A season of breakthroughs

Three new non-film albums have it in them to be regarded as classics a few bridges down the stream. One is a promising solo debut, another is a unique East-West discourse, and the third one rises above the din in India's most clamourous folk market.

Album: The Story So Far
Description: Debut 'Hindie' album by Angaraag 'Papon' Mahanta
Publisher: Times Music, Rs 149
Rating: ***

Of the three, Papon's 'Hindie' debut was the only one we could see coming. If you've followed the Assamese singer's journey, you would have expected it sooner. His first Hindi film song came out way back in 2004 - Sajna Bawre Mere in Let's Enjoy. Maybe that's why this 'debut' is titled The Story So Far.

Papon plays hopscotch between two musical fiefs he has grown up in: a folksy one led by a soaring voice that folds elegantly (Main Toh Chalta Hi Raha, Boitha Maro Re), and an electronica-infused one with skid-breaks (Durr, Kyun Hota Hai Pyar). His time-tested hit, Jonaaki Raati, is also there. If you didn't hear them first in Papon's rich timbre, you could have thought Baarish Ki Boondein and Chhoti Chhoti Baatein were written for Mohit Chauhan.

That's why Papon needs to follow this up with fresh ideas. Ones that will be, ideally, produced by someone with some distance from the compositions.

Album: Sachal Jazz
Description: Interpretation of jazz and bossa standards in Indian instruments
Publisher: Times Music, Rs 195
Rating: ****

Naresh Fernandes came up with a wealth of material while digging for his book on jazz in Bombay, Taj Mahal Foxtrot. In the eponymous blog he maintained while researching, Fernandes posted an online video of an Indianised/Pakistanised version of Dave Brubeck's Take Five, recorded by the Sachal Studios Orchestra of Lahore. A smile would creep upon the face of anyone who listened to the foot-tapping number being rendered in the subcontinent's meandering style. The Pathan-suited orchestra - led by a sitar, a tabla and supported by a bank of earnestly bowed strings - was conducted by Izzat Majeed in dead seriousness. Any musical irony was seemingly lost on the lot. It was boldly crafted kitsch.

We now have a whole album of such reinterpreted jazz and bossa nova standards from Sachal. Once you hear more from their Black-meets-Brown repertoire, you cannot miss the audacity of the enterprise or the skill of the orchestration. Their creation may be nothing short of a mulatto musical language.

The stylistic dislocation wasn't so pronounced when, say, pianist Dave Brubeck was collaborating with sitarist Halim Jaffer Khan, when Shankar-Jaikishan were putting out their own brand of jazz, or when RD Burman's lieutenant Swapan Chakraborty was borrowing from Autumn Leaves to score Tum Bhi Chalo, Hum Bhi Chale in Zameer.

But when Tom Jobim's Desafinado is transposed to Pa-dha-ni-sa-dha-dha-dha-saaa-dha-dha by Sachal, it's not a simple transliteration; it's a new style altogether. And that's why we need not worry about any loss in translation. Queue up the 'regular' and 'raag' versions of Girl From Ipanema on your player, close your eyes, and think of being by the sands of Karachi/Mumbai.

Album: Mitha Bol
Description: Field recordings of Rajasthani folk
Publisher: Amarrass Records, Rs 375
Rating: ****1/2

Mitha Bol delights with the sheer quality of its renditions. Recorded in situ on analog tapes across Rajasthan, this album from Amarrass begins what they call their 'field recordings series'.

For the Maru Behag-laced Tulsi Kya Karoon, Lakha Khan uses his cracked voice to merely outline; the exposition comes from his sarangi, which pours out the imploring tune in thick folds.

Bagga Khan and Meisa Ram scratch the Prem Patri tune like playful cats. Haakam Khan's kamancha sizzles in Zorawar Bagh. Mangey Khan's falsetto in Pir Murshid Haiyad Ka Kalaam has to be heard to be believed. And Jalal Khan's Sufi Hai Muskaan is supported by a hypnotic harmonium.

It's an album for any season of the year, for any time of the day.


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