Shastriya Syndicate – Syndicated (Sense World Music, 2008)
Mandala ensemble – Mandala (Sense World Music, 2008)
It was one of those gorgeous late spring Saturdays with every plant under the sun blooming, and nothing could go wrong. I received two new Sense World Music recordings, both ensembles that literally blew me away. First, Shastriya Syndicate which features some of India’s masterful young talent including, sitarist Purbayan Chatterjee, Carnatic veena player Jayanthi Kumaresh, tabla player Subhankar Banerjee, sarangi player Murad Ali, bansuri flutist Rakesh Chaurasia, mridangam player Patri Satish Kumar and percussionist Pramath Kiran (musicians from Carnatic and Hindustani traditions).
This fiery ensemble performs original compositions on their debut recording, Syndicated. The playing here, borders on 60s psychedelic–exploding with fantastic colors reminding me of Jimi Hendrix’ saying, "are you experienced?" I am not sure why exactly, except that the experience of listening to this disc sends my mind soaring in the clouds and I am left with the question, "have you ever been Syndicated?"The music itself is almost indescribable. The sarangi resembles Hindustani vocals, the sitar resembles a guitar at times, and the flute playing can only be called out-of-this-world. The veena and the bansuri flute, part of the spiritual trilogy of Carnatic music along with the mridangam (drum), add a touch of grace. And while this music does not lend itself to meditation, because of its adrenaline speed, it leads the mind eventually to a place of stillness through its sheer power and beauty. "A Journey Within" which features sitar, flute, sarangi and percussion does slow down the pace, sending minds into revelry. It acts as a short respite.
All and all, I am enjoying this music immensely and I would not be surprised if this recording ends up on my favorite CD list at the end of 2008, if not for the entire decade. These musicians combine soulfulness with technical brilliance. They add color, warmth, dexterity and the youthful quest for adventure to this recording.
And just when I thought I wouldn’t get enough of this beautiful music, I slipped Mandala into the CD player, featuring some of the same musicians, (Jayanthi on veena, Purbayan on sitar, Subhankar on tabla) along with Jayachandra Rao on mridangam. The jugalbandi here combines a musical marriage between India’s southern and northern musical traditions. Mandala provides a vehicle for Jayanthi’s veena and Purbayan’s sitar playing, backed by those Indian beats performed on tabla and mridangam.
Both of these musicians, Purbayan and Jayanthi have already reached stellar heights, despite their young age. According to the liner notes, Jayanthi "is one of the foremost veena players of India…recognized for her virtuosity, musical insight, rich tonal qualities and strict adherence to her tradition in performance." The liner notes also praise Purbayan, mentioning his numerous awards and achievements in not only the realm of traditional Indian music, but other musical forms such as jazz, blues, Spanish flamenco and African jazz. (I own several of his recordings and can attest to his musical brilliance).
As the title of the group and CD might imply, Mandala takes its listeners on a spiritual journey of the mind and heart. The shimmering sitar and throaty veena compliment each other over a backdrop of southern and northern drum beats. Again, we are welcomed by musical virtuosity and technical fireworks. Listeners can only feel exhilarated after listening to this refreshing music that comes straight from the souls of the musicians. Drummers and drum enthusiasts also will be delighted with a 17 minute drum duet that comes towards the end of the CD.
Once again, the folks at Sense World Music have delivered more than music recordings, they have delivered experiences, priceless and beyond any words this journalist can give them. Although I have written a lot here, I am feeling speechless at the moment. I just want to take the inward journey these recordings offer.
Buy the CDs:
Patricia Herlevi hosts a community radio show, Global Heartthrob every Tuesday, 2 to 4 p.m. and 8 to 10 p.m. PST, at KSVR-Mount Vernon, 91.7 FM in Skagit Valley, Washington or ksvr.org, streaming live.
She also hosts the healing music blog, The Whole Music Experience.
Patricia Herlevi is a former music journalist turned music researcher. She is especially interested in raising music consciousness. She is looking for an agent and publisher for her book Whole Music (Soul Food for the Mind Body Spirit). She founded and hosts the blog
The Whole Music Experience and has contributed to World Music Central since 2003.