Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya’s latest album Beyond The Ragasphere is his meteoric shower of Indian classical music that redefines traditional raga form exploring new cosmic collaborations.
With a stellar line-up of international musicians in this album he is joined by jazz guitarist John McLaughlin and Bluegrass Dobro legend Jerry Douglas. The Spanish guitarist, Adam Del Monte peps up flamenco flavours over several tracks and Jeff Sipe, an American jazz-funk drummer, also joins Debashish on his kit as also Tabla maestros Bickram Ghosh and Tanmoy Bose. The album introduces Debashish’s brilliant teenage daughter Anandi Bhattacharya who mesmerizes with her dexterous vocals and also features his brother Subhasis who creates fireworks on the Tabla
Beyond The Ragasphere is dedicated to Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and the spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda. During the late 19th and early 20th century Tagore crafted some of India’s most beloved music, art and poetry. Vivekananda worked tirelessly to introduce the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the West in the late 19th century and is credited with helping to elevate Hinduism to the recognised status of a major world religion.
All tracks composed, arranged and edited by Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya.
|John McLaughlin||Adam Del Monte||Jeff Sipe||Jerry Douglas||Bikram Ghosh||Tanmoy Bose|
Debashish Bhattacharya - Chaturangui, Jeff Sipe - Drums, Anandi - Vocals, Bickram Ghosh - Tabla, Nishad -Guitar, Soumyajyoti- flute, Bumpy - Bass Guitar, Raja Narayan Deb - key board The passionate harmonic minor meets the nuance of Indian Raga Kirwani. With the smooth bends of interplay between mellow and power of rhythm in twist and twang of Afro-Indian- European colours, Debashish takes off with Anandi in dizzy melodic pattern. Jeff and Bickram deftly decorate this neo-classical composition in 10 beat cycles.
Adam Del Monte- Flamenco guitar, Debashish Bhattacharya - Gandharvi. Anandi Voice and claps, Subhasis Bhattacharjee- percussion, Bumpy and Nishad claps. Debashish paints the picture of a father holding his child’s hand looking at the rising sun on the sea shore while the child’s song echoes. With the joyous trance grooves by Subhasis and great solos of Adam’s guitar, along with the Indian vocals of Debashish and Anandi, Reflections Remain is a reminder of the haunting good times of human relationships.
John McLaughlin-Guitar, Debashish Bhattacharya Chaturangui, Jeff Sipe - Drums, Subhasis Bhattacharjee - Tabla, Raja Narayan Deb - Keyboard, Mainak (Bumpy) Chowdhury-Bass guitar Composed in Raga Charukeshi, vibrant morning energy with beautiful solos by Debashish and John Mc Laughlin infuses in the different grooves of eleven beat cycles that are supplemented with gorgeous melodic phrases and playing of John McLaughlin.
Debashish Bhattacharya- Chaturangui, Anandi Bhattacharya- Vocals and syllable chant, Tanmoy Bose-percussion and syllable chant, Raja Narayan Deb- Keyboard and Mainak Nag Chowdhury-Bass guitar
The track opens with Anandi’s vocals rolling out atop the sound of undulating waves, and a gentle guitar, before she sings a fast-moving syllabic chant. The result is a quirky dancing number that forges bonds between the sound worlds of Latin America and India.
Anandi Bhattacharya- Vocal, Subhasis Bhattacharjee - Tabla, Debashish Bhattacharya - Chaturangui, Nishad - Nylon string guitar Khamaj is an evening Raga. Tarana is vocal composition using instrumental syllables. This pure traditional fast tempo composition sang in a contemporary style by Anandi.
Adam del Monte (flamenco guitar) and Debashish Bhattacharya (Gandharvi). The E major open tuning of Gandharvi meets Phrygian mode of Flamenco and has an interactive melodic dialogue between Indian Raga and Spanish flamenco style. A feel of free dialogue between two is the feel good factor
Debashish Bhattacharya- Anandi (slide Ukulele)
Nishad - Classical Guitar
This song was created at Kilkenny - a beautiful small city of Ireland. Composed on the day of performance, the little Anandi- the slide ukulele which was named after Anandi, his daughter, is a bluesy melody in G-minor with a soft touch accompaniment on classical guitar by disciple Nishad .
