santana III’), the Clarence Henry-written ‘Evil Ways’ (debut album), the guitar-led instrumental beauty ‘Samba Pa Ti’ (‘Abraxas’) and the percussion-keyboard-guitar-bass stunner ‘Se A Cabo’ (written by conga genius Jose ‘Chepito’ Areas in ‘Abraxas’).

What was surprising, however, was the inclusion of the version of jazz legend John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’, which he’d played with guitarist John McLaughlin in the 1973 project ‘Love Devotion Surrender’. Not one of his well-known numbers. Somewhere in between, Santana took the names of musical greats John Lennon, the Beatles, Bob Marley, Coltrane and Ravi Shankar, and then dived into a peace and unity speech probably inspired by his former spiritual guru Sri Chinmoy. Only problem was that it was a bit too long.

‘Smooth’, the song which bagged Santana a truckload of Grammys in ‘Supernatural’, had to be there. And though original vocalist Rob Thomas was missing, Lindsay and Vargas quite made up, much to the delight of the youngsters present.

Just as the concert seemed to be coming to an end, a familiar chant was heard, and soon, video clips of the famous Woodstock concert in 1969 were flashed on the giant screen, showing a very young and zapped-out Santana, with flashes of drummer Mike Shrieve, percussionist Areas and keyboardist Rolie. It was time for the ultimate Santana number ‘Soul Sacrifice’ and an electrifying rendition was followed by short excerpts from ‘Bridegroom’, George Harrison’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and ‘Toussaint L’Overture’, dedicated to the 18th century leader of the Haitian revolution.

Two hours and 15 minutes, all in all. Despite a few flaws here and there, it was an out-and-out treat for Santana fans. Yes, one has seen him in films shot in much younger days and the obvious comparisons did come up, but it was a hyper-energetic performance by everyone.

The set list, of course, concentrated on four albums ― the first three releases ‘Santana’, ‘Abraxas’ and ‘Santana III’, and his later super-hit ‘Supernatural’, with a few exceptions here and there. Nothing from ‘Zebop’ and ‘Caravanserai’, two of his best albums. Or from ‘Borbolletta’, ‘Marathon’, ‘Welcome’, ‘Milagro’ or his newest ‘Shape Shifter’. Some awesome songs like ‘She’s Not There’, ‘Victim of Circumstance’ and his version of JJ Cale’s ‘The Sensitive Kind’ weren’t there. No ‘Oneness’ either.

It didn’t matter, really. One may always crib that Santana is well past his prime, and that India has now become a market for out-of-fashion rock dinosaurs. But the truth is that besides taking one on a joyful nostalgia ride, one gets a true idea of the innovation and ingenuity that went behind the creation of such music.

Carlos Santana pioneered a unique brand of rock music, infusing elements of Latino music, jazz, blues, salsa and reggae. Yes, he’s had a few low phases over the years, but then, that’s a trait common to all rock artistes. What’s creditable is that 60s giants like him, Bob Dylan, Ian Anderson, Eric Clapton and Leonard Cohen are still producing some highly listenable new material, whereas the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, David Gilmour and Roger Waters are still rocking the live circuit.

Personally, every moment was well worth it, right from the Facebook build-up and CD-listening spells to the journey to the actual show and even the long wait after the concert ended. Probably, my one regret was that I didn’t have a Santana T-shirt, and chose a Pink Floyd ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ black tee for the show. But who cares? It was a dream come true.

 

CD review/ Jab Tak Hai Jaan; Music: A R Rahman


CD REVIEW

Jab Tak Hai Jaan/ Music: A R Rahman

Genre: Hindi film music

YRF Music/ Rs 175

Rating: ***

OVER the past couple of years, A R Rahman seems to have drastically cut down on his Hindi film work. In 2010, he had only two releases ― Mani Rathnam’s ‘Raavan’ and Abbas Tyrewala’s ‘Jhootha Hi Sahi’. Last year, there was only Imtiaz Ali’s ‘Rockstar’. And this year, he’s done Gautam Menon’s ‘Ekk Deewana Tha’ and the late Yash Chopra’s ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’, with nothing lined up over the next few months.

