By Samir Shukla
The Canadian band Rakkatak, consisting of core duo Anita Katakkar on tabla and Oriana Barbato on bass, blends classical Indian rhythms and a dash of pop to make eclectic music. Katakkar is a versatile tabla player infusing the aesthetic of classical Indian music with just enough experimentation to make the music her own. She is traditionally trained with an ear for contemporary music. It's a treat to hear a woman on an instrument that is generally dominated by male players. Katakkar began work several years ago with her tabla and laptop to weave a mix of classical Indian music and electronica. She conducts tabla workshops in and around her native Toronto where her Indian and Scottish heritage is further informed by the multicultural ethos of that city. She studied tabla in California with Ritesh Das and in Kolkata with the legendary tabla master Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri.
Barbato's bass channels her Chilean heritage while exploring many cultures in her playing.
The group released their third recording Small Pieces this past spring with several guests lending their talents. The album is formed with a couple of intriguing covers, “Medley feat. Norwegian Wood," channels the Beatles while the cover of Rush's “YYZ" is reworked where tabla and bass clearly respect the original while taking it further into new musical realms. Vocalist Samidha Joglekar adds a vocal sway to the track “Thoughts of You." The rest of the collection includes the solid tracks “Dreaming," “Heliosphere," “Eesha's Song," “Rain After the Fire," and “Riffing on 9."
By Samir Shukla
Australian Pink Floyd Show
Sunday, August 13, 2017 live at Belk Theater, Charlotte
Bands play covers all the time, sometimes doing a close version while other times remaking the song in their own sound. Tribute bands that perform music of bands that have perished or no longer perform are keeping their memory alive. Although I remember few years ago a Dave Matthews Tribute band was playing in Charlotte the same week the real Dave Matthews Band was performing. My only response was, huh? The original surviving members of the legendary rockers Pink Floyd have not performed together for nearly three decades, aside from a couple of rare appearances. The Australian Pink Floyd Show is an upper echelon combo that has been performing classic Pink Floyd tunes since 1988, marking 30 years next year. They create an experience that gets folks swaying their heads in unison. These musicians play Pink Floyd tunes with all the timbre and subtleties intact, a killer sound and a stage show to rival the original Floyd, albeit in a compact sense. They don't go off on drum or guitar solos, instead they choose to play precise yet soulful versions of beloved Pink Floyd classics. This tour is themed “Best Side of the moon,” a play on the classic album Dark Side of the Moon. They covered much of that signature album, along with cuts from The Wall and Wish You Were Here as well as several other tunes. The Aussie Floyd pay fine-tuned attention to visual and technical aspects that Pink Floyd was known for. The late Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright once sat in with this band and apparently guitarist David Gilmour invited them to perform at his 50th birthday celebration many years ago. Call it a cliché but this outfit is about as close you will get to see the original Floyd.
Upcoming US Tour Dates
Thu 24 Aug 2017
Scottsdale, AZ, Talking Stick Resort
Fri 25 Aug 2017
Los Angeles, CA, Greek Theatre
Sat 26 Aug 2017
Valley Center, CA, Harrah's Resort SoCal
Sun 27 Aug 2017
Las Vegas, NV, The Joint
Tue 29 Aug 2017
Oakland, CA, The Fox
Wed 30 Aug 2017
Modesto, CA, Gallo Center for the Arts
Fri 01 Sep 2017
Salt Lake City, UT, USANA Amphitheatre
Sat 02 Sep 2017
Pocatello, ID, Portneuf Amphitheatre
Mon 04 Sep 2017
Woodinville, WA, Chateau Ste. Michelle
By Samir Shukla
Dosti Music Project
(Found Sound Nation)
The dozen compositions on Dosti Music Project's Travelers are the result of collaborations by 20 Pakistani, Indian, and American musicians who spent a couple of residencies in 2015 and 2016, curated by the Brooklyn-based artist collective Found Sound Nation, working together. The musicians blend their natural talents and leanings into the Dosti (Friendship) Music Project. The 12 tracks are traditional, yet infused with varied genres and regional music that cross paths to create a musical camaraderie. Sure, it may take some time to soak in an American folk singer accompanied by sarangi and tabla, or other such combos on the recording. But as the musicians played together at these residencies they blended their natural musical bonds of the two countries. These compositions emerged during performances and jam sessions. I can imagine loose, playful interplay evolving into solid compositions. It's a session where folk, Appalachian music, Sufi ghazals, Hindustani songs, even some electronica, all sit next to each other and become musical friends. Traditional Bengali, Tamil, Punjabi, Marwari, Sufi, and rock songs come to life, removing boundaries, with the unique sounds of fiddle, harmonium, sarod, tabla, and the human voice merging into an eclectic collaboration.
