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Avataar: Petal

James Nadal By

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A simplified definition of classical Indian music can be characterized as Hindustani from the north, and Carnatic from the south. Though both are based on the raga system of melodic scales, Hindustani's structure is open to improvisation, whereas Carnatic is more scientific and devotional in its approach. Saxophonist Sundar Viswanathan, although a longtime resident of Canada, was born in India, and has juxtaposed his native music with a pliable jazz awareness into Petal, his latest project with Avataar.

"Agra," the city in northern India which is home to the Taj Mahal, is melodically realized with background invocations and exotic imagery as Viswanathan plays his horn with colorful characteristics. The piece is transported into the modern era with deft guitar work from Michael Occhipinti, and bassist Justin Gray, while vocalist Felicity Williams engages in a trance invoking chant, accented by Ravi Naimpally on tablas. Ten years ago the Indonesian city of "Banda Aceh," was devastated by a tsunami, and the group pays homage with traces of Javanese gamelan inspiration. The torrential "Monsoon," travels quickly, as if a warning, before reaching the calming tones of "The Long Dream, with its lengthening drone, based on the tranquil ras flavor of the raga mode.

"Infinite Open," appears as a meditative hurl across the horizon, as the vocal nuances suggest the options available. Hindustani vocalist Samidha Joglekar is featured on "Raudra," created on the traditional rasa which might be interpreted as coming to terms with anger. "Ishwar," on the other hand, travels effortlessly on the transcendental plane, in search of the Supreme Lord. The Hindu goddess of nourishment, "Annapoorna," is the source for the upbeat and jovial mood in keeping with the spiritual concept portrayed. The title, "Petal," appears as a divided composition, with part one being "The Space Between," suggesting that it is the void in nature which makes it interesting and appealing, while the closing "Ephemerata," depicts a temporary nature, as quotes from savants and gurus are injected to dramatize the fact that we must live in harmony during our brief time on earth.

All the compositions were penned by Viswanathan, who flows with innate expertise on alto and soprano saxophones, as well as bansuri and flute. Bassist Justin Gray served as producer, and did an impressive job of realization. As an ensemble they are obviously in sync with the overall theme based on Hindu music and belief, while expanding their musical knowledge and productivity, penetrating further into the mystic. This direction and dedication has yielded a thought provoking record, taken to the threshold, from which one can continue to examine and explore the possibilities, and enjoy the experience along the way.

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

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