Of these, only ‘Rockstar’ really matched up to Rahman standards. Though he used only one rock song ‘Sadda haq’ and concentrated on many other genres, he also had successful tunes in ‘Naadaan parindey’, ‘Katiyan karoon’ and ‘Kun faya kun’. The best thing about ‘Rockstar’ was that he used Mohit Chauhan’s voice on all songs to portray Ranbir Kapoor, thus maintaining consistency.

In ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’, Rahman goes back to his frequent practice of using an assortment of singers, some of whom are yet to make their mark in Hindi films, or who probably belong to the ‘Rahman camp’.  He’s done that in so many of his later films – ‘Yuva’, ‘Guru’, ‘Rang de Basanti’, ‘Jodhaa Akbar’, ‘Ghajini’ and ‘Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na’ ― and though he did produce many good songs in these films, the overall efforts were not necessarily cent per cent consistent, unlike some of his work in the 90s.

The same thing happens with ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’. The songs have been created well, but the singing is rather inconsistent. A couple of songs really work, while some have very obvious drawbacks. Gulzar’s lyrics show flashes of brilliance, but his dependence on pure Punjabi on two numbers may make them hard to follow in some regions.

What’s really creditable, of course, is the quality of the arrangements, and how Rahman has used various instruments. Production-wise, ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ is first-rate, though on a few songs, one also gets the feeling that his dependence on orchestration is at the cost of melody.

The film has six songs, one reprise, one instrumental and one Aditya Chopra-penned poem set to music. The opening Punjabi song ‘Challa’ has been sung by Rabbi, who seems to have an obvious hangover of his hit song ‘Bulla ki jaana’. But what obviously makes this song is Keba Jeremiah’s brilliant guitaring, Ranjit Barot’s tight drumming and the short back-up vocal stretch.

Half the media has alleged that ‘Challa’ is a copy of Eagle Eye Cherry’s ‘Save Tonight’, based on a quote by one source, but there is no similarity between the two, except that they both begin with acoustic guitars and have a similar tempo. Tunewise, they are totally different, and even the orchestrations are not similar.

‘Saans’ has very Gulzar-styled wordplay like ‘Saans mein teri, saans mili toh, mujhe saans aayi; Rooh ne choo li jism ki khoshboo, tu jo paas aayi’. This song has been brilliantly orchestrated, with a haunting symphonic feel and Naveen Kumar’s melodious flute. However, the normally excellent Shreya Ghoshal seems a bit forced and unnatural, specially when reciting the word ‘Saans’, whereas Mohit Chauhan sounds a bit like Udit Narayan. The reprise, sung by Shreya, is shorter and sweeter.

‘Ishq Shava’ again has excellent arrangements, a Middle Eastern feel using the oud, mandolin and saz, and Gulzar gems like ‘Baadalon pe paaon rakho kabhi; Un mein zameen nahin hoti’. But the main melody line has a heard-it before feeling, and the song uses the very obvious Arabic word ‘Marhaba’. Moreover, while Raghav Mathur sounds crisp, Shilpa Rao’s voice jars.

The biggest treat comes from ‘Heer’, with Harshdeep Kaur sounding melodiously outstanding on this Punjabi folk-inspired tune. It’s the kind of song that grows on repeated listening. Of all the singers Rahman has promoted, Harshdeep seems to have the greatest future.

Neeti Mohan, who began with the band Aasma and recently sang the ‘Student of the Year’ song ‘Ishqwala Love’, comes up with the catchy ‘Jiya Re’. Again, her voice may not really be extraordinary and she seems to struggle on the higher notes, but she’s helped by a peppy, sing-along tune, Chandresh Kudwa’s guitarwork and a neat rap stretch by Sofia Ashraf. Nice, party piece.

Singer Javed Ali, a Rahman favourite, sings the title song along with Shaktisree Gopalan. This is perhaps one of the soundtrack’s weak spots, with the singing going haywire, the tune sounding like a nursery rhyme and the antara reminding you of one part of the ‘Padosan’ hit ‘Main chali main chali’.

The instrumental ‘Ishq Dance’ is a rhythmic delight, with drummer Ranjit Barot and percussionists Faizan Hussain and Nishad Chandra bursting with sheer energy, and the back-up vocals, guitar and bass adding life. This could be used as a great interlude in Rahman’s live shows.

Finally, we have Shah Rukh Khan reciting Aditya Chopra’s poem which begins ‘Teri aankhon ke namkeen mastiyaan, teri hansi ki beparwah gustakhiyaan, teri zulfon ke lehrati angdaaiyan, nahin bhooloonga main, jab tak hai jaan’. Again, a great musical backdrop gives this some zest.

Overall, ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ is the kind of soundtrack which may not impress on first hearing, but grows when heard regularly. Though one may crib that this isn’t among Rahman’s best in terms of the nature of the songs, it’s definitely above par as far as instrumentation goes. A little more emphasis on melody than on sound would have taken it a few notches higher.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Classic

Instruments from India – 2/ Sitar


LAST month, I had begun a monthly series on Indian musical instruments. The aim was two-fold: one, to make Indian readers aware of certain artistes they might not have heard before, and secondly, to expose relatively new audiences, mainly from the West, to the melodic or rhythmic beauty that various Indian instruments offer.

In this series, I shall not go into too many technicalities and playing styles. I shall focus on how the instrument is used in different genres, and mention the leading performers in each style. However, while I have tried to name all the main musicians, the lists mentioned are by no means exhaustive or complete.

The first part of the series talked about the violin, and how it was used in different genres, mainly in south Indian Carnatic music, and to a smaller extent in north Indian Hindustani music, film music and fusion. This month, I shall take a look at the sitar.

OF all the Indian instruments, the plucked string instrument sitar and the percussion instrument tabla are probably the most recognised among western audiences. For the sitar, it was primarily because of the efforts made in the late 50s and 60s by Pandit Ravi Shankar (picture on left) to popularise Indian music abroad. Thanks to him, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other rock and jazz bands used the instrument, though in a small way.

Before I get into how it is used in different genres, let’s begin with a brief instrument to the sitar. For starters, its name is derived from the Persian ‘seh-tar’ (meaning three strings), though it was said to be derived from the Indian instrument veena. It was used in the Mughal courts, but underwent many modifications till the 18th century.

A sitar can have 21, 22 or 23 strings, and has moveable frets and two bridges.It is played with a metallic plectrum called a mizraab.

The sitar is primarily used in Hindustani classical music, but has for many years also been used in Indian film music. By and large, Carnatic musicians have stayed away from the sitar, though veena maestro S Balachander was known to play sitar in Carnatic style too. However, many Hindustani musicians have adapted Carnatic compositions. These days, the instrument is being increasingly used in fusion and experimental music. Let’s now take a look at how it’s used in different styles:

Hindustani music: Here, the sitar is primarily played by a solo artiste, with accompaniment from the tabla and from the stringed drone instrument tanpura. At times, it is also used as a duet (called jugalbandi) with other instruments.

A concert usually begins with the rendition of a classical raga, the melodic mode used in Indian music. The first piece comprises a three-part movement beginning with the slow alaap, increasing tempo with the jod and reaching an energetic climax with the jhala. Here, there is no tabla accompaniment.

After the alaap-jod-jhala sequence, the instrumentalist plays two or three compositions in the same raga, with tabla accompaniment. These are known as gats or bandishes, and while the sitar player demonstrates his skill here, the tabla player also gets certain portions to play brisk passages, much to the audience’s delight.

Once this first raga is over, the sitar player may play another raga, or may play certain light ragas, folk tunes or devotional pieces, depending on the time allotted.

Though there are different styles of playing sitar in classical music, the two most common ones are the Maihar and the Imdadkhani types. While Ravi Shankar represents the Maihar school, the late Ustad Vilayat Khan (picture on right) was the leading player of the Imdadkhani tradition. Among the purists, both have a large number of diehard loyalists, who often get into heated debates on who is better.

Over the years, other great sitar players have included the late Nikhil Banerjee (also of the Maihar tradition), Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan, Rais Khan and Vilayat Khan’s brother Imrat Khan, who also plays the surbahar, a bass version of the sitar. Among Ravi Shankar’s disciples, Shamim Ahmed Khan and Kartick Kumar made a mark, whereas among Vilayat Khan’s disciples Arvind Parikh is well-known.

