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.
Ravish Momin’s Tarana have a very bracing, sometimes haunting, hypnotic new ep out, titled After the Disquiet. On a lot of it, the disquiet is still very much present. It’s a duo project with eclectic violinist Trina Basu (also of diverse south Asian influenced violin/cello duo Karavika). Momin’s signature sound comes from his syndrums: recorded live in the studio, it’s electronically processed beats that swing much of the time – much as the sounds are chilly, the feel is organic rather than canned. Basu shifts allusively between terse pizzicato, plaintive chromatic lead lines and the occasionally aggressive staccato passage, alternately ambient and intensely melodic.
The first track, Disposable, works off a north Indian folk theme, edgily terse variations on what sounds like an Italian tarantella. It sets the tone for the rest of the album with striking warm/cold contrasts between violin and drums, Basu working her way up from minimalist pizzicato to stark melody and back down, and then finally a speedy crescendo where she goes high and eerily airy before both strings and drums meet in the middle. That one’s just short of nine minutes of fun.
The second track, Night Song, a homage to the late jazz bassist Wilber Morris shifts from tabla and electronic efx with a somewhat anxious, repetitive violin hook, to a hypnotic blitz of electronic percussion, to a wary chromatic violin theme, to faster trip-hop with pizzicato that fades out gracefully and sepulchrally. An almost nine-minute jam, Black Teeth of Trees sets stately, chromatic pizzicato against a thicket of straight-up 4/4 efx. The final, rhythmically tricky cut, Hava, was inspired by the intricately air-cooled Hava Mahal palace in Jaipur, India. It’s mostly echoey,minimalist drums with ghostly electronic embellishments til the violin comes in hinting at a major key or some kind of resolution, but not going there until almost three minutes in. After alternating passages of solo drums and violin again, it ends unresolved. Fans of adventurous, tuneful, eclectic string bands from Luminescent Orchestrii to Copal will enjoy this.