Charukeshi by Michael Robinson
Azure Miles Records
Review by Nils Jacobson
All About Jazz
November 9, 2002
Charukeshi, a modern update to the ancient tradition of North Indian classical music, stands at the crossroads between new tools and traditional forms. Michael Robinson, who's been doing this kind of thing for some time now, takes a holistic approach to his projects. Using the piano and a variety of instruments from all over Asia (and the world), Robinson assembles instrumental units and performs with the aid of electronic sequencing and processing. His approach most prominently relies on African percussion and South Asian extended forms.
"Charukeshi" is a raga (in a Karnatic form popularized by Ravi Shankar), though its highly stylized approach renders irrelevant any simple comparisons to North Indian classical music. The record consists of a single hour-long piece, which opens to the cascade of rainsticks and bells, leading into an extended theme on the piano. It's hard to pick apart exactly what's going on where since the piece is so richly textured, but a clear drone stands out amidst the ripples and swirls on the keyboard. As time passes, the drums begin to emerge. Robinson plies the sounds of his esoteric drum collection in a dense, interwoven fashion to create thick sonic meshes which evolve relative to each other and the melody. The drums come and go, just like the piano, but the piece rarely loses momentum. (You do have to spend an hour with the disc, since there are no breaks in the tracking.)
Having said all that, there's really no point in over-intellectualizing this music. Whatever ideas the artist used to put it together, Charukeshi relies first and foremost on a tidal flow. If you just listen and allow the waves of sound to pass, you can absorb a warm, pulsating energy. I think that's the point.
(Note: this record is the most recent in a series of releases by Michael Robinson, each with its own instrumental flavors and levels of intensity. It's curious to note the origins of the art that comes with this CD. To quote the notes, "The cover paper was handmade in the mountains of Nepal from the inner bark of the Lokta bush. Embedded in the paper is an actual Boddhi tree leaf which is first painted silver." It's quite a thing, as you might imagine.)
Track Listing: Charukeshi.
All About Jazz is an American music publication