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A youth group debuts

Rs 50

Layatharanga is a new group of young Bangalore percussionists. They call their debut album Punarnava, meaning revival. The group is trained in the Karnatak classical tradition, and southern percussion naturally dominates the proceedings.

Ravichandra Rao plays the opening track, Dikshitar's Mahaganapathim, on the flute. This fast-paced invocation to Ganesha is a concert favourite. In Rao's interpretation it begins like a regular concert piece, but towards the end, a synth and Western drums play patterns on a line repeated by Rao. That's when you realise the tape is inclined towards fusion.

Reverie, the second piece, is set in raga Hemavati. Ravichandra Rao plays the key flute and south Indian flute on parallel tracks. This is the longest melodic piece in the album, and uses the structure of this unusual raga to build up a narrative. The flute passages are well executed, at times bringing to mind the experiments of Ilaiyaraja in albums like Nothing but Wind and How to Name It.

Monsoon Muses takes its melody from Amritavarshini, a raga associated with rain. Anoor Ananthakrishna Sharma sets it in a complex nine-beat tala. The percussionists handle it with ease; it serves as a platform to display their virtuosity. The bare melodic line again serves to highlight the sankeerna beat.

Soul of Layatharanga is a rhythmic essay. It opens with a Japanese sounding flute phrase and moves on to raga Mohana. This is styled on the lines of a concert tani with all eight percussionists ad-libbing on Adi tala. The flute gives them a take-off point with a single line of melody. Excellent percussion, but nothing new.

The title track Punarnava is a favourite old devaranama, Purandaradasa's Bhagyada Lakshmi Baaramma. What is new is a loud pop beat, bhajan style cymbals, an electric guitar and violin. The tempo is a bit too fast for the serene composition, and the flute plays hurried, cramped phrases.

Shakti, with Zakir Hussain and John McLaughlin, attempted fusing Indian rhythms with jazz melodies only with moderate success. Fusion has its problems. The fusing elements often lose their distinctive character and dissolve into a confused void where nothing resonates. Layatharanga's artistes are accomplished, but they have yet to work out their individual and joint spaces. That would take some time perhaps. The inlay card's claim that they give a "new dimension" to Indian classical music is a bit hard to swallow!

Layatharanga comprises Ravichandra Rao (Karnatak flute, key flute, khanjira), Prasanna (morching), Giridhar Udupa (ghatam), Pramath Kiran (dholak), Vishnu Swarup (mridangam), Madhusudan (tabla), Arun Kumar (drums and rhythm programming).

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