Review: Karsh Kale's Up
By Samir Shukla
Karsh Kale, a producer, tabla master, and multi-instrumentalist, fuses singers, Indian music and instruments, programming, rock, and electronica into the, mostly, cohesive new recording Up. Several vocalists, including Kale, add a different aura to each song.
Up is Kale’s fifth studio recording for Six Degrees Records. The Britain born, NYC-raised Kale weaves his Indian heritage into his music. He is much in demand and in the last five years has traveled between his base in Brooklyn and India dozens of times for recording work, TV shows, festivals, or concerts. In 2011 he opened for AR Rahman at the Hollywood Bowl and later joined the Black Keys, Norah Jones, and others at a tribute concert for George Harrison in New York City.
Listener patience is required as the songs on Up sway, swivel, and dive off into unexpected directions where a soft beginning may end in a flurry of guitar riffs.
The opening track “High” is a short mélange of sampled vocals with an electric bansuri and Kale’s blend of programming, percussion, and tabla unfolding a taste of what’s to come on the rest of the record.
The song “Shyam” is a bansuri-inflected evocation to higher callings with lovely vocals by Monali Thakur. “Shiva” starts off moody and progresses into a percussive, guitar-blasted end. Guitarist Warren Mendonsa, nephew of Bollywood composer Loy Mendonsa, plays on several songs, including "Shiva" where his guitar backs up vocalist Benny Dayal’s take on a traditional Carnatic (South Indian) melody honoring Shiva.
On the rousing instrumental “Be Like Water” Kale fuses tabla, drum programming, and keyboards into a neck-swaying number.
The title track “Up” begins with soft keyboards lingering while the tabla strolls in, and it unwinds into interplay of flowing sitar and tabla, building up to a wash of sound. Kale sings in English on this track.
“Thin Line of Blue” is quite spiritual with lilting guitar and sinewy, multi-directional music.
“Following Sunlight” focuses on Indian and English vocalists playing on repetition phrases and an eclectic, acoustic-leaning mix.
“Butterfly Effect” could be a Bollywood film track with a wistful female vocalist, a feisty percussion backdrop, a moaning guitar, and the sarangi giving it all an old world feel.
Then there’s “Play (Electrictablanights mix),” an oddball track in this collection featuring a Chinese vocalist and a scraggly mix of instrumentation. It’s inventive, to be sure, but doesn’t quite fit into the flow of the record. If one track could have been left off the album it is this one.