Charu Suri is a pianist well-versed in both traditional Indian music and western jazz. Just compare Bluesy, a song from her 2019 album The New American Songbook with this, her 2021 EP The Book Of Ragas Volume II. The former wears its musical inspirations (jazz greats such as Bill Evans and Billie Holiday) on its sleeve, while the latter blends this American influence with the classical Indian raga into something wholly more original.
The Book Of Ragas Volume II introduces singer (and leader of the Philadelphia-based Sufi music ensemble Falsa) Umer Piracha. Returning on drums from volume one (which was released around the same time as The New American Songbook) is Jesse Gerbasi, who also picks up the vibraphone this time around.
The four morning ragas on the EP are ultimately joyful, with Piracha’s Sufi vocals soaring over Suri’s piano improvisations. Sankarabaranam is a particularly pleasant piece, a bright solo between piano and vibraphone that segues nicely into the EP’s uplifting finale Aaj Rang Hai.
The Book Of Ragas Volume II makes Suri the first Indian jazz musician to turn her album artwork into a non-fungible token (NFT). There’s a lot of debate over whether NFTs are conducive or harmful to artists: proponents argue for their utility as another way for artists to monetise while others express concern over questions of ownership and theft.
With this in mind, perhaps a better achievement to highlight (and one perhaps of more interest to JJ readers) is Suri’s being the first Indian jazz musician to grace the stage of New York’s Carnegie Hall (for the first time in December 2019 and again in 2021).
The Book Of Ragas Volume II is a nice snapshot of musical influences from both sides of the globe: a short but enjoyable listen.
Raga Jaunpuri; Asavari; Sankarabaranam; Aaj Rang Hai (Today There Is Colour) (29.24)
Suri (p); Umer Piracha (v); Jesse Gerbasi (vib). Location and date not given.