Breathing Under Water

Breathing Under Water

by Anoushka Shankar, Karsh Kale
     
 

Anoushka Shankar, the daughter and student of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, has never sought to trade on her connections, instead playing graceful pupil to her father in duet concerts and on her own tradition-steeped CDs. That began to change on Rise, her self-produced album of Asian-themed electronica, and with Breathing Underwater,…  See more details below

Overview

Anoushka Shankar, the daughter and student of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, has never sought to trade on her connections, instead playing graceful pupil to her father in duet concerts and on her own tradition-steeped CDs. That began to change on Rise, her self-produced album of Asian-themed electronica, and with Breathing Underwater, she pulls out the big guns. Collaborator Karsh Kale may not be a household name, but in the realm of contemporary South Asian music, he's up there with the best. A lauded tabla player and producer, Kale is his generation's Zakir Hussain, at home in jazz and pop settings alike -- the go-to guy for Indian flavors, having appeared on records by Bill Laswell, DJ Spooky, and others. But Kale is small potatoes when you've also got Ravi Shankar, Sting, and Norah Jones pitching in on your album. (In giving Kale equal billing, Shankar shows her graciousness and seriousness as a musician, if not her marketing savvy.) The Police-man lends his distinctive voice to "Sea Dreamer," while "Easy" features Shankar's half sister Jones on piano as well as at the microphone. That's two radio-ready tracks right there, and Breathing Underwater is unabashedly a pop album. But it's smart pop, a quantum leap in focus and polish from Rise, and that's where Karsh Kale and co-producer Gaurav Raina are no doubt to thank. The heavy, dub-influenced production is the stuff of coffee bars and late-night lounges, yes, but there's real substance here. The players are too good to turn in anything less -- Shankar's liquid-silver lines are augmented by guests including guitarist Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and the Bombay Cinematic Orchestra strings. There's not a crass note to be heard, which goes to show that even when reaching for the brass ring, Anoushka Shankar is a class act.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
Breathing Under Water is a different animal altogether. Karsh Kale and Anoushka Shankar co-wrote eight of these 13 cuts together. Another, "Easy," was co-written with Norah Jones -- Shankar's half sister -- and sung by her. Father Ravi wrote a two-part tune with his daughter and appearshere as well. The other big name guest is Sting (it's a payback for Shankar playing on a few tracks of his in the past). Shankar (sitar, keyboards) and Kale (guitars, keyboards, live drums) wind Indian classical music, rock, electric atmospheres, and a load of loops and beats (break and otherwise) with a host of collaborators who include the great arranger and pianist Salim Merchant (who also conducts the Bombay Cinematic Orchestra Strings on a few pieces), Vishwa Mohan Bhatt on his mohan vina, vocalists Sunidhi Chauhan, Shankar Mahadevan, and Vishal Vaid, and chamber players on bansuri, sarangi, and other traditional instruments, and programmers of various stripes. What's striking is that while one can imagine how this might sound, because of other attempts at doing the same thing, the end product would frustrate those anticipations to a large degree. Certainly electronic music is deeply rooted here, but so is the sitar, so is rock, so is Western classical music -- sometimes all in the same tune. It's exotic, but it's a another thing too, which feels like, well, coming home. The Sting track ("Sea Dreamer") may have fared better without his breathy vocals intruding. That said, the piano and vocal performance by Jones on "Easy" is what sets it apart -- no matter what one thinks about her singing, she really stretched out here and makes it seem effortless -- and makes it an inseparable part of the fabric of the album. "A Perfect Rain," with Mahadevan singing, is a thoroughly modern track in every way, but his gorgeous traditional vocal adds real depth and dimension to the other aspects of the sounds created here. The blend of guitars, drums, sarangi, layered keyboards, loops, and live drums is gorgeous. Elsewhere, on the instrumentals such as "Little Glass Folk," Shankar's sitar work is sublime, tighter and more focused than on her other recordings. With orchestral percussion by Kale and Merchant conducting the strings in Western classical fashion, it's deeply moving, and even breathtaking in places as it emerges seemingly from the ether and travels from West to East as the two musics come together in something wonderfully cinematic and enchanting. The two-part "Oceanic," on which Ravi plays, is fantastic. It takes up a little over eight minutes, the first half with Ravi improvising over Merchant's string orchestra -- so moving and beautiful it's beyond all written language. The second part is a duet between the Shankars with accompaniment from Kale on tabla, Ajay Prassana on bansuri, and Pirashana Thevarajah on mindangam kanjira, with Merchant conducting the strings once more. The lyricism here is profound, spiritually moving (and not necessarily in a theistic sense of the term). The final cut, a brief interlude called "Reprise," is just Shankar on her sitar, Kale playing piano, and Merchant's wonderfully understated strings. As the record comes to whispering close, it begs an analysis as to why Breathing Under Water works so well. The answer is that Shankar came on far more aggressively here. Her discipline and sense of harmony and melody are very sophisticated, and she's always downplayed them on her own recordings. Kale, on the other hand, is not so heavy-handed in his writing, playing, or production work, perhaps because he is in the company of so many fine musicians, Merchant not least among them. This is lush and elegant music; it defies genres and pigeonholes. But it is also new, made from many old approaches as well as modern ones. Breathing Under Water is nothing less than delightfully -- and sometimes powerfully -- unique.

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Product Details

Release Date:
08/28/2007
Label:
Manhattan Records
UPC:
0094639539222
catalogNumber:
95392
Rank:
45035

Tracks

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Album Credits

Performance Credits

Anoushka Shankar   Primary Artist,Synthesizer,Piano,Keyboards,Sitar,Tanpura,Track Performer
Karsh Kale   Track Performer,Synthesizer,Acoustic Guitar,Bass,Piano,Electric Bass,Cymbals,Drums,Electric Guitar,Keyboards,Tabla,Vocals,Snare Drums,electronic percussion,Orchestral Percussion
Ravi Shankar   Sitar,Guest Appearance
Vishwa Mohan Bhatt   Mohan Vina
Pedro Eustache   Flute
Sting   Vocals
Shankar Mahadevan   Vocals
Norah Jones   Piano,Vocals,Guest Appearance
Vishal Vaid   Vocals
Salim Merchant   Piano,Keyboards
Sunidhi Chauhan   Vocals

Technical Credits

John Stewart   Engineer
Greg Calbi   Mastering
Herbert Waltl   Executive Producer
Gordon Jee   Art Direction
Anoushka Shankar   Arranger,Producer,String Arrangements
Saul Williams   Author
Brian Montgomery   Engineer
Karsh Kale   Arranger,Producer,String Arrangements,drum programming
Gaurav Raina   Programming,Producer,Engineer,Atmosphere
Salim Merchant   Arranger,Producer,String Arrangements
Chad Lupo   Assistant Arranger
Jayant Luthra   Programming
Jonathan Dagan   Engineer

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