Beyond The Ragasphere (World Music Network , 2013)
Indian slide guitar maestro Debashish Bhattacharya steps away from traditional Indian classical music on his latest album Beyond The Ragasphere. He is joined by three guitarists representing various music traditions. The stellar lineup includes jazz and fusion guitarist John McLaughlin and bluegrass dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas. Classical guitar professor and performer Adam del Monte provides the Flamenco component.
Overall, the album explores world fusion with a mix of Indian classical, traditional bluegrass, flamenco and jazz. It’s hard to point out a highlight in the album because Debashish Bhattacharya always provides high quality musical works. The strongest material, however, is the Indian flavored pieces, the edgy jazz fusion with John McLaughlin and the bluegrass inspired pieces. The flamenco cuts are pretty decent, but I think Debashish Bhattacharya could have benefited from having as guests any of the numerous Flamenco guitar masters from Spain: Paco de Lucia, Gerardo Núñez, Vicente Amigo, Niño Josele and a long etcetera.
In addition to world class guitarists, the album also features American jazz-funk drummer Jeff Sipe; table players Pandit Bickram Ghosh and Pandit Tanmoy Bose; Mainak Nag Chowdhury, aka ‘Bumpy’ on bass. Other collaborators include nylon-string guitarist Nishad , keyboard player Raja Raj Narayan and flutist Soumya Jyoti. The album also includes the engaging vocals of Debashish’s teenage daughter, Anandi Bhattacharya, and his younger brother Subhasis on percussion. Anandi is a ‘born musician’, says Debashish Bhattacharya.
Debashish Bhattacharya was born in 1963 in Kolkata (Calcutta). He experimented on his first Hawaiian lap steel guitar from the age of three. Today he is still based in Kolkata, tours internationally and has received numerous awards and accolades. His discography includes: O Shakuntala!, Calcutta Chronicles: Indian Slide Guitar Odyssey, Calcutta Slide Guitar - 3, Mahima, Call of the Desert, Reflection of Love, Hindustani Slide Guitar, Calcutta To California, Sunrise - Delightful meeting of Slide Guitars, and Remember Shakti.
With Beyond The Ragasphere, guitar virtuoso what Debashish Bhattacharya shows his dazzling ability at making world fusion. Hopefully there will more to come in the next years.
World: Tony Hillier The Australian June 15, 2013 12:00AM
INDIAN music traditionally may be the domain of sitar, sarod, santoor and similarly exotic stringed instruments, but slide guitar is making significant inroads.
VM Bhatt won a Grammy playing an Indianised guitar of his own invention, the mohan veena. Fellow pandit (master) Debashish Bhattacharya has designed 20 slide guitars, three of which are featured on Beyond the Ragasphere.
Between the four-stringed ukulele-like Anandi, 14-stringed Gandharvi and 22-stringed Chaturangui, Bhattacharya has access to a range of timbres. In previous releases, he has used his inventions to experiment judiciously with the traditional raga form.
The new album goes further. Aided and abetted by special guests including English jazz-guitar giant John McLaughlin, American dobro-bluegrass ace Jerry Douglas and Spanish flamenco-classical maestro Adam del Monte, Bhattacharya takes ragas into new realms of fusion.
The host's metallic strings and McLaughlin's muted, toned guitar mesh and joust mesmerisingly in the 16-minute cornerstone track, A Mystical Morning, the latter's agile fingers guided by a knowledge of Indian modality honed during his days with Shakti and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. In Pillusion, Bhattacharya's lap steel binds blissfully with Douglas's guitar over a Latin dance groove.
The Brazilian rhythm underpinning Rasam Samba blends well with Indian frame drum patterns and Tanmoy Bose's tabla. In Reflections Remain and Indospaniola, Bhattacharya's raga-influenced figures intertwine with del Monte's flamenco falsetas.
Even the album's most traditional track, Khamaj Tarana, is an uptempo rendition of an evening raga sung in contemporary style by Bhattacharya's daughter Anandi.
