Review | Songlines


Rating: ★★★

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Album and Artist Details


Utsav Lal


Utsav Lal


Visangati, the name of this album, apparently means ‘Anomaly’ in Sanskrit and Hindi – in other words a deviation from the norm. And Utsav Lal is certainly that, playing South Asian ragas on the piano, in an East-West fusion that combines the respectable concert hall or drawing– room culture of Britain with the classical, improvisational modal music of the subcontinent. It's nothing like the Indo-Jazz fusions of Shakti and their heirs.

Utsav Lal plays Indian classical music extremely well – with tabla player Nitin Mitta. Although Lal has pioneered the use of the microtonal Fluid Piano, here he's using an equally tempered instrument, though somehow he gives it a microtonal quality. Does it work on the piano? Compared to Indian solo instruments like sitar, sarod, veena or bansuri, I don't think it matches up because the piano can't do the little slides and glissandos that are so intrinsic to Indian music. I'm afraid the piano sounds rather clumsy in comparison. Yet if you dive into this music with another mindset and think of this as a new form of music – which it is – it becomes a deeply personal pianistic meditation. The third track in ‘Raga Lalit’ has a glorious intensity. Bearing that in mind, perhaps Lal is following Indian models too closely and sticking to mid- and lower-registers too strictly. Why not dart around between registers more, which is so easy on a keyboard? Or bring in airier textures in a tapestry that only the piano can do? This is a work in progress, and the sublime meeting of piano and Indian music still awaits.

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