Narendra Kusnur's music musings …


Album: And A Half

Artistes: Arka

Label: Times Music

Price: Rs 295

Rating: *****

WE’VE all known Selva Ganesh as an outstanding player of the Carnatic percussion instrument kanjira, and as one of the members of the group Remember Shakti. Now, the son of ghatam maestro Vikku Vinayakram adds another feather to his cap via the fusion band Arka.

Here, Selva is joined by five extremely talented musicians – vocalist Karthik, flautist Ravichandra Kulur, drummer Gino Banks, bassist Mishko M’ba and guitarist Santhosh Chandran. Recently, the group launched its album ‘And A Half’, which as its title suggests, contains compositions with odd rhythmic scales ranging from one-and-a-half to seven-and-a-half.

Blending styles as diverse as Carnatic, Hindustani, rock, jazz, funk and flamenco, the album is a symbol of mathematical precision. Technically, everything is bang on target, and the tunes grow on repeated listening. Karthik, well-known for his playback singing and his work with AR Rahman, excels on the sargam passages, presenting complex phrases with effortless ease. Though he is sometimes reminiscent of Hariharan and Shankar Mahadevan, he has a presentation style that’s his own, and a supreme command over the nuances.

The other musicians are in perfect sync, and there is some terrific interaction between them. Selva’s spoken konnakol portions blend smoothly with Karthik’s vocals, and the accompaniment of Ravichandra’s flute, Gino’s drums and Mishko’s bass is first-rate. If anything, one feels Santhosh is a bit underplayed, but wherever he appears, he’s a delight.

‘And A Half’ contains eight tracks, beginning with ‘Arka’, a piece in seven-and-a-half. With lyrics by Manoj Yadav, it has some incredible interplay between vocals and flute, and supple drumming by Gino. ‘Meera’s Maya’, set in two-and-a-half, is a melodious number with the lines ‘Mhaare ghar aao preetam pyaara’, sung to the backdrop of marvelous flute lines.

‘Mini Tiffin’ bubbles with energy, with its funk-filled groove and flawless coordination. ‘Chain ko diya’, written by Gayatri Ganjawala, has an infectious hook, with Karthik singing ‘Mera wajood tere bin kuchh nahin’. On ‘Flamingo’, guitarist Santhosh excels with his flamenco-based sequences.

‘Parmaatma’, written by Manoj Yadav, has been set in a five-and-a-half beat cycle. After a slow bass and flute intro, it suddenly picks up tempo. ‘Ca Va Bien’ has some superb coordination between bass, drums, kanjira and voice. Set in one-and-a-half, the final piece ‘Boom Shankara’ is filled with verve, with the lines ‘Boom boom Shiv Shankar Mahadev Shiv Shankar’.

Each of the eight numbers has been masterfully presented. A lot of thought has gone into composing these tunes, which demanded total perfection from each artiste. While that has come naturally on the CD, one also saw that quality during the live performance held at Blue Frog last week to mark the launch. Clearly, Arka is a group with a future. It’s one of the most eclectic and exciting sounds to have come out in the recent past.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding


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