Sheela Bringi celebrates new album of Indian-jazz-pop at the Blue Whale Tuesday night
By Bliss Bowen 02/06/2014
It isn’t often you hear a harp in Indian music these days. Or a trumpet, or a didgeridoo, or a blues guitar riff, for that matter. That Sheela Bringi incorporates them all as fluid, organic-sounding elements of her music is a testament to her artistry and that of trumpeter/producer Clinton Patterson, as well as their vision of the common ground connecting different cultures. Bringi celebrates her debut album, “Incantations,” with a show at the Blue Whale jazz and art space in downtown LA Tuesday night.
Raised in Colorado, Bringi was surrounded by classical Indian music and musicians in an atmosphere that valued creativity and intellect. She was instructed in Vedic chanting by her mother, a professor of Hinduism, Sanskrit and yoga studies, who had in turn learned the mantra recitations from her uncle, a Sanskrit scholar in India. Bringi later immersed herself in serious classical Indian music studies — and was also schooled by free-jazz pianist Cecil Taylor and composer Meredith Monk. The technical rigors of those demanding disciplines have, paradoxically, given her more freedom to experiment now.
And experiment she does on the just-released “Incantations,” which marks a significant step forward as a solo artist after collaborations with the likes of Karsh Kale and hang drum player Masood Ali Khan. Bringi says she is still inspired by the “longing and beauty expressed” in kirtan, or traditional call-and-response chanting, as well as jazz. “The Three-Eyed One” encapsulates those twin inspirations with repeated call-and-response harmonies punctuated by handclaps, a trance-inducing effect echoed in the dialogue between trumpet and didgeridoo. It’s an unlikely and strikingly impressive combination of elements. “Bhajamana Ram” dials down the minor-key drama with Bringi’s delicate harp playing, while “Raga Khammaj” conveys a sense of reverence as Bringi’s bansuri (Indian bamboo flute) elegantly rises above drones and gentle percussion. Patterson’s rhythmic guitar patterns over handclaps, shekere (African gourd-and-bead percussion) and Bringi’s exultant bansuri during “Raja Ram” trace more specific connections between ragas, African and American blues.
The tracks that resonate the most powerfully are the ones featuring Patterson’s mournful trumpet. When his blue notes are answered by Bringi’s harp and sultry soprano on “Moonrise Divination” and the pensive “Saraswati,” it is almost as though the two of them were playing alone, after hours in a shadowy jazz club.
Sheela Bringi celebrates “Incantations” with a performance at the Blue Whale, 123 Astronut E S. Onizuka St., Ste. 301, downtown LA, at 9 p.m. Tuesday; $10. Info: (213) 620-0908. shebrings.com