Both Indian classical music and jazz get their sinew and their soul from improvisation, a perfect wellspring for Autorickshaw to draw from. The taal (the cycle) in Indian classical music has an aspect of composition, but the musicians open and change it. Singer Suba Sankaran fills the classical tunes with a hypnotic earthiness, signalling her as an accomplished singer in the Carnatic, or South Indian, tradition of classical music. Her intonation when she brings in the vocal suppleness on "Purvi Tillana" is a study in crafting a rhythm that is at once robust and pliant.
"Ganamurthy," a song of devotion and praise to the Lord Krishna, employs an eight-beat cycle. Ed Hanley on the tabla and Debashis Sinha on the sruthi box and dumbek enhance the effect, while Rich Brown invents melodic notes that sidle into the vocals, a feature that distinguishes itself on other songs as well. In an unusual move for Indian classical music, Sankaran plays the organ, which she uses for the drone, on "Ragam," a wordless improvisation where she takes the melodic structure, delves into it, and comes up with some engrossing variations. George Koller adds to the impact of this compelling performance from Sankaran with his playing on the dilruba.
Both the jazz tunes are adept interpretations. Sankaran scats with verve, lending the words a suppleness and bringing a heady effervescence that wafts balmily into "A Night in Tunisia."
The CD comes with an informative booklet and a colorful one too, the latter a takeoff on the exotic art on releases in India, particularly the southern part of the country.
Track Listing: Saraswati; Purvi Tillana; Ganamurthy; Unjalur; A Night in Tunisia; Ragam; Tanam; Tisra Tani; Chennai Five-O; Across the Sands; Caravan
Personnel: Suba Sankaran-vocals, piano, organ; Rich Brown-bass; Ed Hanley-tabla, jingle shaker, sruthi box, udu; Debashis Sinha-bass drum, shaker, riqq, dumbek, surdo, daouli; George Koller-dilruba; Kevin Fox and Tom Lillington-voices on track 1