Shortly after hearing the transcendent operatic voice and the gentle yet soaring and soul-transformative music of new age crossover star Sangeeta Kaur for the first time, I was given the opportunity to write a review of her fourth album Compassion in 2019, just months before the pandemic. I began: “With a name given to her by yoga master that translates to ‘Princess of Music and Harmony,’ the world-renowned Peace Song Award winner is a revelation and an artist we need more than ever in a world where the news of the day is nothing less than chaotic.”
This is still as, if not more true today as we continue to go through the global health crisis. One of her quotes from this time still offers great comfort and has words we should contemplate and take to heart as we watch Sangeeta Kaur & Friends, a vibrant, elaborately produced new public television special (which debuted September 19 on PBS) that is part of the famed Front and Center intimate performance series. Sangeeta says, “I want to be available to those who are ready for it. The songs must serve a true purpose and for anyone being challenged in these times, I am committed to sharing music that uplifts and inspires the soul.”
Bookended by stunning presentations of two tracks from Illuminance, her revelatory 2020 opus co-written with two time Grammy winning new age pianist Peter Kater – the mystical, soothing and deeply emotional “Illuminance” and the haunting, classically tinged, vocal harmony laden “Presentation” – the hour plus production truly lives up to its billing. While Sangeeta is an angelic, goddess like vision whose ethereal voicings and operatic grandeur is at the heart of each piece, each of the productions feature unique ensembles and interactions with high profile artists and incredible veteran musicians from different musical realms.
While musically and visually, Sangeeta Kaur & Friends seems designed as a single transcendent experience with one song and tonally subdued or intensely dramatic visual set piece flowing effortlessly and elegantly to the next, there are four segments that stand out (IMHO) and will definitely be ones to revisit, perhaps multiple times, for pure joy, inspiration and the feeling of soul travel if you DVR the show.
Following the two opening tracks from Illuminance (including “Come and Find Me,” a passionate plea and invitation for departed souls to connect with and sing to their beloveds still on earth), Sangeeta engages in an exquisite, lilting duet with Hawaiian ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro that showcases her operatic brilliance and his balmy strumming and rich improvisational skills.
Completely different in vibe and rhythmic energy is the full band premiere performance of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer (and lead singer of progressive rock icons Yes) Jon Anderson’s dynamic, socially conscious folk rock song “Sun and Rain,” which allows Sangeeta to share her exuberant pop/rock side in virtual duet with Anderson, whose face appears in both shadow and bright light in two images behind Sangeeta. She is at center stage, surrounded by a socially distanced full ensemble.
The third “must see,” the soul-stirring, hypnotic and expansive operatic piece “Penelope,” allows Sangeeta to introduce us to two extraordinary talents in her creative universe, Grammy winning Israeli soprano Hila Plitmann and the work’s multiple award winning French born composer, pianist Danae Xanthe Vlasse. Sangeeta and Hila recorded “Penelope” on Vlasse’s latest album Mythologies, which features original music inspired by the myths of Ancient Greece. In the video, the two invoke the ancient goddesses with their otherworldly vocals, both solo and in harmony, adorned in flowing white dresses and in front of yellow-lit columns, accompanied by pianist Robert Thies and violinist Caroline Campbell.
For all its ongoing magnificence, the true heart and soul of Sangeeta Kaur & Friends, its intimate emotional core, is her sparkling French language duet with husband and acoustic guitarist Hai Nguyen of “Les Feuilles Mortes,” familiar to generations of jazz aficionados in its English language rendering “Autumn Leaves,” with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The couple made the perfect romantic and intimate choice by rendering the tune in its original language. The most compelling moments come when she’s singing solo as he accompanies her gracefully on guitar, bathed in pink light with calming images of a blue forest surround them.
Another highlight the sweeping introduction of Sangeeta’s brand new symphonic, pop/rock influenced single “In All of Time,” presented as a passionate vocal trio piece with Hila Plitmann and L.A. based vocalist Tiffany Nicole Brevard – and including some tastefully sensual dance moves.
Other musicians contributing to Sangeeta Kaur & Friends include cellist Eru Matsumoto, Grammy winning electric guitarist Laurence Juber (Paul McCartney & Wings), guitarist Dat Nguyen, bassist Mark Gorman and percussionist MB Gordy.
Those invited to attend the premier of the show at the Grammy Museum’s Clive Davis Theatre were treated afterwards to a powerful live nine minute performance of Vlasse’s mythological Greek drama “Poseidon & Odysseus” with an ever-evolving heartrending narrative “told” by Sangeeta and Hila with Thies (piano) and Dr. Charles Tyler (cello). The night ended with Sangeeta’s uplifting performance (with Thies, Tyler and Dat Nguyen) of “World’s Collide,” another lilting Sangeeta/Peter Kater gem from Illuminance.