Adventurous Listening with Lal Meri

13 02 2009

By Derek Beres

For better or worse (for better and worse), Indian music and instruments have been consumed by producers worldwide, resulting in everything from horrible “world lounge” and “chill out” compilations and jazzy fusions citing McLauhglin and Miles Davis as references (while sounding nothing like the innovators and their inventiveness) to inspired organic and electronic auditory and cultural explorations. When I hear tablas emerge from an overproduced, hygienic drum program, I cringe. When done right, the unique two-drum set makes for adventurous listening, arousing a specific sound without the blatant advertising of so-called exotic rhythms.

The Los Angeles-based trio Lal Meri, whose self-titled debut drops on Six Degrees in a few weeks, does it right. I’ve been a fan of two of the three participants: vocalist Nancy Kaye, who released two albums previously under the name Rosey, and Carmen Rizzo, producer and technician of Persian electronica labelmates Niyaz. In fact, it is probably that project, headed by the unearthly singer Azam Ali, which fueled Rizzo’s creative drive with Lal Meri. (The name is derived from a Sufi folk song.) Kaye was an easy choice for collaboration: her dusty, hearty and soulful voice lends itself to a variety of musical styles; her poetic flourishes offer depth to the gorgeous inflections of her voice.

The third component—Ireesh Lal—I was not aware of, but his trip-hop pedigree is obvious given the album’s tasteful, down- to mid-tempo beat selection. Wherever the three come from — they converged as a result of friends suggesting friends sending MySpace links and so on — they meet in a beautiful and thoughtful space; their songs are musically rich and yet sweet, subtle and tasteful. There are pop sensibilities (the melodies on “Give Your Light,” the entire landscape of “Sweet Love”), but not without an edge (the tabla-driven “Bad Things,” the light dancehall push of the oud-inflected “Take Me As I Am”). Pooja’s folksy vocal help on “Mausam” bring a bit of devotion to the mix; the sound reminds me of an electronified Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay or Shubda Mudgal.

After a few spins in my yoga classes, the album gets a big thumbs up. It’s one of those records that work in many situations, under many circumstances. The producers even pull off something normally taboo in my musical tastes: electro-jazz. The addition of trumpets over beats rarely work; here it does, and well. Placed in a soundscape that includes santurs anddrones, the palette they work from features abundant colors—introspective, songs of seeking, communal. Lal Meri isa refreshing album from three people open to see what their union would bring, and where it will take them. From the sounds of this debut, far.