The next generation has names like Buddhaditya Mukherjee, Debu Chaudhari, Shahid Parvez, Nayan Ghosh, Manju Mehta, Usman Khan, Rajendra Verman, Vilayat Khan’s son Shujaat Khan and Imrat Khan’s sons Nishat Khan and Irshad Khan. Shashank Katti has used the sitar for playing music with healing purposes.

The younger generation has talented musicians like Kartick Kumar’s son Niladri Kumar,  Purbayan Chatterjee, Chirag Katti and Dhimant Verman, but of late, many youngsters are primarily focusing on fusion and experimental music. We shall talk of them in the fusion section.

Regarding classical duets, the two best-known examples of sitar jugalbandis are Ravi Shankar with sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan, and Vilayat Khan with shehnai monarch Bismillah Khan. Both combinations are delightful to hear.

Hindi film music: For many years, the sitar was prominently used in Hindi and Bengali film music. However, the increasing dependence on keyboards and programming has now reduced the trend drastically, though session musicians today do contribute to film and Indipop songs if needed.

Most of the earlier composers like Naushad, Shankar-Jaikishan, Madan Mohan, SD Burman, Vasant Desai, C Ramchandra and RD Burman made prominent use of Indian raags, and also used the sitar wherever possible. Among the sitar players, Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan and Rais Khan have played on numerous film songs in the 50s and 60s. While the former has played in the movies Mughal-e-Azam, Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje, Goonj Uthi Shehnai and Kohinoor, Rais Khan has played in Hanste Zakhm, Humsaaya, Amrapali and many other movies.

Ravi Shankar had composed music for the film Anuradha, and used a lot of sitar there. He also used the instrument prominently in the music for Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi.

Jazz, experimental music and fusion: Though the sitar is now playing an increasing role in these genres, there have been instances of its use many years ago.

In the late 50s, Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan played at a concert with jazz pianist Dave Brubeck on the latter’s Mumbai visit. Of course, Ravi Shankar was the person who made this an international trend, first recording with jazz saxophonist-flautist Bud Shank and then teaming up with legendary classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin on the ‘West Meets East’ project. He also wrote concertos for sitar, where he was accompanied by western-styled orchestras, did a jazz-inspired project called ‘Jazz Mine’ and recorded with international virtuosos like composer Phillip Glass, flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal and cellist Msitslav Rostropovich.

Ravi Shankar’s nephew Ananda Shankar was another pioneer in east-west fusion, playing sitar-based versions of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Jumping Jackflash’ and the Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’. For his part, Nishat Khan has collaborated with jazz, Gregorian chant, western classical and flamenco musicians.

Among youngsters, Niladri Kumar has created a modified called the ‘zitar’, which he uses on many fusion concerts. Purbayan Chatterjee has released an album called ‘Sitarscape’, and Ravi Shankar’s daughter Anoushka has released many albums of experimental music. Another well-known fusion sitarist is Ravi Chary, who has accompanied percussionists Trilok Gurtu and Taufiq Qureshi, and has released his jazz fusion album ‘Crossing’.

A few foreigners have taken to the instrument too. American musician Colin Walcott actually learnt from Ravi Shankar, and played the sitar in many jazz recordings, either as a solo artiste or with the band Oregon and musicians Don Cherry and Nana Vasconcelos.

Germans Prem Joshua and Al Gromer Khan are accomplished sitar players blending Indian music with jazz, world music and new age on some wonderful albums.

Sitar in popular international music: Though the Beatles popularised the use of sitar in rock music, the first to actually record the instrument were the band Yardbirds, on their song ‘Heart Full of Soul’. Beatles guitarist George Harrison, however, got increasingly interested in the sitar, and took lessons from Ravi Shankar and Shambhu Das.

Harrison used the sitar on Beatles songs like ‘Norwegian Wood’, ‘Within You Without You’ and ‘Across The Universe’, and also on his solo album ‘Wonderwall Music’.

Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones used the sitar on the song ‘Paint It Black’, whereas the band Traffic used it on ‘Paper Sun’ and ‘Hole in My Shoe;, and Jethro Tull used it on ’Fat Man’ and ‘Skating Away on The Thin Ice of The New Day’.

Other performers to follow the trend, albeit on one or two songs, include the Kinks, the Animals, the Monkees, Scott McKenzie, Steely Dan, the Moody Blues and Genesis. And though the sitar craze died after the mid-70s, the instrument is still heard in later examples like Metallica’s ‘Wherever I May Roam’ and Tool’s ‘4 Degrees’.

While the sitar has been used in various genres, the true barometer to judge a player’s musicianship does not lie in fusion or experimental music, but specifically in the way he plays traditional Indian music. The instrument has a wonderful tone and an ability to relax the minds of listeners, and those who want to really reap its benefits should go in for the real stuff. It’s magical.

CD review/ iUno! – Green Day


iUno!/ Green Day

Genre: Rock

Warner Music/ Rs 395

Rating: ***

FOLLOWING the super-success of its 1994 album ‘Dookie’, American band Green Day has been at the forefront of the punk-rock movement. After choosing a similar style on ‘Insomniac’ and ‘Nimrod’, it experimented with the brilliant concept albums ‘American Idiot’ and ‘21st Century Breakdown’.

The group’s latest album iUno! Is the first of a trilogy, with iDos! And iTre! planned over the next few months. In the 12-track effort, Green Day goes back to its earlier sound, using influences of favourites like the Clash, Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Damned and Billy Idol.

The album has its pluses and minuses. On the positive side, the songs are crisp and short, with the entire album lasting 41 minutes and only three pieces going over the four-minute mark. Moreover, the musicianship is tight, with vocalist-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist-vocalist Mike Drint, drummer Tre Cool and guitarist Jason White in top form, and producer Rob Cavallo doing a neat job.

On the flip side, there’s nothing new or outstanding about the overall sound. Despite some good tracks, what’s missing is a stand-out classic ― in fact, nothing in the same league as ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ and ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’. And yes, there’s an overuse of the ‘f’ word, which may be typical in punk rock, but seems a little forced and unnecessary here.

The album actually starts off well, but after a while, a bit of sameness creeps in. The opener ‘Nuclear Family’ has strong lines like “Like a Chinese drama and conspiracy, It’s the death of the nuclear family, staring up at you”, and ‘Stay The Night’ has a strong hook, smooth guitars and tight arrangements. ‘Carpe Dien’, which starts off with Armstrong singing “Breaking in a sweat like a bomb threat, is your silhouette fading out”, is one of the stronger tracks, with a crisp guitar line.

Thereafter, the repetition begins. The hardcore punk-rocker ‘Let Yourself Go’ and the punk-pop number ‘Kill The DJ’ brim with explicit and amateur lyrics. ‘Fell For You’ is melodic but routine, and ‘Loss of Control’, ‘Angel Blue’ and ‘Rusty James’ seem like similar-sounding cousins.

The latter half has a couple of cool numbers like the Weezer-like ‘Troublemaker’, which has a splendid guitar solo, and the teenager-friendly ‘Sweet 16’. If the band goes in for a change in sound, it’s only on the final number ‘Oh Love’, which begins “Oh love, oh love, won’t you rain on me tonight, Oh life, oh life, please don’t pass me by.” In fact, this is the only song which stands out.

Despite its obvious flaws, iUno! may click with those who prefer the band’s earlier sound. One doesn’t know what the next two albums of the trilogy have to offer, but the least one can hope is that they show a little more variety.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Classic

A loss to Hindustani classical music


FOR Hindustani classical music, the past week has been rather sad, following the demise of two veterans. On September 30, India’s first woman solo tabla player Dr Aban Mistry passed away, and on October 5, senior vocalist Pt Yashwantbua Joshi breathed his last.

Both musicians were well-known within classical music circles, especially in Mumbai, where they resided. They were totally devoted to their art, and were hugely admired by the serious music connoisseurs, thanks mainly to the purity of their work.

