Monday, March 16, 2009

Saxophone Desi Style: Rudresh Mahanthappa, Kadri Gopalnath

The saxophone in the opening credits to this Tamil Film ("Duet") is by Kadri Gopalnath; it's unlike any other commercial film opening credits music you've ever heard. Gopalnath has been in the news quite a bit over the past few weeks, following his collaboration with Indian American jazz-maestro Rudresh Mahanthappa, who has a new album out called Apti. I haven't "Itunesed" Mahanthappa's album yet (any reviews? the excerpts played on Rudresh's NPR interview sound great), though I will be, but it prompted me to check out the Indian musician he's talking about. (Incidentally, Kadri Gopalnath has several albums for sale on Itunes as well, at the bargain price of $3.99 each.)

Here is a quote from the New Yorker piece on Mahanthappa that describes what Gopalnath is doing on Sax:

While Mahanthappa was at Berklee, his older brother teasingly gave him an album called “Saxophone Indian Style,” by Kadri Gopalnath. As far as Mahanthappa knew, “Indian saxophonist” was an oxymoron, but the album amazed him. Gopalnath, who was born in 1950, in Karnataka, plays a Western instrument in a non-Western context—the Carnatic music of Southern India (distinct from the Hindustani musical tradition of Northern India). Gopalnath, who generally plays in a yogalike seated position, has perfected something that jazz saxophonists have been attempting for decades: moving beyond the Western chromatic scale into the realm of microtones, a feat harder for wind instruments, whose keys are in fixed positions, than for strings or voice. Jazz players, such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and Albert Ayler, had gone about it by varying intonation, blowing multiphonics (two or more notes at the same time), or squawking in the upper register, where pitches are imprecisely defined. Gopalnath does none of that. Using alternate fingerings and innovative embouchure techniques, he maintains faultless intonation while sliding in and out of the chromatic scale. (link)

I don't play any wind instruments, and I have no idea technically what "innovative embouchure techniques" might be describing, but it sure sounds hard.

Also check out: Mahanthappa interviewed on NPR.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Review: New CD from Falu

People interested in Asian Underground music have probably already heard of Falu, a singer who first appeared on Karsh Kale's Realize back in 2001. Since then she's been featured on a number of other people's CDs, but today she releases her own, self-titled CD. Rather than going for more in the way electronic beats, here Falu works with a live rock/desi fusion band, doing a mix of English and Hindi/Urdu songs.

It's a strong first effort. Falu has trained in Hindustani classical music with Ustad Sultan Khan, and there are several nice Hindi/Urdu tracks on the CD. The strongest is certainly her version of "O Lal Meri" (aka, "Dama Dam Mast Qalandar"); here the music is traditional, and Falu gets to really show off her Qawwali chops. I found Falu's version of Asha Bhosle's "Dum Maro Dum" less exciting, perhaps because I'm too attached to the original -- and to Asha Bhosle's voice (still, Falu's rock/fusion band seems to be having a good time rocking out a bit here). Also good are "Rabba" and "Poojan." Ustad Sultan Khan himself shows up playing Sarangi on two tracks, and he joins in the vocals to "Copper Can."

Thus far, I've been somewhat less excited by the English language songs on the CD, though there are some notable exceptions. The lyrics to "Without You" are a mix of English and Urdu, and it's intriguing to hear Falu do Qawwali-esque vocal trills on the English as well as the Urdu parts of the song. "Hey Baby" is entirely in English (albeit with a desi musical touch), though from listening to the lyrics it occurred to me that Falu is replicating in a secular, English, rock idiom the themes that are also prevalent Qawwali music: longing, desire, and the inaccessibility of the beloved. The difference, of course, is that in Urdu the longing is for God, while in English the longing is for a lover. (Note: you can listen to "Hey Baby" on Falu's Myspace page)

You can get this CD at Falu's website; it's also available on Itunes and at Amazon. Readers in the New York area might want to hit the CD release party at Canal Room tomorrow (more details here). I won't be able to go; perhaps Falu and her band will come to Philly sometime...

[Disclosure: the folks at Press Here music sent me a review copy of this CD.]

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