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Reviews: Nirmala Rajasekar, Into the Raga; and Gao Hong, Quiet Forest, Flowing Stream

Nirmala Rajasekar
Into the Raga
[Innova Records (2010)]

Gao HongQuiet Forest, Flowing Stream: New Chinese Pipa Music by Gao Hong
[Innova Records (2010)]

On Into the Raga, South Indian Veena (a plucked instrument that resembles a sitar crossed with a lute) player Nirmala Rajasekar offers a whirlwind trip through ten Carnatic ragas, thereby giving an abridged overview to the rich heritage of South Indian classical music. Joined by violinist Raghavendra Rao, Mridangam (Indian tubular hand drum) expert Tanjore K. Murugaboopathi, and Ghatam (earthenware percussion instrument) player V. Suresh, Rajesekar offers very traditional takes on pieces by many of the masters of Carnatic composition. The disc’s centerpiece is a nearly half-hour version of “Ananda Sadamaduvar,” an invocation of the dance of Shiva.

On Quiet Forest, Flowing Stream, Gao Hong offers a bold vision of how the pipa (a Chinese four stringed lute-like instrument) can be used in novel cross-cultural musical fusions. For two tracks, Hong is joined by Nirmala Rajasekar, and the blending of the pipa and veena creates a lush and exotic pan-Asian confection. Another Sino-Indian collaboration is the title tune, on which Hong is paired with sitarist Subhendra Rao and tabla player Biplab Bhattacharya. For the closing “Celebration,” all four guests are augmented by cello, taiko, and western percussion for an extended, ethereal, if somewhat chaotic, global fusion.

—Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)

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