AMN Reviews: Brooklyn Raga Massive – Terry Riley In C (2017; Northern Spy)

The beauty of Terry Riley‘s In C is that it can be played by virtually any number of musicians, on any instruments, for various amounts of time. It consists of 53 short fragments or “cells” that each player moves through more or less at his or her own pace. As a consequence of its indeterminate structure, each recording or performance of In C is unique, and perhaps even radically different from other readings. While often categorized under the minimalist rubric, when played with a large enough ensemble the piece has an additive characteristic that gives it a large and complex sound.

Brooklyn Raga Massive is an 18-piece Indian classical music group that recorded their own live version of In C early this year in New York. In addition to generally following Riley’s loose formula, the group also incorporates ragas and improvisation. Instrumentation includes sitar, sarod, bansuri, vocals, tabla, hammered dulcimer, oud, violin, cello, upright bass, dragon mouth trumpet, guitar, cajon, riq and frame drums.

The rhythm is based around the tabla, with sitar, voice, violin, and woodwinds taking prominent roles. As expected, Brooklyn Raga Massive layers the cells on top of one another, shifting them in time. Often, several instruments are playing these themes, while other provide background drones and accentuations. Improvisions are short and focused to fit within the In C structure. The result is a dynamic piece that has a central familiarity but also colors outside of the lines.

This is a recording that I’ve had for some time now. It has slowly grown on me, as is the tendency for many great albums. The attention to detail on this version of In C is exquisite, and there are plenty of aspects to peel back and explore. Highly recommended.

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