AMN Reviews: Brooklyn Raga Massive – In D (2020; Bandcamp)

Brooklyn Raga Massive is a collective with rotating members that focuses on the performance and recording of Indian classical music. Their claim to fame so far is undoubtedly their recording of Terry Riley’s In C (reviewed here), which was given the seal of approval by Riley himself. In fact, Riley liked it so much that he invited the group to California so that he could write and record a new piece with them. This didn’t work out, unfortunately, and instead the Massive’s artistic directors wrote a piece of music that they would have liked Riley to have written for them. From this, In D was born.

While their take on In C could be described as Riley’s composition being adapted to an Indian classical ensemble, In D is the converse – Indian classical music written in the style of Riley’s composition. It was recorded just three months ago under socially-distanced constraints and features 24 musicians including guitarist Gyan Riley, Terry’s son. The instrumentation also includes sitar, bansuri, violin, cello, mandolin, clarinet, oud, bass, tabla, conga, frame drums, timpani, and harp.

In substance, the three pieces follow the cell-based approach of In C but are more varied. There are mournful vocals, sparsely-populated parts, and more room for improvisation. But the overall energy level and layered density remain. Indeed, each track ebbs and flows, and yet has information-rich moments in which a large portion of the ensemble simultaneously present their respective contributions. The result is a polyphonic mix in which there are several stacked planes of themes and drones over lilting rhythms.

As an album that was almost never made, In D beat the odds. And that’s a wonderful thing.

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