Blue-Skinned God Records (label)
12 October 2017 (released)
24 February 2018
When was the last time you listened to music that came from and induced pure joy? There is a deluge of albums about heartbreak, disillusionment, injustice, depression, rage, fear, and betrayal. These do have their place and they do lead to growth and healing but the profusion can be very overwhelming. Albums that do exude happiness tend to be either sickeningly trite and cheesy or else they derive their pleasure from the suffering and/or supplication of another. Current pop music seems to be almost exclusively based on that concept. The overindulgence of the I. It's time to take a step out of the spiraling cyclone of negativity and self-obsession and feel life on a different plane.
The music of the Akshara Music Ensemble comes from a place of profound joy. A Joie de Vivre that comes from an unburdened mind. Composer and bandleader Bala Skandan guides us through five incantations of warmth and levity through both his Mridangam (percussion) and Konnakkol (vocal percussion). The traditional South Indian themes are shaken up with the inclusion of modern jazz improvisation and other world music ideas to create a fresh, young and vibrant album delivered by a master who's decades of mastery flow out effortlessly from musician to listener.
The album's opener 'Mind the Gap' begins with a fairly elemental hand drum rhythm that quickly evolves into a dodging and darting, racing and skipping beat showcasing Skandan's incredible prowess on the instrument within the first minute. With his talents now laid out, the band joins him with a lively first movement that feels like that day when spring has firmly entrenched itself and the long, fruitful days of summer stretch for miles ahead. Strings, dulcimer, and flute all sing in unison in a playful fanfare.
The single 'Mohana Blues' cello intro pulls the listener back and introduces a sense of grandeur but stops short of the extravagant, overblown melancholy of something a western listener would expect, being only exposed to the most exaggerated examples of Bollywood show tunes. A waltz-like mood emerges, Skandan introduces Konnakkol, verbalizing the complex polyrhythms he would otherwise play on his drum. The inclusion of these vocalizations refocusses the mind in a different way, making the listener participate more actively, even though no words are used. It's funny to notice how our brains pick up on something like that and it's as if a different part of our brains is triggered.
In Time is a masterwork by a brilliant ensemble. Great for listen after listen to fill your home and your days with levity and an appreciation of life. Admittedly, this article is written by someone who does not have a complete knowledge of Indian music theory but rather a westerners appreciation, however, this writer believes this album will leave many astounded. The exactitude with which the group plays long intricate, rarely repeating rhythms leaves your jaw-dropped and yet, you are never caught counting in your head. The group plays it as naturally as a rock band plays 4/4. Open your horizons and let the Akshara Music Ensemble in. It's like opening a window you never knew was there.