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Melodious guitar fusion

Sanjay Mishra's classic Indian Fusion album with Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead
Blue Incantation by Sanjay Mishra

More than a month ago Chennai’s popular newspaper “The Hindu”, had this album reviewed and I just couldn’t wait to get my own review out although I had planned mine a long time ago.

I am not sure how many of you lived in and around Atlanta, GA around the end of the previous milleneum (1999-2001) and used to watch Indian programmes on the NPR (I think it was that) and similar channels on T.V. Most of these (Indian Movies and other Indian programmes) were a weekend thing and not of consistent great quality but being nostalgic about life back home in India we would watch them anyway.

However I had another reason to watch these programs, the small 10 sec or so CRY (Child Relief and You) advertisement. It could have also been from CRY America. Anyway, it was an advertisment asking people to contribute to CRY and be aware of the sufferings and things happening to underpreviliged children in India. The ad didn’t carry any video but only black and white images including one of the founder the late Rippan Kapur. As the images would flash across the screen a very haunting guitar tune would play in the background. Only the guitar was heard with a little percussion as the advertisement concluded. The hauntingly beautiful tune was so soulful that I would wait every week to listen to this small 10 second ad. I was desperate to find which band or guitarist was playing that irresistable tune. Which was the album it came from? I was only groping in the dark thinking I may never find out.

Several months later I moved to Eagan, Minnesota. I used to frequent the Madras Cafe there. Over the music system they would play songs from popular Hindi and Tamil films. On one ocassion they were playing popular songs which I recognized as ones performed by the Pakistani band Junoon. After a couple of songs there was an interesting guitar and tabla instrumental. The sound of the guitar rang a bell in me but I was not able to find out why. At that time I was under the impression that song could have been a Junoon instrumental. I checked with the guy at the restaurant only to receive a blank reply saying someone had burnt an assorted CD for him.

But providence has other things in store for you when your yearning is strong. I started checking Indian guitarists and Indian fusion bands on Amazon.com but not with much luck. I then came across Sanjay Mishra, an India guitarist living in the U.S whose three albums Amazon was selling. A name like Sanjay Mishra would have hardly rung a bell but I decided to just check out the album “Blue Incantation” purely becuase Jerry Garcia of Grateful Dead had collaborated on the album. I first clicked on the Monsoon song and I instantly recognized it as the one they played at Madras Cafe. Something then told me that the tune I heard on the T.V ad in Athens, Georgia was almost there and that the wait was over. I then click on the song “For Julia” and I couldn’t believe my ears. I had finally stumbled upon the song, album and artist I was longing to find out for several months. How many times I heard the little sample on Amazon I cannot recall.

Honestly Jerry Garcia’s part is the one where the guitar playing distracts although there’s not much of him in this collaboration. Garcia’s electric guitar sometimes interjects unnecessarily when compared to Sanjay’s finger picked nylon classical (I am sure Sanjay’s classical guitar has been made electric too, I mean connected to an amp). Except for Noturne/Evening Chant I thought the rest of the songs could have done away with Garcia. Sanjay could have filled those Garcia-played parts with this own better compositions. Garcia collaborates only on three songs and that’s a reason to forgive his parts.

A review of the songs.

For Julia – Clearly the number one song of this album and one that you must listen to first. This is the song that has made Sanjay Mishra and his music famous. Once you listen to “For Julia”, you are going to keep getting back to it an incredible number of times. Extremely haunting, soulful and beautiful. Just two instruments, the guitar and Tabla do it all although I find traces of other instruments such as bass and percussion. For Julia also appears on two other albums one of which is the award winning soundtrack for the film Port Djema.

Monsoon – Not the second best song but a faster number, fastest on the album. Lovely playing reminding you of the wet rainy weather. Beautiful guitar playing though he sometimes settles in the background to let Garcia take the limelight.

Passage into Dawn – The longest song on the album and vocals are used. The tabla works in unision with the guitar tunes to produce a soft and beautiful effect. At 3:33 min the tunes of the guitar changes evoking an even deeper feeling of serenity. This song can be used for Meditation, relaxation, doing Hatha Yoga etc and it will compliment the activity perfectly.

Self Portrait – The smallest song but it so beautiful you could listen to it over and over again. It too has a haunting feel to it.

Bach in Time A variation of a Bach composition played melodiously on the guitar with the support of Tabla as percussion.

Allegro – Faster song, not as fast as Monsoon but moves beautifully. Sanjay plays beautiful tunes on his guitar against the steady Tabla rythm. Towards the end tabla and guitar combine well for some interesting moments.

My Meditation – A beautiful opener, a pleasant number indicating the style and sound that is to come.

Nocture/Evening Chant – Light vocals can be heard in the background as Sanjay weaves his majic for an evening chant a title befitting the relaxing sounds of the guitar and other instruments.

Clouds – Beautiful duet between Sanjay and Garcia. A longer song, slow, soft and lovely with Sanjay taking more of a support role and Garcia doing more of the solos. Tabla gradually join in. If not for Garcia’s guitar this could have been another good song in line with “Passage unto dawn”.

Before the summer rain – The concluding song on the album and one where the flute is also used. Sanjay provides the lovely support as the flautist does most of the solo. Soothing number to end the album.

In conclusion a great album. Blue Incantation is also a must-listen if you are a learning or practising guitarist.

Listen to MP3 clips of the songs here.

There are a couple of videos on Youtube though they aren’t the masterpieces. Here is one of them.

Sanjay has other gems from his earlier and new albums but “Blue Incantation” must be your place to start.

Sanjay’s site at www.mishra.net.

Buy the CD, Blue Incantation by Sanjay Mishra from Amazon.com.

 

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