Kavita Shah’s liner note describes her ambitious intention in Visions, her album due for a May 27 release, as an attempt “to see what happens when seemingly disparate elements come together, on their own terms, in dialogue.” She goes on in a rather mystical vein, “A dialogue outside the restraints of our mortal perceptions of time and space. A dialogue in which those parts of us that are not physically present may come to life in an eternal encounter.”
The “disparate elements” she is talking about reflect the variety of multi-cultural influences that have shaped her life especially, it would seem, musical influences and traditions. She goes on to name four specific traditions referenced on the album: jazz, Brazilian pop, Mandé music, and Hindustani classical. She disavows any intention to imitate them or force them into some kind amorphous blend. It is cultural dialogue, the juxtaposition of traditions to each other that interests her as a composer and as a singer.
To that end, if you measure success by intention, Visions, with its diverse musical program—featuring a piece by Wayne Shorter arranged with a pulsing African rhythm and an original Shah lyric alongside classic Antonio Carlos Jobim and both nestled nicely against Shah’s original ragas—is clearly a success. On the other hand, if you judge success by what you hear, the album is not merely a success, it’s a home run.
It is not only the compelling new arrangements of music we may be familiar with already like Shorter’s “Deluge,” Joni Mitchell’s “Little Green” with the addition of the kora, and Stevie Wonder’s “Visions” arranged for the tablas that give this album its cachet, it is also the opportunity to get better acquainted with some of the musical traditions that may be less familiar. Compositions like “Rag Desh: Alaap,” “Rag Desh: Teentaal,” and “Rag Desh: Meltdown” speak to my own ignorance of Hindustani classical music. They begin to make you aware of what you might be missing.
Other highlights include “Oja Oba,” an Afro-Brazilian piece featuring the album’s co-producer Lionel Loueke on guitar, a quirky take on M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” with Steve Wilson on soprano sax and Michael Valeanu on guitar, and Shah’s own “Moray” and “My Time is When.”
With Visions Kavita Shah makes her album debut, and it is a winner.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00JYKXDU6]