First, a short note about them. Aban Mistry was not only an exceptional tabla player, but a researcher on percussion as well. She was initiated into classical vocal music by her aunt at the age of four, and later took to the tabla. A disciple of Pt Laxmanrao Bodas and Keki Jijina, she also learnt the sitar and Kathak dance.

As a tabla player, Mistry blended nuances of the Delhi, Farrukhabad, Ajrara and Benaras gharanas to create her own individual style. She also studied the pakhawaj, co-founded the Swar Sadhna Samiti and wrote three books – ‘Pakhawaj and Tabla: History, Schools and Traditions’, ‘Table ke bandishen’ and ‘The Contribution of Parsis to Indian Classical Music’.

What’s interesting is that Mistry belonged to the Parsi community, which is more inclined towards western classical music. Only a few Parsis have established themselves in Indian classical music, and besides her and Jijina, the names of vocalists Firoz Dastur and Jal Balaporia, and sarod player Zarine Daruwalla come immediately to mind. This is besides Kolkata musician V Balsara, who was also a pianist, and Batuk Dewanji, better known as a music critic.

If Mistry was known for her work in percussion and research, Pt Yashwantbua Joshi was respected as a purist in the vocal tradition. A student of Pt Mirashibua and Pt Jagannathbua Purohit ‘Gunidas’, he blended intricacies of the Agra and Gwalior gharanas, and was also known to be influenced by the styles of Gajananrao Joshi and Chhota Gandharva.

Joshi was known as a stickler for tradition, and as a teacher. Many young disciples gained from his huge repertoire of compositions, and though he focused on the khayal style, he also sang bhajans and Marathi natyasangeet.

Both Mistry and Joshi belonged to the golden era of music. Unlike today, artistes of those days did not believe in promoting themselves, and were not affected by the now-important ‘image’ word.  Their work was all that mattered – mass popularity was never a barometer for artistic brilliance.

They also belonged to an era where newspapers wrote about and supported the classical arts. The classical columnists of those days knew their music extensively and passionately ―people like Mohan Nadkarni, Madanlal Vyas, Batuk Dewanji,  Raghava R Menon, S Kalidas, PG Burde and Amarendra Dhaneshwar, to name a few. Today, even when public relations personnel go to newspapers, web-sites and television channels with press releases, the focus is only on a select, PR-savvy few ― the so-called stars.

Sadly, there has barely been any coverage of the death of these two musicians. As of this evening, there was no mention of Joshi’s demise on any of the news websites, and a Google search on Mistry showed only a small item in The Hindustan Times, besides a few unknown sites. Mid-day also carried a wonderful tribute, which can be found on http://epaper2.mid-day.com/showtext.aspx?boxid=24814216&parentid=183746&issuedate=08102012&edd123=mumbai

They will of course be missed by the ardent followers of Hindustani classical music. In their own way, they made a remarkable contribution through their sheer dedication and talent.

CD review/ Privateering – Mark Knopfler


Privateering/ Mark Knopfler

Genre: Singer-songwriter

Universal Music/ Rs 395 (double-CD)

Rating: *****

THOUGH he’s best known as frontman of the brilliant rock band Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler has released a string of commendable solo albums during the past 16 years, exploring the rootsier side of his music personality. In contrast to the Dire Straits brand of guitar rock, he has used a lot of Celtic and country influences, charmingly mellowing down his tunes.

Knopfler’s latest solo effort ‘Privateering’, released last month, sees him explore these genres once again, but what’s really evident is his increasing fondness for and dependence on the blues. Add to that a dash of old-school jazz and southern American rock, and what we have is a set that simply grows on each listening.

Clearly, ‘Privateering’ showcases Knopfler’s phenomenal talent as a singer and songwriter. But what’s really creditable is that the Britisher has released a double album at a time when the trend is not only considered passé, but risky too. It’s difficult to write 20 good songs at a stretch, but he manages that quite smoothly and stylishly.

Most numbers talk of working class heroes like van drivers, farmers, daily wagers or sailors. Lines like “What made you think there’d be a living in sheep; Eat, work, eat, work, sleep” and “You don’t ask questions when there’s nothing in the bank; Got to feed the kids and put the diesel in the tank” make the songs more accessible and realistic.

