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Arun Ramamurthy Trio: Jazz Carnatica

Dan McClenaghan By

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On his 1967 hit song "Monterey," Eric Burdon, of Eric Burdon and the Animals, sang that Ravi Shankar's music made him cry. This was part of a litany of observational praises of the artists who performed at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival: The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, the Birds, The Jefferson Airplane. And from India, Ravi Shankar, an odd and foreign name dropped in with the big time rock stars of the day.

By 1967, Beatles fans were aware of guitarist George Harrison's fascination with Indian music, and his mentor-ship under the Indian sitarist Shankar. In fact, a sitar sound introduced The Beatles 1965 hit, "Norwegian Wood," and Harrison himself had, by the late sixties, experimented with the Indian music forms on "Within Without You" from Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Capitol Records, 1967) and on "Inner Light," the B side to the group's 1969 hit "Lady Madonna."

The jazz world, known for celebrating an array of World Music styles, has been slow on the Indian music uptake until quite recently, with a groundswell of Subcontinent sounds from the likes of saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa on Mother Tongue (Pi Recordings, 2004) and Kinsmen (Pi Recordings, 2008), and the group Karavika's gorgeously adventurous Sunrise (Self Produced, 2011).

And now there's the Arun Ramamurthy Trio, and Jazz Carnatica.

Violinist Ramamurthy and his trio—and some well-chosen guests—celebrate with a deep reverence, an unfettered joy and a palpable spiritual verve the Carnatic Music that originated and evolved in South India. The Brooklyn-based Ramamurthy, the son of Indian immigrants, trained in the tradition of Indian Classical music, has set his life's path on the sharing of Carnatic music and his own individualistic take on blending the classic Indian sounds with other genres.

Jazz Carnatica opens with "Dhansari," a tune more than a century old. It is a vibrant and dynamic sound. The trio—with Perry Wortman on bass and Sameer Gupta on drums—create an uncluttered atmosphere that feels at once modern and ancient, soothing and invigorating, cerebral in the most approachable of ways. "Maha G," has sweet, sinewy violin lines slipping over the low hum of a drone, before a shift into the strings riding over a heartbeat of a bass groove.

Pianist Marc Cary joins the trio on "4th Dimension" and "Simple Joys." The keyboardist's use of Access Virus 12 (a synthesizer) opens the former tune with a modern tinge—an eerie neon electric audio glow over Wortman's bass notes—and shifts into a near rock groove, a 21st century raga (of sorts) with sparkling, hard-driving piano and Ramamurthy's animated violin lines.

"Darbari Kanada," an ensemble improvisation with the trio, plus violinist Trina Basu and, again, Cary on piano and synthesizer—leads into "Govardhana" for the most purely beautiful eleven-plus minutes of the set, a profound soundscape with strings floating in and out of a translucent synthesizer wash, sounding a like a circuitous search for God.

Ramamurthy includes two of original compositions, "Delusions" and "Conception." The former features guest Akshay Anantapadmanabhan on mridangam. It begins deep in the East with a mesmerizing drone laid out like a painter's canvas for Ramamurthy's searching violin solo before the tune shifts into a Carnatic percussion groove. "Conception" features bassist Wortman and violinist Ramamurthy in the forefront of a shuffle and pop percolation from Gupta.

Jazz Carnatica by the Arun Ramamurthy Trio is a beautiful, exotic, ear-opening listening experience. The group and the leader, with a little help from their friends, sound like part of the early stages of the push to popularize an overlooked (in the United States) segment of the World Music sound, a music so beautiful it can make you cry.

Track Listing: Dhanasri; Maha G; 4th Dimension; Simple Joys; Darbari Kanada; Govardhana; Delusions; Conception; Revati.

Personnel: Arun Ramamurthy: violin; Perry Wortman: bass; Sameer Gupta: drums; Marc Cary: piano (3, 4, 5, 6); Trina Basu: violin (5, 6); Akshay Anantapadmanabhan: mridangam (7).

Title: Jazz Carnatica | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Self Produced

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