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Wednesday, April 4, 2001

HIGH NOTES

Talvin Singh's "Ha"


As an accomplished tabla player, there's no doubting Talvin Singh's percussion skills, and as a producer he's clearly in command of the vocabulary of modern electronic dance music (as evidenced on his debut album "Calcutta Cyber Cafe"). The question is -- like with any session player-turned-solo artist -- can he come up with the tunes?

With "Ha!" (Island/Universal), Singh strives to find a more unified sound than his previous outing, "OK," which was all over the map musically, by playing up his music's dubbier side (a good thing, since drum 'n' bass is well past its sell-by date.) Singh has worked in the past with On-U producer Adrian Sherwood, and his hazy influence resonates here, especially on the album's 12-minute opener, "One."

Featuring some slinky sarangi licks by Ustad Sultan Khan, liquid Indian vocals and flute, and a deep dub groove, "One" draws you four-minutes deep into its pulsing heart before Singh unleashes the tablas. "Sway of the Verses" is similarly dub-inflected, with a throbbing tabla and dholak groove serving as the anchor for some raga riffing on electric mandolin by U. Srinivas. "Dubla" is a complex percussive workout, with filtered echoing drums, treated tablas and motormouthed vocal bols bursting out of your speakers, while a soaring vocal by Bhairavi drifts somewhere over the horizon.

Not all the tracks here live up to the hype: "The Beat Goes On" sounds like a Nation Records throwaway circa 1993, while the, ahem, "soulful" vocals of Liam O'Maonlai strike an off-note every time they appear in the mix. But by the time you get to the album's closer, "Silver Flowers," all is forgiven; the gossamer ghazal vocals here will just take you away. Brilliant stuff that manages to incorporate traditional styles in an entirely new context without watering down their essence.



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