How many great string ensembles does New York have? An unlimited supply, apparently. One especially intriguing group is the quartet Karavika, who play alternately lush and lively compositions based on Indian motifs that span from Bollywood back to ragas. Violinist Trina Basu and cellist Amali Premawardhana, bassist Perry Wortman and tabla player Avi Shah combine forces for a diversely melodic, often hypnotic original sound that also occasionally reaches toward Appalachian rusticity or a brisk Celtic mood. They’re playing the album release show for their new one, Sunrise, tonight at 7 at Drom.
It takes nerve to open your album with a solid minute of solo drums, but that’s what they do with On the Wing, a brightly swaying blue-sky theme with both American folk and Indian inflections, meticulous madrigalesque counterpoint and a suspenseful, percussive interlude midway through. The carefree Little Road Song is a minuet in disguise, with its tricky tempo changes, vividly rustic arrangement and then an unexpectedly pensive cello solo. The most striking composition here is Song That Floats on the Breeze, with its subtly crescendoing handoffs between violin and cello, allusions to both sitar music and Pink Floyd, and an intense buildup at the end that winds out gracefully in a fluttery star-shower of violin and cello.
The longest song here is the aptly titled Moonbeam, a nocturne that artfully works the album’s only extended minor-key theme through alternately soaring and stately passages to wind up on with an unexpectedly mysterious pulse. The Dancer, which is almost as long, is basically a partita, Basu and Premawardhana switching between austere and animated roles, then building to a full-steam ensemble workout that they take down again with a distantly reflective cello solo. The title track is the most distinctly Indian piece here, from its fluttering staccato intro, to a series of insistent turnarounds and a deliciously incisive, bluesy cello solo that Basu follows with an upwardly swirling, circling sweep. It sounds quite a bit like Brookyn Rider taking an inspired stab at classical Indian music. Whether quiet and reflective or joyously energetic, the melodies are as bright as the musicians’ tone: this is music for celebrating or getting lost in. As you would expect from an ensemble with a new album out, Karavika are busy this month; they’re also at Caffe Vivaldi on 4/20 at 8:30 PM.