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Good vibrations

I'm not a fan of fusion — unless it produces cheap thermonuclear energy. The first track on Amit Chaudhuri's second album, Found Music, doesn't really help change my position.

columns Updated: Feb 12, 2011 01:23 IST
Indrajit Hazra

Found Music
Amit Chaudhuri
EMI/Virgin, Rs 395
Rating: ***

I'm not a fan of fusion — unless it produces cheap thermonuclear energy. The first track on Amit Chaudhuri's second album, Found Music, doesn't really help change my position. While it doesn't have the straight-faced 'Have tabla, will plug and play with guitar' naivete of most fusion music, 'On Broadway (postcolonial version),' despite the title's self-referential irony, is more callisthenics than sonic turn-on.

The guitar reverb, the bass plucking and Chaudhuri's tightly meandering notes set to Raga Gavati (the liner notes tell me that) point to a very fine set of musicians in a studio but not a fine track beyond post-colonial ethno-sonic lines. Chaudhuri sounds like Tony Curtis singing at Vegas — that inage snapped by the sudden appearance of Steve Vai-style guitaring.

In contrast to the ghaant-style of 'everything in the pan' in 'On Broadway...', 'Saraswati' holds my attention as if it has caught me by my collar. The incantarory riff of the guitar with the hum-like voice that flows like weighted smoke is as hypnotising as it is beautiful. There's a wonderful bridge that appears in the song a few bars before a percussion jingle-rattle appears from behind the arras. Nothing is overdone, nothing is overheard. Chaudhuri is clear in his singing and clear in his song.

'One fine day' brings in a frisky back beat riding on bareback on Raga Todi (yes, liner notes). I like the leprauchan-like energy in this track where the music — barring the tabla, which at one point breaks into a wonderful dragonfly-trapped-inside-a-glass wings-whirr — keeps itself in the background and pops in and out like schoolboys watching the fun. The bar room piano struts up and down until joined by guitar, tabla and Chaudhuri's voice in 'Country hustle', his homage to the Lone Ranger. The wispy, unbitten line delivery doesn't work. It lacks, shall we say, a grubbiness. It's too darned clean. Even the saddlebacked 'Yeee-hoo' that Chaudhuri utters is done as if he's careful of the raga it is set on.

The bass crawl in 'Messages from the underground' are somewhat neutralised by the lazy reverb guitar strums. But Chaudhuri's voice sounds sure again — and he uses his voice as an instrument that's an extension of his body. The music is choppy, so I keep waiting for what Chaudhuri does with his voice. The fusion here breaks down completely as only the 'east' part holds while the 'west' bits make gurgling sounds as if they are on bad vodka.

Feigning a bathroom break at this juncture (on all the three occasions I've heard this album), I leave the song to wear itself out and come back to a surprise. The London Metro announcement is followed by Amit Chaudhuri deadpanning the words 'Mind the gap' in 'Messages from the underground'. He then drifts in and out of a nice Pink Floydish fuddle until... the track segues into a baby orgasm chorus-version of 'Break on through'. Too hysterical a take on an already hysterical song for my taste. And the socio-political message-metaphor (“Mind the gap between the rich and poor/Hugo Chavex — OAS — TELEsur”) is thick as a brick.

'So you want to be a rock and roll star' is a traditional fusion track — the voice fluttering, with effect. I find myself wavering here from my dogma and quite like the tune unfolding in my ear.

'Good vibrations' — tied with 'Saraswati' earlier — is my star pick from this album. I don't know the "two pentatonic ragas, Kalavati and Abhogi” from Kaushalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi. But even before Chaudhuri has me head-nodding to his take on the Beach Boys' classic, he actually sounds positively cool when he throat-rolls: "I'm picking up good vibrations/ She's giving em excitations.” (Although, as is wont in this post-colonial, playful world of trans-lingual unintended puns, I hear Chaudhuri sing about vaginal vibrations when he soft-stutters the words 'Good, good, good, good vibrations').

The take on the Beatles' 'Norwegian Wood' is actually where the music along with the voice comes together forecfully and naturally. It is a delightfully inventive and ears-loving track where Chaudhuri plays with notes with the dexterity of a Covent Garden juggler.

Found Music ends on a trapeze high note, with the 15-minute 'Famous blue raincoat suite'. Chaudhuri's voice is one thing. But his 'ear' shows what it's worth in this fab medley that starts with a trumpet-before-voice rendition of the preable from Joaquin Rodrigo's proto-Ennio Morricone composition 'Concerto de Arunjiez, followed by Raga Mishra Kafi (liner notes), that is seamlessly followed by takes on Leonard Cohen's 'Famous blue raincoat', 'Yeh raate yet mausam nadi ka kinara' by Ravi (lyrics by Shailendra) from the film Dilli Ka Thug and 'Yeh mahalon, yeh takhton, yeh tajon ka duniya' by SD Burman (lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi) from Pyaasa.

Found Music may not have won me over to fusion yet. But, as an album title once went, this is not fusion. It's good musicians playing interesting music with some genuine gems that have stuck in my head.