Shankar – double violin, vocals
V. Lakshminarayana – violin, double violin, vocals
Ganam Rao – vocals
Zakir Hussain – tabla
Vikku Vinayakram – ghatam
Caroline – vocals, tamboura
After the uncharacteristic misstep that was The Epidemics, Shankar returned to his roots with nobody told me and showed us that his flair for carnatic vocals is almost as deeply fleshed as his improvisational gifts on the double violin. And while he has never quite recaptured the magic of Who’s To Know, that same generative spirit is present here in every gesture of his bow. The recording is far more intimate than anything else he has put out. For that reason alone it bears repeated listening and the nuances that repetition brings to each new experience. He is also accompanied by some staggering talents, among them V. Lakshminarayana (father of the venerable L. Subramaniam and pioneer of the Indian violin, he died the year following this session), Zakir Hussain on tabla (who, if you’re reading this, probably needs no introduction), and ghatam master Vikku Vinayakram. The session is rounded out by vocalists Ganam Rao and Caroline, the latter of whom also provides the foundational tamboura drone throughout.
The most heartening moments are to be found between Lakshminarayana and Shankar, whose exchanges in the opening Chittham Irangaayo constitute a spiritual conversation to which the listener can only nod. From tender beginnings, their stichomythia of the rustic and the laser-like opens into a broader language as the rest join in the fray. Shankar emerges from this milieu with beautifully articulated chording and pizzicato accentuations in turn before bowing his way into a rousing finish. Vocals predominate the Chodhanai Thanthu that follows. The unrestrained cadences therein bring us to the root of this music, which at its best floats straight from the body and into the heart of the divine. Only with the introduction of percussion and violin do words step out onto the histrionic stage, taking us by the hand into the brief yet inescapable Nadru Dri Dhom Tillana, a fitting end to a raw and impassioned document of collective music-making.