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  • Jonathan Widran

BICKRAM GHOSH, Glorious India - The New Sound of Tradition

Beyond the fiery, toe-tapping energy and exhilarating feeling of soul elevation, there’s a reason you’ll also feel infused with a sense of the divine presence and love when you listen to the explosive musical miracle Glorious India – The New Sound of Tradition, a six-piece, 35-minute masterwork of melodies, rhythms and native Indian instruments, woven together as a fusion of traditional and contemporary sonic wonders by Bickram Ghosh.

In an article about the project in Times Now News by Soumayabrata Gupta, the legendary tabla master says, “The tabla has become an extension of my body. . .Music has given me a connection with something bigger than me. I have had the great honour and privilege of existing in this life with this. And it has given me happiness, pleasure, sense of self, nothing can compare to it. You are becoming one with God when you play an instrument.”

After decades as his instrument’s premiere ambassador, the mission of that feeling of oneness is clear – to capture, share and celebrate the rich musical heritage of his country while reflecting aspects of its ever-vibrant present and hopeful future. Though his tablas, kanjeera (Indian frame drum) and Roland HandSonic are the foundation of the collection’s organic and ancient meets modern electronic aesthetic, Ghosh also plays the Quincy Jones role in leading a crew of legendary peers through the tracks, each of which feels more like an improvised journey or adventure filled with unexpected surprises than carefully charted songs.

His cohorts include Rakesh Chaurasia (flute), Kumaresh Rajagopalan (violin), Pt. S. Sekhar (mridangam), Rajhesh Vaidhya (veena), Arun Kumar (drums), John Paul (guitar), Prattyush Banerjee (sarod), Kunal Das (keyboards) and Dhiman Bhattacharya (percussion). If you haven’t heard of some of these exotic instruments and the distinctive sounds they make, enjoy Googling as you’re listening along and let your ears try to figure out what’s what. The album was produced by Eternal Sounds.

While much has already been written about Glorious India’s unique incorporation of American music forms like jazz and blues, along with the daring possibilities of electronica, there are many other genres represented, including a very prominent new age influence via the gentle flute and meditational passages that emerge as frequently as the heavier ethnic/exotic excitement.

Another genre that hasn’t been mentioned but is definitely present to the discerning ear is prog rock. While the opening track “Gokul” opens in a wash of breezy, and mystical flute grace, it quickly opens up to a throbbing rock and roll sensibility, with the snappiness of whatever Indian stringed instruments sound like fiery electric guitars dialoguing with the violin. Following extended flute and violin solos, the rock energy picks up again. The pairing of the strings with a droning sound and intense percussion sets the tune alight.

One of the countless accolades mentioned in Ghosh’s bio is his scoring of 54 films in Hindi and Bengali, in addition to documentary and television scoring. This ties in well with the orchestral vibe of “Samay,” which sweeps in powerfully after a mystical, hypnotic new agey intro, alternating throughout with a lead string instruments (including violin) and light funk grooves between the soaring seductive passages. The next track, “Veer” is a punchy, clapping, intensely percussive jam showcasing what feels like a dance between flute and violin, with a dazzling piano improvisation by Kunal Das to add a bit of jazzy flair.

At the halfway point on the album, Ghosh ushers in “A New India,” opening the piece with a sparse, strumming string and a romantic crying violin before the emphatic percussion ventures in and begins an exciting dance punctuated by jazzy piano and dynamic funk grooves coupled with organic Indian beats. This track is a true adventure, shifting sonic textures, rhythms and instruments at breakneck speed – so hold on tight!

From the intro through passages deep in its percussive musical heart, “Gulal” is sparked by the beautiful harmonies and urgent excitement of chanting female vocals, adding a unique method of emotional communication to enhance the ever-evolving pulses and mix of droning and plucked strings. Glorious India wraps with the most new age-flavored piece in the set, a gentle, lilting, rhythmically laid back tune embodying the “Spirit of Love.” Adding to the dreamlike quality are tender piano passages that underscore the rich string musings.

Besides the fusion of styles and old world meets contemporary sensibility that capture the theme of the project, Glorious India is notable for achieving its multi-faceted aims in only 35 minutes – which, in all honesty, should be immersed in straight through for the ultimate listening experience!    





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