RATING: 5 stars
This album is breathtakingly good. This should come as no surprise given the musical mastery of the record's principal artist, arranger and composer, Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya, one of the world's greatest slide guitarists and Indian classical musicians.
However, I will admit a bit of trepidation in anticipation of this album, as my own experiences with `fusion-style' world music albums has been largely underwhelming. Apart from a few notable exceptions, most fusion albums I have encountered have either been compromised by the dumbing down of traditional music to reach a broader audience or the failure of the finished product to be greater than the sum of its parts. When I heard that Bhattacharya's new album would be a hybrid of a myriad of genres, including Hindustani classical, jazz, flamenco, latin, jazz-funk and bluegrass, it was hard to suppress a grimace. While he had very successfully experimented with Hawaiian, American and Malian blues styles in his previous releases Calcutta Chronicles: Indian Slide Guitar Odyssey and Mahima (with Bob Brozman), this latest attempt seemed a little too ambitious.
My doubt was swiftly obliterated within the first three tracks. The album begins with a bang, launching straight into an Indian-flavoured syncopated jazz riff played on a series of layered slide guitars, supported by tabla, drum-kit and electric bass. The hard-hitting riff is soon coupled with the vocals of Bhattacharya's daughter, Anandi, who proves to be a real revelation on this album. The music is complex, multi-layered and multi-faceted, with Bhattacharya both taking the lead with his signature slide guitar style and allowing his guests the space to shine. A particular memorable moment of the opening track is the trading of solos between jazz-funk drummer Jeff Sipe and the tabla (played over the course of the album by three stellar players, Pandit Bickram Ghosh, Pandit Tanmoy Bose and Bhattacharya's brother and long-time collaborator, Subashish).
A pensive down-tempo number follows with `Reflections Remain', with father and daughter singing a series of call and response phrases that eventually give way to expanded improvisation from Spanish guitarist Adam del Monte and Bhattacharya's gandharvi slide guitar. The track is extended and devotes time to the interplay between the delicate nylon flamenco guitar and Bhattacharya's powerful 14-string beast, probably the most otherworldly sounding instrument in his trinity of custom-made guitars. Underneath the guitars, the flamenco-handclaps weave in and out of the tabla rhythm and propel the slow-burning track forward. The production is top-notch and is by far the best-sounding Bhattacharya album to date, and sounds superb on a high-end system, treating the listener to a vast soundstage with great instrument separation. It is so easy to hear each element in the mix, I couldn't help but close my eyes and visualise the musicians sitting cross-legged in a circle around me.
The album really kicks into gear with the 16-minute epic `A Mystical Morning'. An ominous-sounding introduction foreshadows that something big is about to occur; with the sounds of an air-raid siren, street bustle, insects, prayer bells, and chanting set against the deep drone of a synthesizer pad. In comes Bhattacharya's 22-stringed chaturangui guitar and John McLaughlin's lightly overdriven electric guitar, trading melodic improvisations in a free-form introduction, reminiscent of the unmetered opening section of a North Indian classical performance. The tone is hushed and revered, bringing to mind a dramatic occasion such as sunrise over the ghats of Varansi. Just as in `Reflections Remain', the dynamic between two distinct lead instruments is riveting; with McLaughlin's warm flat-picked electric tone sparring with the full-bodied sound of the finger-picked chaturangui and its resonating sympathetic strings. Make no mistake, this is a meeting of two masters, and the pay-off delivers in the second half, where a complex and exhilarating composition is smashed out to the accompaniment of tabla, drums and bass. While the track falters a bit during the bridge where a looped drum-synth sample is introduced to jarring effect, things recover quickly and progress to a breathtaking conclusion, paying homage to the fast-paced finales known as `jhala' in Indian classical compositions.
Momentum is maintained through `Rasam Samba (Dance of the Musical Spirits)', a shorter melancholic composition underpinned by a Brazilian samba beat. Samba is often used in hybrid compositions, and it is difficult to implement its distinct flowing rhythm without sounding cheesy, but somehow Bhattacharya pulls it off with ease. How the album even manages to so naturally transition from the sprawling fierce monster of `A Mystical Morning' to this light and catchy number left me shaking my head in amazement. The track features probably the most memorable melodic line of the album, which highlights the compositional skill of Bhattacharya. In an album that will probably be most noted for the improvisational passages of its principal artist and his guests, it also contains some great melodic compositions and hooks. It is through these fully-fleshed out compositions that the album stands apart from its hybrid peers, in not just being a vehicle for skilled musicians to jam, but actually producing a memorable body of music that stands on its on.
