Of the four CDs of Ed Powell's I'm reviewing in this turning of the decade, Ragamakam is the one most imbued with an almost supernatural element of cultural knowingness, authenticity. Remember those recordings by Jon Higgins, the Music Today label, EMI's All India Radio (AIR) series, and myriad other killer cassettes of Carnatic, ghazal, and various Indian musics you could get at mom 'n pop shops close to all good Indian restaurants? Ragmakam is like finding those treasure troves all over again. Not only that, but Powell designed and built what he calls a 'ragmakamtar', a harp-type guitar that's as exotic as any hand-held stringed instrument you've ever seen. This guy is 538% dedicated to music.
I will also inform you that this CD is as good in its own way as John McLaughlin's Shakti releases—though Powell is a much more restrained player—being a wonderland of Indian stylings preserving the spirit and feel of the land while subtly modernizing. Ed, in the liner, launches into a fascinating technical discussion of the traditional forms, explaining what's what and what isn't, but the unmistakable influence of Occidentality makes its way throughout the CD in subtle ways. Powell's accompanied by four other players in duets, trios, and quartets but Sri Partha Mukerjee is gasp-inducing on the tables; as Powell puts it: "one of the finest of tabla players". No argument from me there, this guy's the kind of percussionist who could sit in with Zakir Hussain or Alla Rakha and not sweat.
Husseini Sahana starts out almost Celticly before slipping into the trademarks slides and slurs of India's sonically idiosyncratic ways, and more than a few passages will remind the listener of some of what George Harrison tried on his own and with the Beatles (hark back also to the Wonderwall LP). Bhinn Hicaz mellows out in an exotic balladic mode, pastorally lyrical, but Jog Evic is probably my favorite cut, adventurous while smoky with the essences of history going back to the Upanishads before trekking back home to 2011 again.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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