Sinking under water | Bleader

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Sinking under water

Posted By on 10.04.07 at 06:32 PM

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A couple of years ago sitar player Anoushka Shankar made a record that seemed calculated to put some space between her and her iconic father, Ravi. Since she was just a child he’d been tutoring her in the difficult art of Indian classical music, and by the time she was a teenager he was taking her on tour with him. Eventually she landed a high profile record deal on Angel Records. She had some talent, but nepotism and her name were the reason she got a record contract.

On Rise (2005) she experimented with electronic music and studio postproduction, and even did some genre-hopping, like adding a flourish of flamenco. It was a technically solid outing, but it wasn’t particularly interesting. Still, I had hope that someone who clearly had one foot in the fundamentals of Indian classical and the other in contemporary electronic sounds—she’d alreadyworked with the Indian duo Midival Punditz—might be able to find an interesting middle ground between the two. But listening to her latest album, Breathing Under Water (Manhattan), a collaboration with percussionist and producer Karsh Kale, it sounds like a successful fusion just isn’t in her. It’s not a horrible piece of work, excepting a skin-crawling piece with saccharine vocals by Sting and a monstrosity called "Little Glass Folk" that borrows from Western classical, but it’s way too easy to ignore. A couple of nonfamous Indian singers outshine the market-driven cameos (like Sting and Shankar’s half-sister Norah Jones; Ravi Shankar makes an appearance as well), and occasionally Anoushka’s electronically-treated sitar emerges from Kale's programmed rhythms, but on the whole there are just way too many truncated and meaningless solos layered over gurgling beats. It's like Shankar is fearful of doing anything that wouldn't add some pleasant ambiance to an upscale lounge. Breathing Under Water makes Rise sound positively bold.

I missed Shankar's performance last summer in Millennium Park, but I heard she leaned too heavily toward canned tracks on a computer, and this new album would suggest she’s doing it even more. She plays Saturday night at McAninch Arts Center in Glen Ellyn, although she’s touring without Kale, who just happens to be performing later that night at Sonotheque. Seems unlikely that he’ll be able to do both gigs, but I’ve heard rumors that Anoushka and crew will be turning up at Sonotheque.


Today’s playlist:

Various Artists, The Bombay Connection, Vol. 1: Funk From Bollywood Action Thrillers 1977-1984 (Bombay Connection)
Radio Zumbido, Pequeño Transistor de Feria (Quartermass)
Noah Georgeson, Find Shelter (Plain)
Fiery Furnaces, Widow City (Thrill Jockey)


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