There are no fillers in the second-half of the album. Bhattacharya's daughter Anandi threatens to steal the show in `Khamaj Tarana', embarking on a series of breathtakingly skilful vocal improvisations in `Tarana' form, a type of classical composition where the short main melody is repeated many times with variation. Anandi appeared in a couple tracks on last years Madeira, but she takes some impressive steps forward on this album and seems poised for a promising career.
`Indospaniola' is a much more stripped back affair, with Bhattcharya's Gandharvi improvising again with del Monte's flamenco guitar around a hauntingly beautiful phrase. This track has potential to be overshadowed by the bigger hitting numbers on the album, but the expression and nuance present in both guitar lines demands attention.
To close the album off, Jerry Douglas appears in `JD2 Pillusion' putting his bluegrass-tinged dobro against a latin-jazz flavoured composition. Again, I expected such a hodge-podge of styles not to work, and as a salsa piano riff builds into the mix, it almost sounds like it won't, but again Bhattacharya triumphs against the odds. It left me to conclude that this man's playing is just so fluid and emotional, that he can pretty much make anything sound first-rate. While Bhattacharya plays with his renowned speed in many parts of the album, it is when he makes simple melody lines seem so delicate and smooth that you realise just how accomplished he is. Douglas holds his own on the dobro, and brings a nice new dynamic to the album with the hot glide of the resonator, but doesn't stamp his mark on this album to the extent that McLauglin does.
In what feels like an encore piece, the album winds down with `Ode to Love', a simple and ethereal ballad played on Bhattacharya's anandi (a slide ukulele that is named after his daughter), accompanied by gentle classical guitar. Bhattacharya uses the anandi more sparingly in his recordings compared to the much larger and louder siblings in his guitar trinity, but the delicate nature and higher pitch of this instrument tends to make these compositions the most emotionally moving. This piece is no exception, with every note strikingly on pitch and ornamented to such an extent that the track evokes the swoons and flutters of the heart associated with the subject matter. As the track fades to silence, you are reminded that not only is this album jaw-dropping due to the technical skills on display, but also has the ability to touch the emotions in a way that few hybrid albums have ever achieved. This is beautiful, intricate, complex, challenging music, and it is this achievement that makes `Beyond the Ragasphere' a faultless success.
Beyond The Ragasphere
Debashish Bhattacharya started learning Indian music from his parents before he learned the alphabet. In his childhood he mastered many Indian classical instrumental styles as well as vocal music. As a performer, Debashish gave his first guitar recital at the age of four on the All India Radio, and in a public concert. In his twenties, he evolved a unique style of playing guitar, synthesizing selected features of various other instruments such as the Veena, Sitar, Sarod and Sarangi.
Debashish developed his innovative Hindustani slide guitars after years of research and experience. It consists of three self designed and patented guitars named as Chaturangui, Gandharvi and Anandi. Debashish plays these guitars while sitting cross legged, with the guitar held on the lap and played with a small steel bar, metal picks and a celluloid thumb pick.
Debashish is one of the greatest slide guitarists of the world who has contributed to the guitar world a new standard and style of playing the guitar. For over 30 years he has cut a niche in the world of music. Possessed of a very open musical mind, Debashish is eager to collaborate and truly blend with musicians from any other country.
Certainly is the case with his latest album Beyond the Ragasphere. Debashish blends several elements of classical Indian music with several guest like Jerry Douglas, John McLaughlin, and family members helping with the musical creation. Debashish takes some time to answer some questions with Abstract Logix about the new album.
Abstract Logix: How did the album come together?
Debashish Bhattacharya: I am collaborating Indian and western Maestros of music since 1993, but never thought of my own collaborative records. Over twenty years there had been so many great artistes whom I've played with; could not resist to call them or contact them personally, to have them on my 50th birthday fusion album. It was supposed to be feast of music, music from varied genres, but composed by my experience and exposure to the music beyond the Ragas only ( as you know my 47 years training with Indian Raga Traditional music) I got great enthusiastic responds from these maestros, friends and also some of my disciples. That's how it started.
