Review: Simon Thacker's Svara-Kanti - Rakshasa
|Artist:||Simon Thacker's Svara-Kanti|
|Date of Release:||2013/05/14|
|Label:||Slap The Moon Records|
|Country of Release:||UK|
2. World | World Fusion
|Sub-Genre/s:||1. Chamber, Contemporary, East-West Fusion
2. East-West Fusion
|Date of Review:||2013/05/22|
Simon Thacker's Svara-Kanti's Rakshasa was released on 14th May on Slap The Moon Records. This debut recording with Svara-Kanti has been long and eagerly awaited. Now that it is here, where do you begin, with an album that is as monumental as this?
Perhaps I ought to start with a brief preamble and state that, for one thing, I have always been nothing less than in awe of Simon Thacker's classical guitar. We have very few, if indeed any of his generation or even younger classical guitarists of this caliber and musicianship, nor of his incredible breadth of material handled, ranging from classical to flamenco and classical fusion with Indian classical music and more. For another, I have to also confess to having given a previous recording with a previous ensemble, Simon Thacker and The Nava Rasa Ensemble, titled Nada ~ Ananda, a slightly mixed review, where I was somewhat less than overwhelmed by the Shirish Korde and Nigel Osborne compositions, with a particular bone of contention for me having been both composers' style of writing for the guitar, although there was nothing else to fault if you tried. Furthermore, I had also given a somewhat mixed review for a live performance of the first incarnation of Svara-Kanti (which featured Carnatic classical violinist Jyotsna Srikanth, since replaced by western classical violinist Jacqueline Shave), where I was less than happy with vocalist Japjit Kaur - who, in light of the present recording, must have suffered a dreadful cold or similar on the day, and/or might have been badly distorted by the SBC's in-house sound engineer, or else undergone a miraculous transformation, for I cannot fault her performance here, quite the contrary - and the same Korde composition, albeit in a different arrangement, as on the previously referred to Nava Rasa Ensemble album. Otherwise, there was little or nothing to fault about the performance and indeed much to like, and I was particularly taken also with Thacker's own composition.
The present incarnation of Simon Thacker's Svara-Kanti consists of, in addition to Thacker on classical guitar, vocalist Japjit Kaur, classical violinist Jacqueline Shave and Sarvar Sabri on tabla. The replacement of Ms. Srikanth with Ms. Shave seems to have resulted in a better East - West equilibrium over all. Shave, the leader and director of the esteemed Britten Sinfonia, is outstanding and seems just perfect for this ensemble.
Rakshasa is, from start to finish, an incredible tour de force that leaves you breathless from the start and right through. Thacker, I was delighted to discover, has found the confidence to include four of his own superb compositions, all equally delightful, and three reimagined Punjabi folksongs that are as delightful. Straight from the opening Dhumaketu, Thacker and Shave, as well as Sabri, show their mettle, with a piece that also prominently highlights Thacker's strong flamenco influences both in composition and guitar, with touches of Segovia and Rodriguez discernible here and there and flamenco style guitar playing and strumming that not only will leave many a specialist flamenco player gasping but are an immense thrill. Shave keeps up admirably and elegantly, as does Sabri with his inventive tabla. The tonality is clearly Hindustani (North Indian) - essentially Rag Bhairavi, albeit with the addition of a diminished fifth, or rather, an augmented fourth as Indian music does not permit the former - but in Thacker's improvisational style, influences of the Middle East and Turkey are also discernible mainly in the opening free time guitar improvisation. After this, the interaction among the players and the rhythms get complex, with influences of the Carnatic (South Indian) konakol vocal rhythmic system prominent. The harmonies are also complex and might have come straight out of modal jazz. This, and all of the other works on Rakshasa, are worthy of more detailed exploration, but alas, time does not permit this.
Of Thacker's other compositions, Svaranjali - already familiar from a previous live performance, referred to earlier - is a duet for guitar and tabla. An extremely lively composition, using a hybrid octatonic scale of tonic, major second, minor third, natural fourth, augmented fourth, perfect fifth, minor sixth, minor seventh, tonic, that could imply a number of Hindustani Rags, as well as blues and altered Aeolian Church mode. The rhythm is complex with a polyrhyhmic structure in the theme. Thirty years ago this track might have been a sensational best-selling single, when guitar often entered the charts. Multani is based on the Rag of that name's parent thaat or scale (tonic, minor second, minor third, augmented forth, perfect fifth, minor sixth, major seventh, tonic - on D), another complex piece with an unusual cyclic rhythm of 4+3+4+4 beats and complex modal harmonies that Messiaen and Scriabin might have been proud of. And if you think Thacker's inventiveness, imagination and inspiration would have delivered all there is to deliver, wait till you reach the closing title track, Rakshasa. Here, Thacker gives free reign to his imagination with multitracked forwards and reverse guitar tracks (a technique first explored by The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix) of great complexity, combined with intricate tabla as well as water phones and Tibetan Singing Bowls. This track, quite in keeping with its title, is a monster! But I won't spoil it any further, discover it all for yourself!
Thacker's reimagined Three Punjabi Folksongs are likewise imaginative and original in their arrangements and just as exquisite as his own compositions. Furthermore, Japjit Kaur's vocals are outstanding and exquisite to match.
The big surprise on Rakshasa, for me, are the compositions by Shirish Korde, Nigel Osborne and Terry Riley. Not only is the often sitar-like writing for the guitar of previous works by the first two gone and replaced by exploring the classical guitar in its own right and often to the fullest, but also all three compositions would be hard to fault and fit this album perfectly. Osborne's The Five Elements actually makes me warm to this composer, and indeed this is a vastly superior work than his previous The Birth Of Naciketas, for guitar concertante. I have to say the same for Korde's Anusvara - 6th Prism. 'Father' of minimalism Riley likewise manages to make me warm to him with his SwarAmant. All three composers here not only reveal a perhaps hitherto unsuspected understanding of Indian music, but above all an impressive ability to fuse Western contemporary classical music and Indian classical music successfully, meaningfully.
Again, Kaur's vocals are most impressive and exquisite on both the Osborne and the Korde, including some very virtuosic Sargam (the Indian equivalent of Sol-Fa).
With Rakshasa, Thacker has achieved one of the very few organic and truly meaningful fusions of Western contemporary classical music and Indian classical music, a delight in and of itself. He is pulling himself up to his full potential here. The virtuosity of the players and the singer is exquisite and a delight in itself. There is nothing to fault on this brilliant, monumental album. Rakshasa is above all a work of exquisite beauty. Its charm is irresistible and should cast its spell on not only the contemporary classical music connoisseur but also the more serious 'world music' aficionado. This is an album to just fall in love with, and a must have.
All works are world premiere recordings to boot.
The CD version of Rakshasa comes in a beautifully designed digipak, with excellent cover art by Sam Hayles that certainly evokes the demonic and could be one of the ten heads of the demon king Ravana of the Ramayana. I decidedly recommend getting the CD over the digital download, it is worth every penny and every effort.
Simon Thacker's Svara-Kanti's Rakshasa must have been very expensive to produce (just think of the forwards and reverse multitracking!), and one has to hope that the expense will be justified by the number of sales, and soon. The sooner the better, as another album soon would be most welcome indeed! So, what are you waiting for?
1. Simon Thacker: Dhumaketu - 6:37
Simon Thacker - classical guitar
Japjit Kaur - voice
Jacqueline Shave - violin
Sarvar Sabri - tabla
Rakshasa can be purchased from:
Amazon UK (MP3)
Other online sources
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