The most sophisticated, intense, and riveting music form the Earth has yet wrought is the South Indian Carnatic mode. It was jazz before jazz was born, but also trad classical, and, though 700 years old, continues to inspire musicians…but only those of unusual prowess, as the form is the most demanding among all world styles. It was popularized in the West probably most famously first by master sitar player Ravi Shankar, whose performance along with Ali Akbar Khan on the Monterey Festival film remains a singular experience, and then by John McLaughlin and the legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra. Unfortunately, the style's popularity in the West remains largely confined to higher caliber musicians, but I was fortunate enough a number of years ago to be alerted to a SoCal series of concerts and caught several heady recitals, most particularly by the truly astounding Ustad Srinivas and then the Hyderabad brothers and others.
However, blinding speed, jaw-dropping pyrotechnics, and deep compositional complexity aren't the only features of the mode, and the players on Ka are a liquid 'ensemble' composed of vocalist/instrumentalist Deepti Navaratna solo, in duet, and against the backdrop of the Boston Music Viva Ensemble, everyone chiefly involved in slow thoughtful melodic extrapolations whose paces rise and fall. The mood is typically ghazalesque, and something this beautifully wrought would easily be an ECM Records candidate along the lines of the group of the same name (Ghazal) and its The Rain, issued in 2001. If Enya were Hindustani instead of Irish, this is the kind of music she'd make…except that there are very very deep classical Eastern roots wed to a kind of neoclassicality, most strikingly demonstrated in the closing cut, Pilu.
So you know, the member rosters for the cuts aren't quite as credited as they should be, not peopled in the fashion, for instance, the title cut shows: Ka isn't only Navaratna and tabla player Amit Kavthekar but also includes at least three other vocalists in mesmerizing rapid-fire interplay as Navaratna floats above all participants in dreamy angelic airs. Nor is this a full CD but instead occupies a mid-ground between that and a full release, covering only 31 minutes…but what an entrancing half hour it is! Everything was written by the modernist Shirish Korde who hails of Indian descent but spent time in East Africa, absorbing the culture there, thence on to the U.S. and Berklee College, now a Professor of Music at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. I don't know how much exposure his work is getting in the U.S., but whatever amount it may be, it isn't enough.