5

Avataar: Petal

Chris M. Slawecki By

Sign in to view read count
While growing up in the Northern Ontario mining town of Sunbury, he was known as "Sam." But in his early twenties, Sundar Viswanathan reconnected with his Indian name and heritage, and, through several conservatory courses spanning North Indian classical to Turkish maquam music, dove deeply into his Indian musical roots as a saxophonist and composer.

"I had to transcribe flute and sitar improvisations as part of class assignments. The vocabulary got into the language of my own writing," Viswanathan explains. His subsequent compositions have explored various intersections between Indian contemporary and classical, Western contemporary and classical, jazz, and electronic music; these explorations have led him to play alongside Wynton Marsalis, Joe Lovano, and Dave Holland, plus more cutting-edge instrumentalists such as Sun Ra, Vijay Iyer and Rez Abassi. Viswanathan was nominated for a 2010 Juno Award with the world music band Jaffa Road, and has since put together and led the ensemble Avataar—featuring vocalist Felicity WIlliams, tabla player Ravi Naimpally, guitarist Michael Occhipinti, bassist Justin Gray and drummer Giampaolo Scatozza —to flesh out the voice of his unique and global musical vision.

Its synthesis of Indian and jazz music makes Petal beat with a two-chambered heart. In "Agra," inspired by the construction of the Taj Mahal, Williams' voice doubles and harmonizes with Viswanathan's saxophone so their combined sound rises and glows like a musical sun. "Monsoon" begins as a drone, like storm clouds in the distance growing closer, until Viswanathan's saxophone splashes in like plump raindrops upon Naimpally's tabla. Contemplative yet restless, "The Long Dream" is based on a specific raga. "The ras, the flavor of the raga, is tranquility," Viswanathan explains. "It was written in some long meters, in ten. The whole piece is really a big drone. One open sound. It was about the tranquil quality, that emotional connection to peace."

At the same time, Petal illustrates Viswanathan's prowess as an incisive, inquisitive jazz saxophonist. His melodic approach to "Banda Aceh," which blossoms and grows like a small flower, sings with the sweet, smooth and soulful sound of Grover Washington Jr. "Infinite Open" drives harder, an angry electronic buzz on the edge of its tabla and electric guitar; the free dialogue between Viswanathan's saxophone and Williams' voice echoes earlier duets between percussionist Airto Moreira with vocalist Flora Purim, despite their different instruments, material, and contexts.

Closing with Petal (Ephemerata), a hymn to "a peace that passeth all understanding," Petal proves to be a spiritual as well as musical experience, where Indian and Western, traditional and jazz, electronic and acoustic music, and form and content, all submerge and then emerge as one. "I want my music to be otherworldly. My belief is that, if the music transcends, more people get it, even if they don't get it right away," Viswanathan suggests. "I hope that I can touch something as an artist that people who are not artists might not be able to touch easily."

Track Listing: Agra; Banda Aceh; Monsoon; The Long Dream; Infinite open; raudra; Petal (the Space Between) Ishwar; Annapoorna; Petal (ephemerata).

Personnel: Sundar Viswanathan: alto sax, soprano sax, bansuri, flute; Fleicity Williams: vocals; Michael Occhipinti: electric and acoustic guitar; Justin Gray: electric bass, mandolin, taus; Ravi Naimpally: table, percussion; Giampaolo Scatozza: drums; Robi Botos: piano (7, 9) Fender Rhodes (8); Samidha Joglekar: hindustani vocals (6).

Title: Petal | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: InSound Records


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

CD/LP/Track Review
Read more articles

More Articles

Read ON Tour CD/LP/Track Review ON Tour
by John Kelman
Published: October 22, 2017
Read On a Distant Shore CD/LP/Track Review On a Distant Shore
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: October 22, 2017
Read Friends & Heroes: Guitar Duets CD/LP/Track Review Friends & Heroes: Guitar Duets
by Roger Farbey
Published: October 22, 2017
Read Signal 9 CD/LP/Track Review Signal 9
by Glenn Astarita
Published: October 22, 2017
Read For the Love of You CD/LP/Track Review For the Love of You
by Jack Bowers
Published: October 21, 2017
Read Recent Developments CD/LP/Track Review Recent Developments
by John Sharpe
Published: October 21, 2017
Read "San José Suite" CD/LP/Track Review San José Suite
by Nigel Campbell
Published: December 2, 2016
Read "Gin & Moonlight" CD/LP/Track Review Gin & Moonlight
by James Nadal
Published: August 26, 2017
Read "Over the Rainbow" CD/LP/Track Review Over the Rainbow
by Paul Rauch
Published: February 24, 2017
Read "The Wild" CD/LP/Track Review The Wild
by Jerome Wilson
Published: March 15, 2017
Read "Morphometry" CD/LP/Track Review Morphometry
by Duncan Heining
Published: August 29, 2017
Read "Tangled" CD/LP/Track Review Tangled
by Jack Bowers
Published: April 25, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.