Anoushka Shankar :: Rise
On a recent trip to California, sitting in a Santa Monica gym, the flatscreen panels blared some silliness about rich people on a cattle ranch. The "reality" show - Filthy Rich Cattle Drive - was comprised of children of famous people: the sons of George Foreman and Robert Blake; daughters by Pat Benetar, Lou Ferrigno and Mark Gastineau. That's a lot of green, and not just financially: the Incredible Hulk and former NY Jets defensive end watching their seeds talk about, well, not much at all.
Being famous for being someone's child doesn't hold much weight. A recent Rolling Stone cover story featured the offspring of famous musicians, some now forging formidable artistic careers. Missing from that list was a blaring omission, however. The November 2004 issue of Vanity Fair didn't make the same mistake. Their music issue featured global artists, and readily pictured sitar prodigy Anoushka Shankar alongside infamous papa Ravi. The headline read "Sitar Legend and Legend in the Making." With Rise, the making is made.
In order to evolve an art form, one needs to stretch beyond what was accomplished prior. Considering Ravi Shankar introduced classical Indian music to the world outside his homeland, that's a tall order. He resides in a global music elite, rubbing elbows with the likes of Caetano Veloso, Miriam Makeba and Oum Kalthoum - artists that have sold millions of records and defined a particular sound. Ravi's role in creating a new paradigm for the unwavering modalities of traditional India is unfounded; in order to evolve upon this is a difficult quest.
Anoushka's prior three releases - Anoushka, Anouraag and Live at Carnegie Hall - showed the young (now 24) sitarist's adept ability. On each she interpreted her father's compositions with tender skill, showing no problem handling the lightning-like rapidity and soft fingers necessary for pulling off the spectral plucking. With Rise, she steps into new territory as composer. In fact, talking with her, she seemed most proud of that aspect, more so than the actual performance. That she wrote these songs was more meaningful than playing them.
For good reason: Rise's 10 songs are beautifully crafted. There are no divergences from tradition - each follows the parameters of a raaga, with personal flourishes. She has taken the emotional quality and rhythmic structures necessary but, through production and instrumentation, made each her own. From the opening "Prayer in Passing," a lush landscape of Pedro Eustache's bansuri and duduk and Ricardo Miño's piano orchestrated around Shankar's sitar, an emotional gravity refuses to suspend for 62 minutes.
Not all compositions are so reflective: Ravi's longtime tabla players Bikram Gosh and Tanmoy Bose immediately scat on bols with "Red Sun," while Gosh adds percussive acumen to the cinematically-inspired devotional "Mahadeva." From there, though, Rise becomes quiet: "Naked," as the name implies, is Anoushka bare, a solo effort featuring lone sitar and keyboards. "Solea" is equally downtempo, though with a touch of Spain: flamenco pianist Miño returns not only with ivory but handclaps, the infamous palmas of Andalusia's folk form.
"Sinister Gains" is where Anoushka really flexes philosophical, weaving the Australian digeridoo into beatboxing bols. With the raag, as lucid and shimmering as the sitar is, there's a haunting quality embedded in the strings. The best showcase both sides; in fact, this striving toward non-duality is the basis of India's great religious systems - Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Little wonder Shankar rides the melancholic with "Ancient Love," a heartbreaking closer featuring Bose on vocals and tabla. The 11-minute track, highlighted by tasteful electronic beats via producer Gaurav Raina (MIDIval PunditZ), is the perfect end to this brilliant introduction. Prodigy or progeny, Anoushka Shankar is set to explode in her sonic exploration. If Rise, as she says, is about personal ascension through music, look toward the constellations - both those of the sky, the place her nighttime raagas float toward, and those inside the diamond lucidity of inner life.