By Samir Shukla
The “picking" tents, filled with guitar, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle players of all ages, were hopping as I walked through the entrance and into the musical swirl of the 30th edition of MerleFest on April 28. The Friday afternoon sky was scattered with clouds and bits of sunshine, a perfect day to take in music in the outdoors.
There are over dozen places setup for performances during MerleFest and the Hillside stage has become my favorite spot to see bands there. The Hillside stage is a natural amphitheater where folks can sit up on the hill facing the stage. It's a bit of a workout on your back as you sit on the hill, but the view of the stage and the sound are top-notch.
I caught the ever-danceable Scythian perform a feisty set there. The band has become a crowd favorite and this was their 10th year performing at the fest. The Steep Canyon Rangers played later in the afternoon with special guest mandolinist and bluegrass veteran Sam Bush. The legendary Del McCoury was slated to be a guest but had to opt out due to laryngitis. The Rangers started off mellow, but played a toe-tapping set with Bush adding his mandolin firepower into the mix.
I strolled up to the indoor Walker Center and caught the Docabilly Blues Blowout with Mitch Greenhill and compatriots. It was an eclectic jam of blues, rockabilly, and country blues with several guests including Tara and Jeb from Donna the Buffalo, Jim Avett and others delving into the bluesier side of Doc Watson's music.
Sierra Hull's soft mandolin and voice were a bit mismatched for the large Watson stage, sometimes getting lost in the crowd's chatter. She is a wonderful performer but maybe better heard at a smaller, more intimate venue or stage.
The Watson stage is of course perfect for a large band, like the Transatlantic Sessions Tour hosted by Jerry Douglas and Aly Bain and on this night featured the main attraction, music legend James Taylor. The headliners brought a multi-artist jam to the big stage and Taylor strolled onto the stage and opened his set with the classic “Carolina in my Mind." He quipped, “I might as well get this out of the way," knowing fully well the crowd would expect that song, especially from a Chapel Hill native performing at a beloved NC music gathering.
I caught parts of many other performances at other venues including the Creekside stage and the Plaza stage.
Over 100 bands and musicians performed this year, including Zac Brown Band, The Avett Brothers, Béla Fleck, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, Leftover Salmon, Sam Bush Band, The Earls of Leicester featuring Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, Jorma Kaukonen, Sarah Jarosz, and Jim Lauderdale.
According to MerleFest officials, over 80,000 people attended and or participated in the festival this year. MerleFest, held on the campus of Wilkes Community College, is the primary fundraiser for the WCC Foundation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.
“We've had an incredible weekend," Festival Director Ted Hagaman said in a press release. “With over 100 artists on 13 stages over the four days, we again feel we succeeded in providing a quality and successful event for all involved. Preliminary numbers show we attracted thousands of fans from all over the world. This event could not happen without the work and dedication of our 4,000-plus volunteers and the many great safety and service agencies in Northwestern North Carolina. We're already looking forward to MerleFest 2018."
By Samir Shukla
Red Baraat is a rollicking dhol 'n' brass band that can get the sleepiest crowd shaking their booty and moving their feet with leader Sunny Jain's first beats on his dhol. The band's interaction with the audience when performing live, including jumping in the middle of the dancing mass and leading them around like pied pipers, only fuses that connection further. The diverse musicians combine their individual specialties into the Red Baraat alchemy, constantly experimenting and expanding the possibilities of their sound.
Red Baraat is back with their third recording Bhangra Pirates. The album is bhangra (that unmistakable beat of the dhol), New Orleans brass, rock, jazz improv, Bollywood kitsch, and hints of hip hop all rolled into Red Baraat's wholly original sound. This time around there is the added layer of a guitarist while Jain also infuses effects into his dhol beats for an occasional whirling sound. The brass section is tighter than ever as are the percussionists.
The fluid instrumental “Horizon Line" kicks off the album while the title track “Bhangra Pirates" begins with the dhol and guitar leading the horn section to kick open the dance doors goaded on by a mix of Hindi and English lyrics. It's too infectious to sit still through. “Bhangale" (feat. Delicate Steve) is a scat-filled number while “Se Hace Camino" is a Latin and bhangra blend. The songs can wander and skitter off into all sorts of angular sounds.
There are two rockers on the album that benefit with the added guitar including “Zindabad," a skewed wedding march-like song that turns into a jazz scorcher and returns home halfway through with a decidedly Punjabi twist. The other is “Gaadi of Truth," clearly the most rocking song on the record with guitar riffs sparring with the horns and percussion.
“Tunak Tunak Tun" is a scats-laden take on Daler Mehndi's hit song.
“Rang Barse" is the Red Baraat version of the classic Amitabh Bachchan song. It begins as a jazz and Indian classical swirl that dives into a percussive instrumental mélange. The cut is interspersed with the horns going in and out of the mix, turning it into a long jam.
