When you hear of a new musical collaboration you can normally workout immediately if it will work or not. There have been some surprises in the past. The first time I heard that Sarathy Korwar and Auntie Flo, aka Brian D’Souza, were working together a big grin spread across my face. I had no idea what it would sound like, but I knew I wanted to hear it. I first heard about Korwar when his 2016 album, ‘Day To Day’, was released on Ninja Tune. I liked it a lot, but it wasn’t until his 2018 album, ‘My East Is Your West’ on Gearbox that I appreciated his talent. His work with the Upaj Collective took a while to get my head around, but once I did it was rarely out of my listening circulation. D’Souza was an act I first came across in the early 10’s while working for a music booking agency. While he isn’t some whose music I devoured ravenously, I enjoyed seeing him live and checking out what he was up to ever few years. This changed when I heard they were working on an album called ‘Shruti Dances’.
‘Dha’ kicks the album off. If you will, it almost feels like the mission statement of the album and like the duo are saying “we’re going to reimagining Indian classical music and jazz with a dancefloor sensibility.” It works. Across four and a half minutes D’Souza and Korwar mix sparse tablas and arpeggiated synths to create something awe inspiring. What makes the two styles work is the deep groove created. This is what the album really seems to be about. Yes, there are captivating electronics and hypnotic Indian instrumentation, but what is really important is the groove they create.
At times during ‘Dha’ – and the rest of the album for that matter – you are pulled into a hypnotic vortex. Korwar’s playing is almost mechanical at times and his precision is scary. Then you have the actual regimented electronics from D’Souza and its hard to say where technology starts and ends. This isn’t to say that ‘Shruti Dances’ isn’t warming and welcoming. It really is. There is a great freeness to the playing. ‘Pa’ reminds me of Geinoh Yamashirogumi’s genius score to ‘AKIRA’. It’s rhythmic, but there is a bite to the performance and is the standout track on the album. As the hypnotic rhythm intensifies a real sense of urgency comes over you. Will the track descend into formless noise or will the duo keep things moving forward? Listen to find out.
The start of ‘Ma’ is this wonderful, languid, feel to it. The synths billow about in an ambient, formless state with Korwar playing quietly in the background. As ‘Ma’ progresses the tabla playing becomes more pronounced, becoming the driving force of the song, while D’Souza creates these wonderful fugs of sounds. Together they create a feeling of calm, not quite tranquil, but close enough that it allows you to drift off for three minutes.
There is something wonderful about ‘Shruti Dances’ – as indeed with all the best collaborations. It’s hard to tell where D’Souza end and Korwar begins. But there are subtle hints. Their music fuses seamlessly to create something with one foot in the past and the other in the present. What is most remarkable about ‘Shruti Dances’ is how concise the pair are. Only two of the tracks on ‘Shruti Dances’ exceed five minutes with the remaining four knocking it on head around the three, and four, minute mark. Usually with collaborations like this the players don’t know when to stop, continuing on with the same theme long after it has become enjoyable for the listener. After each track on ‘Shruti Dances’ you’re left wanting more. With a running time of 27 minutes it’s very easy to let the album play another two or three times before you realise what’s going on.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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