There seems to be a Lounge revival on in this part of the world. And much like the way the genre was reinvented in the 1980s and 90s, it's claiming shelf space in a chilled-out, down-beat, spaced-out manner.
The Urban Grooves project wants a share of this growing market. To begin, the
producers have taken traditional music from four regions and mixed them in not-so-traditional arrangements. Not the first time, you might say. The difference, if any, is in the selection of songs and the mixes. And the fact that one team got to reinterpret the music of each region.
Among the selected regions, the one which hasn't yet got as much musical attention as the rest is Kashmir. It is also the only all-instrumental album, led by the santoor of Abhay Rustum Sopori, son of Bhajan and a generation younger than the other 'young' claimant to santoor mastery, Rahul Sharma.
Now, at most serious classical music concerts you are likely to find a group of listeners who prefer to stand out when the santoor comes on. The instrument perhaps strikes its tingalong best in a lounge studio. Don't forget, Shiv Kumar Sharma and Hariprasad Chaurasia's 'Call of the Valley' (1967) was the original Indian lounge music - if only because it's been played the most at state tourism hotel lounges (not just in Kashmir). Sopori's take is its version 2.0.
There is a heavy Sufi influence in the choices, starting from the first, 'Katyu chukh' (Call for deliverance), to the last, 'Allah hu'. The one I found the most haunting is 'Chol ma ha', which the album jacket claims is "hummed by village damsels" in honour of Habba Khatoon, the Kashmiri poet. The most interesting arrangement by keyboardist Anindo Bose is the spliced beat of 'Ya tuli'.
As folk music destinations, the other three states - Rajasthan, Punjab and Bengal - have been overdone over the years. Maybe it's my unfamiliar ears, but I found the selection from Punjab to be the most hatke.
The first song, 'Lokien suttey' by Mohinderjit Singh, brings in the unique sound of dhadh, the small percussion instrument that has led a long line of traditional music from Punjab. In the second song, based on the Mirza-Sahiba romance, a warm guitar comes in as a second lead. And it's with the guitar and other string instruments that Chin2 Singh (yes, that's how he spells it) sparkles. His rabab carries well the lovely tune and rhythm of 'Meri daachi'.
It's the female voice - of Savita Ghumman - that disappoints. She keeps slipping off tune in 'Kala shakala'. It's one thing to ascribe such slips to impromptu sessions recorded in situ in villages. But it's a bit of a disaster when remixed heavily with 'urban grooves'.
The female voice disappoints in the Bengal selection, too. Ratna Sur does well with the high notes in 'Tomar ghorey boshot kore koyjona', the first Baul song. But she misses the mark in 'Hridh majharey'. Thankfully, the Santhali tune of 'Lal pahari' has been left to Subir's flute.
It's another matter that the choice of songs seems to have been inspired by the regular repertoire of Bhoomi, a popular Bangla band. And then someone without much clue of the nuances seems to have mixed them in the studio.
It's when I got to the Rajasthan album that I became sure of a nag: the quality of the recordings.
I'd thought the crackle on the higher registers was caused by my not-so-sophisticated earphones. But tests on different systems showed there's something odd with the recordings' gain.
The music? Well, you have heard it all. Hakim Khan, who sizzled with his kamaycha in Tony Gatlif's film Latcho Drom, seems past his prime here. The mixing, though, is probably the most evolved on this album. It has the filled-up treatment of something well done. 'Jalaalo bilalo' exemplifies that best.
Now for something completely different: Chaurasia has come out with a new lounge suite. 'Spiritual Lounge' has the sort of music you might hear while waiting for Chitragupta to sort you into heaven or hell. I would prefer Nina Simone's 'Sinnerman' (tinyurl.com/8uq84k). Wouldn't you?
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