“Akhiyan Udeek Diyan" is a lingering showcase for the musicians as individual players do their solo bits and melt back into the groove.
“Layers" is an experimental track that flows on its own accord and nicely wraps up the record.
By Samir Shukla
Parallels, the new recording by Indian-Canadian singer Vandana Vishwas is a study in genre-bending. She has woven five songs recorded in two distinct styles - think two parallel tracks each colored differently yet moving in the same musical direction. She brings Canadian and Indian musicians into the fold that enhance her voice that is embedded into varied styles. The album kicks off with the tropical flamenco track “Mai Bequaid" where one feels the lilting guitar and dreams of soft sand between toes standing on sunny beach, a lovely Bollywood actress in a sari swaying along. The same song is later given a country treatment that makes the listeners feel like they are strolling in the foothills of Appalachia. “Piya na Mose Bole" is sung along to a new age version and also in a traditional Indian version, both showcasing the longings of a woman as if on different days or in different moods. “Dhula Dhula" is a feisty number first sung with African beats and later treated to Afro-Indian beats. Vishwas's voice fully blooms singing the ghazal “Fiqr E Manzil" with the musicians taking the compositions into higher elevations with traditional music. The track also gets a rock treatment with an amped electric guitar in the second version. The closing track on the album, “Hum Gum Huye (Unplugged)" is a sparse, haunting version that really showcases her voice. The ballad version of the song fills in the lines with thicker musical accents. In Parallels, Vishwas shows her range and adaptability in multiple musical genres.
Mai Beqaid (Flamenco)
Piya Na Mose Bole (New Age)
Dhula Dhula (African Beats)
Fiqr E Manzil (Ghazal)
Hum Gum Huye (Ballad)
Mai Beqaid (Country)
Piya Na Mose Bole (Traditional Indian)
Dhula Dhula (Afro-Indian)
Fiqr E Manzil (Rock-E-Zal)
Hum Gum Huye (Unplugged)
Photo by Samir Shukla
News Note: The music festival MerleFest 2017 will take place from April 27 - 30. MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of Eddy Merle Watson as a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College and to celebrate "traditional plus" music. The music of MerleFest was best explained by the legendary musician and festival founder Doc Watson as posted on the festival website: “When Merle and I started out we called our music ‘traditional plus’, meaning the traditional music of the Appalachian region plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play. Since the beginning, the people of the college and I have agreed that the music of MerleFest is ‘traditional plus’.” MerleFest has now grown to a 4-day event with hundreds of musicians, bands, and performers showcasing many genres of music on several stages throughout the grounds. It is the festival's 30th year and is now internationally regarded as one of the finest such gatherings in the world. The lineup of performers is as intriguing and eclectic as ever. Dozens of bands and musicians will perform over the course of four days with some of the headliners that include Zac Brown Band, James Taylor, The Avett Brothers, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, Del McCoury Band, Leftover Salmon, and Jim Lauderdale. This year the festival will mark a few one-of-a-kind happenings, like a museum of MerleFest History, special backstage tours, a tiny home display, and more yet to be announced. There will be plenty food vendors on hand along with impromptu jam sessions taking place. Bring your acoustic instrument and join in the fun. MerleFest will also feature the festival favorites including, the little pickers tents for kids, the family and environmentally-conscious atmosphere and the cool air of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the campus of Wilkesboro Community College in Wilkesboro, NC. For more details visit, www.MerleFest.org.
(News Notes are edited press releases sent by publicists, labels, bands, or musicians)
By Samir Shukla
Diverse backgrounds inform California Guitar Trio’s music. The group consists of Paul Richards, who immersed himself in rock and blues while attending The University of Utah’s jazz guitar program. Bert Lams graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels, specializing in classical guitar. Hideyo Moriya journeyed from Tokyo to Boston to study at Berklee. They met as guitar students around 1987 in California and by 1991 were performing as the California Guitar Trio.
They mesh everything from Bach to the spacey Pink Floyd classic “Echoes,” instrumentals like “Sleepwalk” to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” playful surf numbers and spaghetti Western tunes, while crisscrossing jazz, rock, and classical music.
They have been performing for 25 years and are on the road plugging the new recording Komorebi, which, in Japanese, roughly translates to “Sunlight shining through the leaves of trees.”
I spoke with Paul Richards about their quarter century of work. Some highlights:
“Three of us met while we were studying with Robert Fripp. He booked tours with students and the touring group was named League of Crafty Guitarists. And that was an amazing way for us to learn to go out and play live. At that point we didn't know we were going to form a trio. It was during that time we found some common interests including in musical diversity. (It was about) classical music, rock, jazz, blues...so many different things that we enjoyed combining all together. Also during that time, we became quite good friends and began hanging out.”
I asked about their backgrounds and how that informs their music.
“That's a big part of our sound, we are very unlikely characters who would have never met if not at these (Fripp’s) classes. We were all into British rock bands and Hendrix, but what set us apart was Hideyo's interest in traditional Japanese music, he has done arrangements of Kodo music, on the current tour he did an arrangement of a Japanese composer named Ryuichi Sakamoto, that's one example of what he has brought from Japan. Bert from Europe, he's the real classical player of the three. He graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Brussels and has the more real European classical sense at the same time he was a huge Hendrix fan. So he is combining these elements and when we combine them all three of us and do it on acoustic guitars that we end up with such eclectic array of music. I grew up listening to lot of American and English rock bands and I used to play in rock and blues bands as a teenager.”
When asked how each member picks a part to play in a song like "Bohemian Rhapsody," Richards explained.
“It kind of happens naturally because each one of us has our own specialties and after 25 years of playing together we recognize those specialties and even early on, for example Hideyo is the fastest player among the three of us so if we ever need anything superfast he is able to do those things. Bert is perhaps the most melodic player and with my rock background I play some of the heavier parts. When we first started playing together we realized each of us could do quite a lot. We just released a new album on that Bert plays some beautiful solos, all three of us have some solos, but Bert is the one that really shines playing solos, so it’s really developed naturally but also paying attention to what the music needed. That's also what's exciting about playing live, because on the recordings you can only imagine who's playing what part or what's going on. Live shows in one moment we would all be playing bass and then switch to a melodic part and we're always trading parts. It keeps things interesting for us and the audience.”
Richards previewed a bit of the current tour.
“On this tour we’re featuring an arrangement from Bert of Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" and in that piece you can see us trading parts really exposing the brilliance of Brian Wilson's composition. When you break it down to three acoustic guitars and with us finding ways to play the layered parts of the original, the brilliance of the composition comes through.
We've gone through a phase where we used lots of effects. This latest album takes a step back and takes a break from using any type of effect. There's a tiny bit of reverb but other than that its pure acoustic guitar. These current shows it’s just the three of us, though in the past we've had guest musicians.”
By Samir Shukla
Age of Uncertainty (Autumn Tone) is the third album from Athens, GA band Muuy Biien. It was recorded by David Barbe, a producer, sound twister and legend among indie rockers. The dozen songs are a potent mix of punk, krautrock, post-punk and bluesy darkwave. In the opening track "Moral Compass" the band and singer Joshua Evans weave a brooding and layered track that showcases their loose blend of guitar rock, which, this song especially, is reminiscent of the Birthday Party (Nick Cave's early band). The guitars throughout the album are controlled, but take off on their own when the song begs it. "The Clocks" is an especially dark number and evokes some of the best works of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds while remaining wholly original. "Mara" is a finger-snapping song lodged about midway through the album and changes the tempo while acting as a pivot for the remaining songs. "The Sound of a Trenchcoat" is a jazzy instrumental that could be a scene backdrop in a B&W film noir or even a David Lynch film. "Robbed" is a bluesy slow burner holding its own territory. The title track "Age of Uncertainty" opens with a sustained note and flows into echoed vocals and acoustic guitar that's got a psychedelic aura as it builds and fades away into the ether. "Skeleton Tissue" tosses keyboardish treatments around a bass line while the song is sung with spoken vocals reminiscent of Mark E. Smith and The Fall. Just after a few listens, Age of Uncertainty is, at this late in the year, elbowing its way into my top 25 recordings of the year.
Originally published in Creative Loafing Charlotte on December 7.
By Samir Shukla
A good film score can help visualize scenes from a film even though you haven't seen it. Composer Ryuichi Sakamoto's score to the film Nagasaki: Memories of My Son (Milan Records), directed by legendary Japanese director Yoji Yamada, is such a piece of work. It is sparse in orchestration yet expansive in creating a visual backdrop to a film I have only read about: A mother who lost her son in the Nagasaki atomic bombing and he returns as a phantom and communicates with her throughout her life until she passes away. There are 28 tracks on this score that range from jarring noise, somber piano pieces, and swaying woodwinds. The track "August 9th 11:02 am" — the day and time the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki — is a short burst of noise echoing the screech of the bomb and the explosion sounding like a hard rainfall of death. It gets under your skin.
Other pieces, some are very brief but just as evocative, create varied backdrops for the different scenes. The sequential compositions portray the sad poise of ordinary people who lost loved ones in the fireball but survived themselves, and their lingering emotional injuries. The poignancy of the score is bookended with somber strings as well as dissonant noise that I'm sure not only adds gravitas to the film, but also stands as a lovely piece of music on its own. This is essentially an instrumental score, either reserved or unnerving with occasional drones or repetition, while the human voice is sparsely used. This film score is another chapter in Sakamoto's eclectic, decades-long and vast musical output.
This review was originally published in Creative Loafing, Charlotte on November 23.