Ablx: Was it difficult to organize and control an album when the musicians were spread across the globe?
DB: Oh God! I tell you it took a lots of time...was not at all easy!! Getting them in studio or in on online discussion which was obviously taking weeks then-, skype, dropbox, yousend it; some real time recordings, uploading softwires, internet communications! Man I never expected those!
Ablx: Jerry Douglas is a guest on your album. Was it interesting playing with a slide guitar player of another genre?
DB: I love all the great slide guitarists of the world with true respect. I love his music, and we always have fun on stage. It was awesome having him play great Jerry stuff in my composition. I have some more for him, may be next time.
Ablx: Your daughter provides vocals on the album. How was it working with her on the album?
DB: She didn't expect so, she was giving her final board exam, and I brought her directly to the studio to sing most of the harmony parts and one solo song and one duet with me. She did it in approximately in four hours, before her mother started calling my mobile, to find when she will be back home for next days exam. You should listen to her singing Rasam Samba and Khamaj Tarana. I can tell she is much more composed and gifted than I was at 15. She sang to clicks and the rest I did later. It was her first such experience of singing. Quite fun.
Ablx: You have played in groups and albums with John McLaughlin, and now he is a guest on your album. What is it about John as a person or musician that makes it so easy for you to musically gel or get along with him?
DB: John McLaughlin is two decades ahead of me. I heard his music 20 years before I came close to him. Music: Legend. Human: Superman. Friend: Solid as gold. But over all he is so down to the earth, funny and loving. All those I see. Beyond the Ragasphere would not have come in my mind without him and Jerry Douglas.
Ablx: Your new album is entitled Beyond the Ragasphere. What exactly is a raga, and how did you expand upon the conventional form?
DB: A Raga is spirit, an art of life, a disciplined practice of time bound melody and rhythm, and an expression of human emotive rasas through which the universal truth and philosophy of mankind can be realized. When all these happen to mankind the ultimate realization of Raga starts moving in different directions, and starts living in different genres. A new genre starts growing Beyond the Ragasphere. Compositions are wide spread and welcoming the artists to add their own thing. Raga goes global how I see it. It is beyond the Ragasphere.
Ablx: You have invented and designed your own, unique lap steel instruments. Did any of them make it on the album?
DB: A Mystical Morning, Kirwani, and JD2 Pillusion use my Chaturangui. Indospaniola and Reflections Remain has Gandharvi. Rasam Samba has Chaturangui and Anandi. Ode to Love has Anandi.
Ablx: How much of the album was recorded on an electric lap steel vs an acoustic slide guitar?
DB: Mine all guitar tracks are 100% Acoustic.
Ablx: How did you start playing lap steel guitar?
DB: The story goes to 1966 when 3 year old Debashish found a lapsteel Hawaiian guitar on the wall of his hall room in the farm house of the village. I invite you to go to the site www.debashishguitar.com for the rest of the story.
Ablx: What tunings do you traditionally employ on your instrument
DB: D open, D minor open, open G, G minor, B flat major, B minor, D augmented etcs...
Ablx: Who were some of your influences as a lap steel player?
DB: None in early days, until I heard Brij Bhushan Kabra at the age of 21, after I received President of India gold medal. I liked many American dobro and lapsteel hawaiian guitarist. Slide guitar is a inseparable instrument in American music as well as in India. India has forgotten that but Americans haven't. Hawaiian legend Tau Moe is one of the great inspirations since 1999 onward Tau Moe and his illustrous singer wife Rose Moe, who lived in Kolkata for seven years.
Ablx: Have you ever attempted to play a pedal steel guitar?
DB: No I am already full and need more practice to keep up. I love that instrument though!
Ablx: Will your next album continue to break new ground, blending different musical styles?
DB: If you follow my discography, none of the albums I made are the same. I don't want to repeat neither in my music or in albums, except the traditional style of Hindustani Raga Music.
Ablx: Thanks you so much for your time. Wish you all the best with this album.