Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Raghunath Manet – Veena Dreams

Raghunath Manet seems to be the world’s only performer equally skilled in classical Indian dance and as a virtuoso of the veena (a smaller version of the sitar). This is one of the most extraordinary instrumental albums of the year – if you can call it an instrumental album. Like George Benson on the guitar, on a few of the songs here Manet will occasionally vocalize while he plays, forcefully. The album appears to be devotional, an attempt to fuse with the divine: for a western listener without any liner notes or knowledge of Indian languages, it’s unclear if these are liturgical chants or if Manet’s simply scatting along with the beat. Whatever the case, it’s a bit distracting, but when the veena, tampura (lute) and percussion in Manet’s ensemble are going full force, the effect is deliriously intense and absolutely mesmerizing. This is a suite of original compositions, a theme and variations that blend devices from western classical music and jazz as well as elements of the blues with Manet’s south Indian classical stylings; to say that it bears comparison alongside such south Indian masters as Debashish Bhattacharya or Ravi Shankar would not be an overstatement.

The central theme is an exquisitely beautiful, clanging and oscillating eight-bar phrase which coalesces and rings out ecstatically on the album’s third track. Before that, there’s a long, almost seventeen-minute introductory section which hints marvelously at the fireworks to come and also makes it clear how fond Manet is of blues phrases. After a brief segment for solo voice and percussion, there’s the central fireworks, followed by the first set of variations, picking up slowly and building with a terse minimalism. The fifth track here, at least during the first minute or so, is practically indistinguishable from the ambient, drony Mississippi delta acoustic blues of Robert Belfour or Will Scott before returning to harmonium-drenched, warm ambience.

After that, there’s a slow tone poem with more harmonium and then the resolutely galloping, eventually fierily chordal title track which finally brings in the main theme with all its glory before a surprisingly ominous, low-key outro. The suite concludes on a surprisingly stately, understated note that finally, after about six minutes, brings in half of the central theme, gently before two brief bars of tabla and then silence. Maybe this was designed to help the listener wind down from the thrill ride of of the previous fifty minute or so. Check your favorite world music retailer, amazon, emusic or mp3.com.

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August 18, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment