Music

Indian Percussionist Subhasis Bhattacharya Emerges with 'Tablananda'

Photo courtesy of World Music Network

Versatile percussionist Subhasis Bhattacharya steps into the spotlight with masterful Tablananda.

Tablananda
Subhasis Bhattacharya

Riverboat

26 October 2018

Like so many great percussionists, Subhasis Bhattacharya often seems to fall into a supporting role to the musicians he accompanies. Brother Debashish is India's foremost slide guitar player, and vocalist niece Anandi's recent album has meant that her star is very much on the rise. Subhasis Bhattacharya has played alongside both over the years, the exquisite backbone of his family's collective musical body of work.

On Tablananda, Bhattacharya's exceptional musicianship and versatility take center stage on his first international collaboration. He takes on rhythm after rhythm, delving into one style after another over the course of 13 delightfully unpredictable tracks that point to him as a master of not only the tabla but of playing well with others, no matter the origin of those others. He also proves his compositional prowess; Bhattacharya co-authors or arranges every piece.

Opening track "Valley of Brothers" is a collaboration between Debashish and Subhasis, the former's winding strings building on the latter's array of percussion, handheld and synthetic alike. A familial jam session, it ends up being one of the album's lighter pieces and makes for a fitting start to the record as Debashish paves the way for his brother to take the spotlight.

Various Indian traditions are central to a number of the pieces, of course; "Krishna Naam" features Soumyajyoti Ghosh on the north Indian bansuri, a flute that sets a reverent tone. Bhattacharya sings here for the first time on the album; his voice has a sweetness to it that lends itself well to the delicate folk sounds - but that also has the flexibility to get faster and sharper for the frenzied mantras of "Mahamantra", where Bhattacharya's drums knit a dense texture cut by transcendental moments of scripture recitation. "Kishor Memory" riffs on more modern Indian sounds, paying tribute to the prolific Bollywood singer and composer Kishore Kumar with a jazzy intro from saxophonist Gary Regina and swaying dance sounds throughout for a touch of cinematic drama.

Bhattacharya takes on Afrobeat on "Oye Adamu", a polyrhythmic masterpiece composed with the late Danjuma Adamu, a musician, dancer, and composer who passed away during the album's recording, but whose contributions make this brassy track a thrilling one. On "Rubáiyát Blues", Bhattacharya takes inspiration from Indian tarana musical traditions, based on Persian and Arabic sounds, as well as electric desert blues. This is one of the album's highlights, heaven, and earth in a poignant dance of sand and sky. Later, "Senegalese Impulse" brings in griot Ibou Ngom on sabar and djembe, his percussion facing off against Bhattacharya's beneath a loping melodic line of guitar and horns.

Defying categorization are tracks like "Deep Water Syllables", "Blood of Two Oceans", and "Monsoon", which integrate perspectives and techniques from across the globe in a way that speaks to Bhattacharya's vast experience with sounds of all origins. Not only does he work with Western jazz and Indian classical sounds here, but he invokes nature: water, thunder. The inclusivity of his guest list does not stop at human performers.

The end of the album is "Vuly's Dance", a song Bhattacharya endearingly dedicates to his dog. Quick percussion and vocalizations underscore sublime guitar notes, while synths and organs add a little more intrigue to the melody. At last, Bhattacharya's voice trails off, a dreamy end to a sensational finale.

The Bhattacharyas are a family of not only musical virtuosos, but of true innovators. On Tablananda, Subhasis shows not only where he fits in, but how well he can stand out. It's a chance he seizes with aplomb, and he leaves us with no question as to the diversity of his repertoire or his technical finesse. He fully realizes his potential as a creative leader here, and perhaps the rest of us will realize - or be reminded - never to underestimate a great drummer.

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