Monday, July 05, 2010

Kartick & Gotam - Business Class Refugees

Business Class Refugees

Business Class Refugees is an album produced by EarthSync, a music label that is promoting/marketing World Music. The music produced by EarthSync contains fusion of traditional/regional folk recorded in Asia and Middle-East, classical idioms and electronica.

Business Class Refugees is an album composed by Karthik(Patrick Sebag) & Gotam(Yotam Agam), for Earthsync. The music in the album can be termed as World Music obeying the syntax of fusion music, since the composers have largely used the fusion music textures as the backdrop for their experiments on folk music and electronic music. The album features some famous artists such as Mahesh Vinayakaram, Navin Iyer (flautist).

With tracks that are lively, meditative, exuberant and also peppy, the album has many wonderful musical moments that deserve a wider audience. A take on the compositions:

Bonjour: Bonjour is an unusual title for the first track of an album. It starts with synthesizer riffs and rhythm on snare drums, while the main instrument, which sounds like an oboe with a deeper tone, plays the main melody. The composition seems to be based on Bhairavi scale, only for a brief while though and the engaging moment in the track comes when the keyboard chords, flute and bass guitar stamp their presence, lifting the whole mood of the composition. A brief aalap, while progressing along with the track pauses to break into raag Jog on Flute(chala Naata in carnatic). The flute melody eventually splits into two octaves, each playing its own, though both in the scale of Jog. This track works well in the realm of lounge music for it offers an effective cocktail of electronics and classical music.

Tamil Bossa: Tamil Bossa is an innovative composition, primarily because it has amazing collage of instruments on the electronic canvas. And the element that seals the innovation is the exceptionally intelligent usage of Trombone. I do not recall if anyone has used this neglected instrument in the fusion music genre; not anyone since Hindi film composer duo Shankar Jaikishan, who brought out a fusion album in 60s that married jazz music with indian classical raagas. But after that, none that I recall. Anyway, Tamil Bossa begins on a pulsating note with the synthesizer riffs forming the backdrop while a very venom-ish flute, coupled with bass-guitar set the Bhairavi scale. The string section riffs come as surprise while the xylophone-bell like sounds in the background continue to intrigue, for they actually hold the mood of the composition. The Tabla sounds that drip into the layer add to the energy, for the effect. The rendition of sloka by Mahesh Vinayakram, has a soothing effect, for it is isolated from all the energy, barring that Tabla and keyboard chords, but only for a moment after which it picks up again, now joined by flute. The piece de resistance is the entry of Trombone, playing Bhairavi amply supported by flute played with a frail tone along with it. The improvisation just gets even more mature as the trombone borders between Bhairavi and Jazz while the flute plays its faithful counterpart. Fusion at its best.

Boye Boye: Boye Boye starts off like a new age disco track, with synthesizer riffs sequenced along with electronic drums, while the main melody is played by harmonium - an unusual choice for a track of this kind. The male chorus joins the harmonium melody. Though the usage of sitar and Sarod adds a retro feel, the track gets repetitive with its main melody recurring without many variations. This track is a traditional folk song of Tajikistan.

Heer: From Tajikistan, we move Punjab. The track titled Heer is a traditional Punjabi song, set in the region's favourite raaga - Bhairavi. This track is characterised by thunderous synth sounds forming the backdrop for the male singer & female singer, both having boisterous rustic voices, singing it in meditative mood while a heavy baritone sitar, vichitra veena and violin, forming the arrangements adequately complement the ambience.

Shiva Sheva: Shiva Sheva is a cross between contemporary fusion and Rajasthani folk, given the choice of the instrument - Saarangi. The sound texture is reminiscent of works by eminent fusion artist Prem Joshua, and that is because of the combination of drums, Tabla and claps interspersed into the rhythm, along with bass-guitar. However, the main melody is rendered by chorus. Much like Boye Boye, this track too sounds repetitive to some extent, although the layers in the instrumentation are cleverly mixed in a way that some sounds keep the listener engrossed.

Door Open Door: Door Open Door is another intelligent fusion track in the album. The track starts off with Sarod playing a melody in raag Ahir Bhairav, supported by keyboards which infuse the base. The sitar along with drums and cymbals actually set the fusion sound of the track rolling. While the Sarod and sitar indulge in their own interpretation and exploration of the Ahir Bhairavi scale, separately, a more homage-to-Beatles like chorus emerges between them thus taking this track into a totally different genre - that of ambient music. The sarod pieces are filled with devotion while the bass guitar which gives a more trendy cut to the whole composition. This composition is quite meditative, which is a reason good enough to re-play it again.

Vellai Thamarai: Vellai Thamarai is a traditional tamil song, sung by anuradha Vishwanathan. The composition, in raag Abheri (bheempalasi) starts on a traditional canvas with just a Tanpura and the groovy synth rhythm, seamlessly mixed with Mridangam enhances the experience, without diluting the purity of the composition. Mixing electronic music with traditional songs, preserving the melody and the mood, without making it sound like a cheap remix is a walk on a tight rope that not many can easily pull off. Watch how cleverly Karthik & Gotam add layer by layer, of snare-drum bits, bass-guitar and mridangam bits, which take turns to bounce into your senses, registering their presence and before you realize, the song gains significant synthesizer inputs and yet does not lose its own identity and the mood. The concluding portion of the track, with intermittent pause in the rhythm, is interesting for it packs in all the essence of its cultural identity, in the tune, as well the extremely modern touch of smart synth work that begins after the pause, to drown again. One of the best tracks in this album.

Supreme Chaos: Synthesizer sounds whistling all along, while bass guitars and drums setting the groove and amidst all this - melody on nagaswaram (Indian traditional trumpet). This one is an unusual fusion, for it has a meditation commentary inserted into the track and at a point of time, the track gets so ambient that we hear voices, nagaswaram playing like trumpets and electrical guitar riffs cut through it, making it all the more edgy.

RuTuTu: RuTuTu is another throwback. It employs guitars to start with and suddenly the trumpets and trombone explode on them with the drums. There is some high energy drum work on this track while the keyboard riffs just float along with the wind instruments. the whole composition is like one roller coaster ride, for it is extremely difficult to predict where the tune is going to take a turn and while the track slowly gets latino colours, we hear tin flutes. This track would perfectly fit in the background score for any chase sequence in a slickly shot Hollywood flick.

Here Comes the Funk: I don’t know why the last track is named as "Here Comes the Funk", for it is a completely pleasant melody in raag Mohana (Bhoopali). The song begins with Santoor, instantly transporting us to the land of snow mountains while the earthy tin rhythms and sitar join along. The main melody, played on violin and sitar, is as effervescent as it can get, sounding more like Sri. Lalgudi Jayaraman (violin maestro) at work. As the synth voices say "Here Comes Funk", Santoor flows like a stream of river under the synth master work, from which violin and flute play out their individual interpretations of the raaga taking the composition to blissful heights. This composition is indeed the best composition in the whole album. As the pace of the drums pick up, both flute and violin, entwined in the same raaga and yet holding unto their own, slowly construct the celebrative mood up to a stunning climax. I bet you cannot resist playing this track again, when it is done, for it will leave you exasperated, with a thought "Why did it stop!"

It is difficult to categorize Business Class Refugees in a particular genre. While the composers have significantly used the medium of fusion music to express their music ideas and idioms, there are tracks that work strictly in the lounge genre too. The album is rich, in its arrangements and the composers have touched a fine balance between real instruments and synthesizer sounds, although few tracks sound repetitive because of synth dominance with little variations. However, the charm of this album lies in its beautiful amalgamation of melodies, each holding its identity (of region and of instrument) and yet seamlessly flowing with the overall theme of World Music. Business Class Refugees must not stop here. For an audience that is increasingly appreciating diverse music forms and their confluence, many more of such albums would spell a welcome change, particularly in the spectrum of fusion music where playing an Indian tune on a western instrument has become a definition for Fusion. Business Class Refugees disproves just that and goes much beyond.