Meet Rajna Swaminathan. She plays mrudangam (variant spelling), having studied with several current masters of the drum including Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman. Ms. Swaminathan, born in Maryland, has been involved in both the world music and jazz scene in New York City since 2011 working with artists such as Vijay Iyer, Amir ElSaffar (she's a member of his Two Rivers Orchestra), Steve Coleman, and saxophonist Maria Grand. She's currently a Graduate Student at Harvard University and has worked with Iyer in that capacity as well as on several concerts. Ms. Swaminathan also composes for dance and theater productions including 2015's "The Worry Machine" (music from the Anu Yadav play, "Meena's Dream"). Her frequent musical companion is her sister Anjna who is a composer and violinist. Together with their father Dr. P.K. Swaminathan, they run a 5013-C called Rhythm Fantasies, INC, whose goal is to "promote South Indian classical music and dance in a space that encourages education and enrichment through innovation and cross-cultural collaborations."
and Ganavya Doraiswamy (vocal). One of the joys of this music, this beautiful collection of original compositions, is that while it's obvious these musicians are brilliant technicians, there's more emotion inside the motion, a flow that enters one's mind, closes the eyes, and allows you to breathe easily (that's what it does for me). Note how easily the percussive [luck of the guitar combines with the singing violin, bowed bass, bouncing mrudangan, and dancing tenor saxophone blends.
The tendency to want to discuss this music gives way to the belief that each listener approach there album with an open mind. If you're looking for a message, take your time to find it. The leader describes the group's mission as one that is "a network of like-minded improvisers from multiple/overlapping traditions to experiment with new horizons of relation through hybrid forms, textures, and sensibilities." After all, RAJAS means passion/action" in Sanskrit.
Yet, there are moments throughout that stand out. Ms. Grand's breathy tenor leads the way on "Peregrination" with the violin in counterpoint and the rhythmic guitar in sync with the percussion. The splendid "singing" violin meshing with the guitar at the onset of "Vigil" begins a journey that spreads over 10 minutes with the various voices adding counterpoint and harmony. Ms. Doraiswamy and Mr. ElSaffar join the quintet on "Departures" - while you may not understand the words, the trumpet and violin create a call-and-response that helps to transmit the emotions of the lyrics. Don't ignore the contributions of bassist Crump - his arco work throughout is deep and resonant. Without a "regular" drummer, he's free to be melodic as well as foundational.
For more information, go to www.rajnaswaminathan.com.
Here's an example of the wondrous sounds:
|Photo: Peter Leng Xiong|
Andres Chaparro. It exemplifies the powerhouse that Ralph Peterson has been throughout his career and who is today.
For more information, go to www.ralphpetersonmusic.com.
Here's that opening track: