Prasanna's Be the Change
(Susila Music, 2003) was a remarkable combination of the South Indian Carnatic tradition with a fusion energy comparable to better-known guitarists like John McLaughlin. Electric Ganesha Land
moves away from jazz, paying tribute to legendary rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix. The lineup features Prasanna alone or with a number of Indian musicians playing traditional percussion instruments, and it is far from imitative.
Be the Change focused on Prasanna's strong compositional skills and rich harmonic language. Electric Ganesha Land is more about letting loose with a simpler rock vernacular and extracting, as Hendrix did, a wealth of textures. Add to that Prasanna's ability to execute, on an unmodified electric guitar, the wide note bends and slides that are fundamental to the Carnatic tradition. While he'll likely not turn the world on its edge the way Hendrix did, there's certainly nobody else who sounds quite like him.
The album opens with "Eruption in Bangalore, a six-minute shred-fest with Prasanna on his own, just one guitar ratcheted up to eleven. Comparable to Hendrix's take on "The Star Spangled Banner in its simple form but virtuosic interpretation, this piece finds Prasanna combining a metal-edged blues approach with phrasing from his own traditionit's unlikely that anyone else would execute Van Halen-style tapping in a Carnatic setting. This sets the stage for "Snakebanger's Ball, which is similar in its approach but, with an Indo-centric theme and the addition of percussionists S. Karthick and B.S. Purushotham, shifts further eastwards.
The record is not all about shredding though. The percussion-heavy "4th Stone from the Sun feels even more in the tradition, and Prasanna employs a cleaner tone which places his detailed articulation in full view. "Indira's Necklace relies on a more distorted tone again, but in a cleaner, power chord-free context that relies on the use of delay and reverb to fatten up the sound.
Elsewhere Prasanna layers multiple guitar and bass tracks. "Dark Sundae in Triplicate leans closer to the West with its pentatonic approach, while the aptly titled "Iguana on a Funky Trail sounds like it could have been an outtake from one of Hendrix's later albumsif he'd used the small but eloquent kanjira drum instead of a traditional drummer.
"Pot Belly Blues rocks in its own curious way, despite opening with percussionist B.S. Purushotham and Karthick's vocal percussion (konnakol). It's all part of Prasanna's quest to find the meeting place between the Western artists who have influenced him and his own traditional upbringing. Electric Ganesha Land also shows that it's hard to predict what he'll do from one album to the next. But that's exactly what makes Prasanna so intriguing and worth following for the long term.
Personnel: Prasanna: electric guitars, electric fretted basses, konnakol (4); S. Karthick: ghatam (2,8-11),
konnakol (9), morsing (4); B.S. Purushotham: kanjira (2-4,7,9-11), konnakol (9); Prapancham
Ravindram: mridangam (3,8,10,11); Haridwaramanalam A.K. Palanivel: thavil (6).