5

Avataar: Petal

Chris M. Slawecki By

Sign in to view read count
Avataar: Petal 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 Translator's Note CD/LP/Track Review Translator's Note
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: July 28, 2017
Read Then and Now CD/LP/Track Review Then and Now
by Jack Bowers
Published: July 28, 2017
Read Gol CD/LP/Track Review Gol
by James Nadal
Published: July 28, 2017
Read Duo (DCWM) 2013 CD/LP/Track Review Duo (DCWM) 2013
by John Sharpe
Published: July 28, 2017
Read Magnetic CD/LP/Track Review Magnetic
by Jack Bowers
Published: July 27, 2017
Read A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard CD/LP/Track Review A Rift in Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard
by Mark E. Gallo
Published: July 27, 2017
Read "The Django Experiment I & II" CD/LP/Track Review The Django Experiment I & II
by Peter Jurew
Published: April 2, 2017
Read "Swivel" CD/LP/Track Review Swivel
by Mark Corroto
Published: October 16, 2016
Read "Evergreen (Canceled World)" CD/LP/Track Review Evergreen (Canceled World)
by Dave Wayne
Published: January 4, 2017
Read "Heritage" CD/LP/Track Review Heritage
by James Nadal
Published: October 3, 2016
Read "Vanheusenism: A Tribute to Jimmy Van Heusen" CD/LP/Track Review Vanheusenism: A Tribute to Jimmy Van Heusen
by Mark Sullivan
Published: September 2, 2016
Read "Nor Sea, nor Land, nor Salty Waves" CD/LP/Track Review Nor Sea, nor Land, nor Salty Waves
by Duncan Heining
Published: April 30, 2017

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

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