The real difference, however, lies in the smoothness of the sound and in the quality of singing. Knopfler’s magnificent guitar ― acoustic, electric or slide ―  appears in short but swift bursts, unlike his Dire Straits work, where the instrument dominated the songs with lengthy trademark solos. Here, one also finds a strong contribution from the piano, organ, keyboards, violin, accordion, whistles, harmonica, mandolin, pedal steel, trumpet, saxophone, clarinet and even the Uillean pipes and stringed rarities like the bouzouki , cittern and tipple, besides the standard bass-and-drum rhythm section.

While the compositions are versatile and charming, Knopfler’s crystal-clear, honey-rich and ocean-deep voice is in super form here, as he varies his delivery according to the song’s style.  From the album’s very first line “Hunted down, I came upon, a piece of ferns and grass,” it’s vocal magic all the way.

Curiously, Knopfler mixes up genres randomly, instead of having all the blues material and all the country together. He starts with a folk mood on ‘Redbud tree’, and gets into a Celtic ambience using whistles and Uilllean pipes on ‘Haul Away’. Then, he switches to the blues on ‘Don’t Forget Your Hat’, a song that reminds you of Elvis Presley’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, but embellished by marvellous piano, harmonica and slide guitar.

After that, it’s all mix and match. The title track is a very Scottish folk tune, with a stunning acoustic guitar line. ‘Miss You Blues’ is anything but the blues ― it’s a folksy take on the traditional song’ Deep Blue Sea’. For a more Dire Straits flavour, ‘Corned Beef City’ boasts of a sizzling guitar backdrop and words that talk of daily struggle.

‘Go Love’ gets into a sad farewell mode, and ‘Hot Or What’ gets back into blues territory, with some jazz-laced piano and horns. The first disc concludes with ‘Yon Two Crows’, a Celtic tune with strong violins, and the pleasant country-folk piece ‘Seattle’, which has a soothing guitar-violin interaction.

If you thought the quality would drop on Disc 2, don’t worry, be happy. The opening piece ‘Kingdom of Gold’ is a Celtic charmer, with Knopfler’s voice shining on the powerful lines “His axes and armour will conquer these devils, The turbulent raiders will falter and fall; Their leaders be taken, their camps burned and levelled, They’ll hang in the wind from his citadel walls.”

‘Got To Have Something’ and ‘I Used to Could’ have a distinct JJ Cale stomp, and ‘Gator Blood’ moves swiftly in the Eric Clapton ‘Lay Down Sally’ mould, with a crackling slide guitar wail. For variety, the beautiful jazz-meets-Celtic, trumpet-laced ‘Radio City Serenade’ boasts of smart lines like “Every wounded soldier needs a lady with a light, to help him through the night” and “Oh you are so pretty my beautiful Rockette; You’ve got my arms and the crosstown horns; Going on ― we’ve got it going on.”

The album slows down with the rustic and bluesy ‘Bluebird’, which has an intricate guitar climax, and the melancholic ‘Dream of the Drowned Submariner’, which has the lines “Your hair is a strawflower that sings in the sun, my darling, my beautiful daughter; So went the dream of the drowned submariner, cast away on the water.”

‘Blood and Water’ gets into a country mode, and ‘Today’s Okay’ gets into southern blues, with Knopfler paying tribute to musical legends with the lines “Well, we like to have some friends around; Do the twist to Ray Charles and James Brown.” The album concludes with the foot-stomping sing-along folk-blues ‘After the Beanstalk’, which makes excellent use of harmonica, mandolin and piano, and has fun lines like “A hen can lay a golden egg but she still can’t sing; Well, the hen’s alright but the harp is everything.”

The biggest plus point of ‘Privateering’ is its total consistency ― something that characterised his debut solo album ‘Golden Heart’, but which didn’t figure in many other solo efforts despite individually outstanding songs. Though this is a double album, there isn’t a weak moment, and each time you hear each song, you discover something new. It’s a clear indication of Knopfler’s genius when it comes to songwriting. In every way, ‘Privateering’ is perfect hearing.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Classic

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