FAME Review: Nistha Raj - Exit 1
Nistha Raj - Exit 1

Exit 1

Nistha Raj

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

There's a fascinating and strong durable thread weaving through the traditional musics of the mid-Eastern countries that, as far as I've been able to discern, originates in India, north and south. I tend to favor the Carnatic (South Indian) style more for its jaw-dropping virtuosities, and my brief studies so far indicate that, yes, its theoretical sophistications are truly advanced, so much so that I aver it's the most sophisticated body of sonics this planet's yet seen. The difference between that and the northern form appears to perhaps lie in the influence of Islam in the region, its frame of mind, though both proponents and opponents of the sentiment agree there are profound cultural factors as well. Regardless, both schools of creativity are extremely attractive, stellarly removed from Western modalities, and remain a source of never-ending fascination for the connoisseur omnivore regardless of ethnicity or aesthetic.

Nistha Raj is a violinist of the northern school, but Exit 1 is not an exercise in classicalism, instead a modernization upon traditional forms that bodes well for bringing ears back to a form she knows is, in conjunction with all other cultures, a matter of ancient treasures fading. Raj performs in a jazz trio (The Fourth Stream) and a rock band (NRI), but also teamed up with Grammy-nominated human beatbox Christylez Bacon, and I suggest that those interested in just what this alliance means go straight to cut 5, Bhairavi Beatbox, a fascinating duet twixt the twain. Bacon is without doubt the most adept I've yet heard, and her highly mechanized/organic approach is oft indistinguishable from what triggered synths are able to produce…except that nuances are present that no machine could evoke without very extensive manipulation. When I interviewed Morton Subotnick years ago, I was surprised to discover he favored turntabling, beatboxing, and other at-the-time rising devices and modes. I suspect Ms. Bacon was the sort of eventuality he envisioned.

The song slightly favors Bacon but also features Raj fluidly sliding through classical, neoclassical, jazz, and progressive modes, the two at the tail end trading off the call and responses so enticingly common to Hindustani musics. As the CD progresses and the liner notes are read, though, it's plain that Raj's studies here in America (she was born in Texas) and over in India imbued a deep understanding of many music theory sets, and her integration of them can be deceptive, especially in the elegant mixing of Chinese folk song with raga Bhopali (From China to India)…and, man, when Devapriya Nayak jumps in with the tabla, the heart leaps up.

Ajde Jano mixes Serbian folk with more raga styles set to roopak taal, a 7-beat rhythm cycle. It also inducts a guitar to fatten the vibe out. Elsewhere, piano and alto sax enter songs, but the final two cuts are Raj in solo context, largely slow meditative tracks that I suggest the audient not listen to but instead co-exist with, floating on a warm gentle wind in sonics meant to be experienced, not analyzed. If you liked the work that L. Shankar did with ECM and sometimes with Caroline, that brief stratum of chiefly slow euphoria peppered with chops, then Exit 1 will be to your liking.

Track List:

  • Shivranjani
  • Jayanthi
  • Ek Pyar Ka Nagma Hai
  • The River
  • Bhairavi Beatbox
  • From China to India
  • Ajde Jano
  • Gravity (Charukeshi Alap)
  • Alibi (Charukeshi Jor Jhala)
All songs written by Nistha Raj.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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