Suphala, Blueprint

Richard Gehr

By Richard Gehr

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Suphala works on a fascinating cultural cusp. On the one hand, she's a tabla traditionalist pursuing a life-long practice in the North Indian (aka Hindustani) classical tradition. On the other, she has now released three albums that combine this practice with electronics, pop music and the Western classical tradition. She juggles these two modes almost as deftly as each of her hands taps out radically different rhythms during her solo pieces. The shimmering tension between her parallel modes of music-making is a large part of her appeal. I'd even say she's creating the most interesting fusion of Western and Asian pop and classical music since Chris Rael's woefully underappreciated Church of Betty.

The most interesting fusion of Western and Asian pop and classical music since Church of Betty?

Blueprint, not unlike a classical raga, feels like a schematic diagram within which Suphala has poured everything she has learned about music thus far. Pop songs appear in deftly reimagined versions. Mazz Swift's violin drives the downtempo delights of "Underwater City" and "Unwind You." Edie Brickell revisits her inner child in the gorgeous "I Feel Awake Even Though This Is a Dream." And then there's the maximum-city culture clash of "Auramatic," with its King Britt beats and overdriven Vernon Reid guitar. Suphala's unrelentingly inventive tabla flows through the middle of it all, offering a constant spur-of-the-nanosecond commentary on the surrounding soundscapes. You sense that the tabla is voice and vehicle for Suphala's deepest imaginings as well as an unwavering source of rhythmic and melodic information.