Niladri Kumar, Together

Chris Nickson

By Chris Nickson

on 04.03.11 in Reviews


Niladri Kumar

Percussionist Talvin Singh — one of the leading lights of the Asian Underground movement of the late '90s — and sitar player Niladri Kumar give traditional Indian music an electric reboot, reinventing the sitar/tabla duo that's been a mainstay of the genre for centuries. Singh provides a steady base, playing so subtly that at times he hardly seems to be there, offering accents — and many touches of atmospheric programming — then crashing like thunder to propel a track like "Joy" through its frantic finale. Kumar, meanwhile, not only brings virtuosic sitar skills, he also employs his zitar — a five-string electric version of the sitar, run through with effects. The interplay between the two recalls such magisterial figures as Ravi Shankar and Zakir Hussein; they're almost telepathic in the way they support and push each other. Together, they create something that builds on the past but is also completely modern — their heart might be in India, but their outlook is utterly global.

Their heart might be in India, but their outlook is utterly global

The disc hinges on two long tracks, the title cut and "Threads." The first unfolds like a raga, opening with a lengthy, floating improvisation that slowly builds into a gorgeous melody that carries the second half of the piece. The zitar sounds like a guitar one moment and an exotic sarangi the next, until it all rounds out with a lovely triumphal flourish. By contrast, "Threads" is exactly what its title implies — a series of fragments, ranging from the dreamy to the desperate, all of which weave together to create an oddly cohesive and satisfying whole. By reimagining the way Indian music can be, Singh and Kumar give it breath and accessibility, not only fresh life, but a way forward in the new century.