Prasanna: Electric Ganesha Land
Electric Ganesha Land
Hot on the heels of the genre bending South Indian Carnatic/jazz fusion album Be The Change, Prasanna here offers another staggering experiment. This time he fuses Carnatic music with many of the known variants, and sources, of rock musicfrom hard rock to heavy metal to blues to acid to bluegrass to grunge and pretty much everything in between. Shape shifting ad infinitum into soundscapes shimmering with the dazzling hues of myriad ragas, and some thrilling excursions into mainstream jazz, this must be the musical equivalent of literary magical realismkind of like Salman Rushdie with a Gibson Les Paul. Electric Ganesha Land, a blazing tribute to guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, is the third definitive addition to a nascent, but already remarkable, beyond-jazz anthology.
Victor Wooten's succinct summing up of the album ("The music on this CD can only be the work of a great musician,") could equally well be an introduction of the artist himself. Radically opposed texturally to either of the previous albums, Peaceful and Be The Change, Electric Ganesha Land erupts with potent vibrancy throughout, and works on several different levels, as is always Prasanna's wont. While an acoustic tribute to Jimi Hendrix would probably stretch one's resilience, for instance, this one captures the raw power and psychedelic imagery with which Hendrix's music bristled. Prasanna's guitar-from-Mars-via-Mylapore does the rest.
The liner notes hint at a multi-hued cascade of ragas (27 to be precise, like the number of constellations the ancient Indians defined the Heavens with). The combined effect leaves the listener drenched in intoxication before the last notes flit away. Sure to baffle those unfamiliar with the Indian classical tradition, Prasanna's inventiveness will leave others thrilled. "Eruption In Bangalore announces in no uncertain terms its hard rocking intentions. A free flowing exploration of the very traditional raga Suddha Dhanyasi like one would possibly never have encountered before. Prasanna gives a master class in rock guitar.
The savage riffs of the second track, "Snakebanger's Ball, might well have issued from the sonic blade of Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi. Hustling at a frenetic pace over a surprisingly minimalist Carnatic percussion ensemble of ghatam drum (in appearance not too different from a common earthen pot) and the deceptive-looking kanjira, the track packs a truckload of impact. It's is as cerebral as it is visceral, like much of Prasanna's work. In no time we are given a subtle profile of the rustic and ominous sounding raga Shubhapantuvarali, so much in vogue in the kitschy South Indian movies of the 1940s and 1950s as the snake charmers' melody. Prasanna delivers on the promise, taking the listener through the dusty streets of Madras, redolent with the dual aromas of curry and intrigue.
"4th Stone From The Sun , with an unabashedly Hendrix-inspired title, bebops straight ahead with a funky Hamsadhwani raga, a racy composition that transmutes to a Bilahari raga before eventually garnishing the composition with a little Arabhi raga. Prasanna thrills with his kalpana swaras (impromptu explorations of the raga within the set rhythm cycle) of a high creative order. The composition has the feel of an authentic mini-kriti (the orthodox form of a Carnatic composition), complete with a Pallavi (refrain), Anu Pallavi (second verse) and a Charanam (final verse that borrows patterns from the Anu Pallavi).
In a mini-opus of sorts, Prasanna's ingenious use of multiple, simultaneous guitar tracks in "Dark Sundae In Triplicane , paints vivid images. One might picture a relentlessly advancing hoard of Chinese junks on the mind's horizon. Originally written for a string orchestra, Prasanna plays both the lead guitar and the electric fretted bass. Using the refrain to dramatic effect, the piece grows and grips you by the scruff of your neck in its foreboding spell. Prasanna employs the ragas Chandrakauns and Ranjani in a way which captures the essence of a very mysterious orient. Very intriguingly composed, the piece marches in an almost funereal pace towards a surprisingly funky mid-section where the melodic bass lines take a free run exploring the contours of a brooding Abheri raga. Prasanna rounds it off on the vocals with some saucy kunnakol (vocal exposition of rhythm patterns that perform the role of percussion) - the hip-hop of the ancient Indians, as he once put it!
Weaving metaphor into music, "Indra's Necklace shimmers with brilliance in multiple dimensions. Indra, the king of the gods, in the Hindu myth places a net in his palace in the Heavens which stretches infinitely across in all directions. Perfectly clear and splendorous gems at each node of the net reflect countless other gems. If that was inconceivable, "Indra's Necklace brings us closer to that experience. Just as we take in the strains of a Shankarabharanam raga wafting in like the cool evening breeze in an Indian summer, there's a luminescent Bilahari raga that thrills you for just a moment. Before long it morphs into a dreamy Nalinakanthi raga only to again give way to the sprightly Kathanakuthuhalam raga. When you are in the throes of sheer bliss, much like the celestial nymph, the strains of Hamsadhwani raga drown you in what has to be the divinely beautiful. Prasanna binds these resplendent ragas to an aural net, seemingly reflecting each other across the expanses. New forms constantly seem to spring to life, seemingly arising out of near chaos, creating patterns that present random new twists to the wondrous thread of music.
What looks like a typo in "9th Stone From The Sum eventually turns out to be a clever play on the words and the rhythm cycle of the composition. Taking off on the 9th maatra (the fundamental unit of the time cycle from the start of the rhythm structure or Sum), the piece shows a great sense of aesthetic proportion and control. A grungy, high on mid-range sounding, Arabhi raga progressivly morphs into the ragas Bilahari and Madhyamavati.
"Iguana On A Funky Trail follows through on the grunge permeated ambience of the previous piece with even more grungy guitars, made funky with liberal use of a wah-wah pedal. The raga Abheri becomes the defining context of the piece.
If ever there was a quintessential Prasanna piece that the uninitiated listener should urgently get acquainted with, it's the quixotic "8th Avenue And East Mada Street . Straddling myriad styles and emotions, Prasanna explores the raga Sarasangi in the lead-up to the central section of the piece. Like a magic mystery mountain express, the piece chugs along the mountains and valleys, sometimes by sparkling streams and sometimes by verdant paddy fields. An aural kaleidoscope of sorts, the emotional appeal of the piece dramatically transformsfrom a delicate Sama raga here, the midnight blue Dharmavathi raga there, and before one realizes a Sindhubhairavi raga bringing with it the sweltering heat of an Indian summer. And what might one say about that Hamsavinodhini raga that seems to carry away with it the secrets of the sages?
"Pot Belly Blues continues in the Prasanna tradition of being a cornucopia of ragas. With a racy arena rock like feel the melody in Madhyamavathi leads us to a splendid rock infused ragamalika - literally a garland of ragas. Wailing Tubescreamer effects frantically explore a sequence of the ragas Mohanam, Revathi, Hemavathi and Mayamalavagowla.
"Sri Jimi shows that it is more than just word play. Set in the auspicious Sri raga, it leaves the listener in no doubt about its musical antecedents. If you ever imagined the kind of music Jimi Hendrix might have played were he to be born in India in some other lifetime, you can bet your last dollar "Sri Jimi would have his name on the credits. Wailing and whispering and meowing and ejaculating and singing, this is Sri raga like it is and never is. Like a large river assimilating the essence of the various streams merging in it, "Sri Jimi is a true testament to Prasanna's Catholicism of musical imagination and influence.
In true Indian classical tradition, Prasanna rounds up the fascinating musical journey that is Electric Ganesha Land with the unforgettable bhajan(hymn)-like "Bowling For Peace . This could well be the music of a bhakthi(devotion)-suffused minstrel. The Guru "Brahma amps give this deeply melodic composition a resonating sense of the truly beautiful. Soaked in the raga Sama, "Bowling For Peace carries with it one of the most memorable ragamalikas that one can hope to hear. The juxtaposition of an inspired choice of ragas Sama, Natabhairavi and Keeravani is touched by the divine when that shockingly beautiful inflection ushers in a haunting Nagaswaravali ragaliterally the song of the serpent note.
Electric Ganesha Land proves to be much more than just a tribute to Jimi Hendrix. One is left with the distinct feeling that Prasanna seems to have taken inspiration to sublime levels by being simultaneously both musically absorptive and true to his grain. When one sees beyond the obvious radical difference in sound and texture that the context has demanded, one realizes that there is not an iota of the contrived. This is music that flows without inhibition or pretensemusic that flows from the fount of the truest.
Postscript: The 27 Traditional Ragas: 1. Sarasangi 2. Kathanakuthuhalam 3. Keeravani 4. Sama 5. Kapi 6. Ranjani 7. Chandrakauns 8. Mohanam 9. Revathi 10. Natabhairavi 11. Bilahari 12. Dharmavathi 13. Sri 14. Madhyamavathi 15. Hamsavinodhini 16. Suddha Dhanyasi 17. Subhapantuvarali 18. Hamsadhwani 19. Nalinakanthi 20. Mayamalavagowla 21. Abheri 22.Sankarabharanam 23. Arabhi 24. Sindhubhairavi 25. Charukesi 26. Hemavathi 27. Nagaswaravali.
Tracks: Eruption In Bangalore; Snakebanger's Ball; 4th Stone From The Sun; Dark Sundae In Triplicane; Indra's Necklace; 9th Stone From The Sum; Iguana On A Funky Trail; 8th Avenue And East Mada Street; Pot Belly Blues; Sri Jimi; Bowling For Peace.
Personnel: Prasanna: electric guitar, electric bass, konnakol; Hariwaramangalam A.K.Palanivel: thavil; B.S. Purushotham: kanjira, konnakol; S.Karthik: ghatam, konnakol, morsing; Prapancham Ravindran: mridangam; Papanasam Sethuraman: kanjira.