When the fusion of guitar jazz and traditional Indian music is discussed, either John McLaughlin or the late Shawn Lane will immediately come to mind. One can add to those ranks the marvelous talents of Prasanna, who has the added legitimacy of being a native Indian. On this entertaining album Prasanna has achieved a most impressive translation of sitar technique to the electric guitar, his fleet fingers painlessly pulling off the usual bends and shudders of the native instrument and making it seem natural (except for the burning “Ragabop,” which leans toward the supernatural). Factor in the presence of some stellar sidemen, and the result is a wonderful cross-cultural melange.
There are two core ensembles at work here. Flecktones bandmates Jeff Coffin and Victor Wooten, and their frequent drum partner Derico Watson, work their special magic on several tracks. All of Coffin’s horns are overdubbed into a wind orchestra on the opener, “Pangaea Rising.” The melody keeps alternating between lyrical and driving, a wild ride. Prasanna recites the rhythmic tala syllables on “Ta ka ta ki ta Blues” before his guitar and Coffin’s tenor fire up the cyclical theme, and “The Grapevine” unfolds quietly as the guitar and bass exchange sinuous lines. Following a pensive acoustic guitar statement, Wooten and Watson support Prasanna and vocalist Shalini on the punchy second part of “Bliss Factor.” The pinpoint unison between the guitar and voice on its exotic theme is simply indescribable.
The second core group here includes reedman Andy Suzuki (Brubeck, Corea, Kilauea), drummer Ralph Humphrey (Frank Zappa, Don Ellis, Manhattan Transfer), and bassist Alphonso Johnson (Weather Report). Once again Prasanna draws the best from his bandmates, beginning with the light-hearted “Satyam.” The Indian elements on this album are never simply stylistic filigree but an integral part of the whole concept, and Prasanna makes it work beautifully. Highly recommended.