Date: April 18, 2013
Venue: The Tea Lounge (NY)
Review by Dawoud Kringle
My friend Veronique Lerebours (HarmoNYom), after attending one of my performances, advised me to check out the Brooklyn Raga Massive, which is held every Thursday night at the Tea Lounge in Brooklyn. She assured me I would like it. I had not heard of it before; and I knew this was something I needed to see. So; on a spring night I ventured to the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn.
When I arrived, the night’s headliner, Namaskar (who was featured in an earlier article in DooBeeDooBeeDoo), had just begun their performance. Namaskar’s music was a lush, beautiful and energetic flashback to the golden age of fusion. The Indian raga influence was there for those with the ears to hear it; but the classic jazz rock vibe dominated. The keyboardist, Marc Cary, especially invoked this, with the fender Rhodes sound being the predominant sound he used. His playing infused new life into the classic sound. Sitarist Neel Murghai is a mainstay on the NYC sitar scene. His contribution to the music was arguably the most “Indian” sound in the group. Adapting the sitar to non-Indian music is a particularly difficult thing to do, and he does it well. Rashaan Carter on bass was excellent, holding down solid grooves and playing the kind of melodic undercurrent that propels and uplifts the group’s music in exactly the way it needs. His solos were beautiful. On violin was Arun Ramamurthy. His style was very fluid and precise, and his approach to soloing was very poetic. The band leader Sameer Gupta was particularly expressive, and demonstrative with his muscular approach to drums. His tabla playing was well adapted to the music, and provided just the right contrast to the jazz fusion vibe. All the musicians played skillfully, and the band communicated well, navigating the liquid arrangements of the classic bollywood songs. The music has a particularly cheerful and optimistic vibe that never got too heavy or intense.
Afterward the jam session began. I didn’t bring my instrument. Tonight, I listened. This would not be like the usual jam session; they were filming the event, and wanted to present a specific line up. But the event usually features a jam session after the headliner.
The first performance was David Freedman tabla and a young man named Mustapha on sitar. After a joking remark about “flubbed teehis,” they played rag charukeshi. Mustapha did a very short alap, and then they played in an 11 beat cycle (chartaal, if I’m not mistaken). Then they played a dhun in teental (16 beats). They played the raga beautifully. The audience was quickly enraptured owing to the skill of the musicians, combined with the brilliant choice of this raga.
Next was Camila Celin on sarod and Roshni Thompson tabla. They used a tambura app on an iPhone; a sign of the times, I imagine (but that’s an article for another day!). Their performance was marvelous. They both displayed great skills and particular sensitivity to the raga.
I recommend that those among the readers who enjoy this music keep their eyes open for these brilliant musicians.
The evening concluded with the celebrated Steve Gorn and Eric Fraser doing a bansurai jungabali. They were another example of modern raga players using an iPhone tambura. On tabla was Shivalik Ghoshal. They played rag chandrakauns in rupak taal (7 beats). Their performance was truly mesmerizing; it’s amazing how well two bansurai work well together. The instruments seem to enjoy talking to each other. Their performance was passionate and inventive; yet dreamy and hypnotic. The teehi at the end was surprisingly aggressive for bansurai; although much of this effect was from Ghoshal‘s tabla playing, which was compelling and powerful throughout the whole raga. They played a spring raga as a brief encore.
On a personal note, the whole night was such a delight for me! The music, the laid back, friendly vibe in the Tea Lounge, and the fact that something absolutely new and unique and beautiful is emerging, and we are part of it; all were immensely pleasurable. I plan on returning (and performing!)
History is being made at the Tea Lounge with the Brooklyn Raga Massive. This is a first in Indian classical music where musicians present the music in this kind of social setting. The atmosphere is a low key chill of friends hanging out. No “Guru / Ustad” pressure, no restrictions on anyone, all are on an equal footing, all are accepted. And the fact that the headlining performers are actually expected to be non-classical, “fusion” performers is telling that the traditional and experimental are merging and creating something greater than the sum of its parts. It is providing a creative crucible where this music and the musicians who play it can grow and evolve.
I urge the reader to support this scene. Mark my words: something truly marvelous will come of this, and we will one day smile at our grandchildren and say “I was there.”