Complex compositions full of enthralling musical flourishes.
David Katz 2011
One of London’s experimental trailblazers, tabla player and electronic musician Talvin Singh has turned up in countless guises over the years, collaborating with everyone from Sun Ra, Benjamin Zephaniah and Courtney Pine to Siouxsie and the Banshees, Björk and Madonna. Although best known for his fusion of drum’n’bass and other electronic sub-genres with the traditional rhythms of his ancestral homeland (spawning what was once called the Asian Underground movement), this musical polymath has turned his hand to many different styles, which means you can never really predict where he will go next. And his pairing with non-conformist sitar wizard Niladri Kumar turns out to be fine match.
A child prodigy from a long line of sitar masters, Kumar modified the instrument for a rock music audience, creating the pared-down zitar, and evidencing a similar adventurousness to Singh. As noted at their recent performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of the Alchemy festival, the two musicians have apparently known each other for quite some time, and we are fortunate they have finally decided to collaborate.
On this surprisingly meditative album, electronic music is very much a discerning accompaniment, rather than an obtrusive presence. The opening number, River, has a driving electro backbeat, but is really a showcase for Kumar’s expressive melodies, the sitar player bending pitches and hovering between semi-tones. Ananta also starts with a boom-box rhythm and slapped-bass samples, but soon allows Kumar space to lead, though this time his sprightly melody is given the cut‘n’mix treatment, allowing Singh’s blinding tabla work to blast the music forward. In contrast, Mirror, Jogi, and a magnum opus called Threads are delightful acoustic exchanges between the pair, tastefully aided by subtle reverb.
Many of the melodies on this album sound deceptively simple, but close listening reveals these songs as complex compositions, full of enthralling musical flourishes that can only come from strong musical chemistry. It is the kind of album that sounds better after you’ve become accustomed to it, allowing its hidden textures to be slowly illuminated.