FUSION / Jonas Hellborg

Kali’s Son – JONAS HELLBORG feat. NILADRI KUMAR and SELVAGANESH – 2005


Our Indian music is fantastic. All of you should know that. It’s more complex than the most complex non-Indian music can hope to be, both in terms of melody and rhythm. Unfortunately, harmony is a concept quite alien to hardcore Indian classical musicians. It is this ‘void’ that is filled up by enlisting western instrumentalists for fusion projects.

Who are these two men?

And when it comes to western musicians eager to explore Indian classical music, they don’t come more adventurous than Bassist Mr.Jonas Hellborg. It’s an ideal combination too, isn’t it? The bass is a fantastic rhythmic and harmonic instrument which can seamlessly incorporate itself into an Indian musical sensibility, especially with lead instruments like the Sitar.

So lets cut to the chase. Kali’s Son is a bass-‘zitar’ collaboration between Hellborg and desi Sitar phenom Niladri Kumar. And how do they sound? Well, Hellborg’s sound – I can tell by the power of deduction – is of an acoustic bass plugged in. It’s a unique sound, hollow and steely, but still fulfilling. It works well for soloing too, and is a guttaral contrast to Kumar’s distortion-d soloing.

Speaking of which, I don’t know if an electric sitar with distortion is a contentious issue, but I think it should be. With the Zitar being a thin stringed instrument like the guitar, a lot of Kumar’s soloing ends up sounding  like Indian classical played on a mandolin or an electric guitar with distortion. It’s fantastic, but even a discerning listener might not notice the difference at first. I didn’t.

If you ask about the songs, um….they are not really songs. They are improvisations between Hellborg, Kumar and Selvaganesh’s astonishing kanjira. The range of percussive sounds he gets from the drum is amazing. It’s way more than most drummers can manage with a million pieces. Hellborg is also exceptional, deftly combining  funk, Hindustani, and god knows what else and chanelling it through that exceptional singing like proto-upright tone. “Shri Shri Vikkuji” has him at his high frequency best. Also, check out the totally psychedelic backmasked bass goodness on “Plastic Puja”. Freaking innovative. And inspiring. I’d never thought of him as a virtuoso before, but I believe he has breached that threshold with this album. His furious rhythm towards the end of “Brightness” is, I think, especially difficult to execute.  

Hellborg is the star. Undoubtedly.

“Kalighat” is a breath of fresh air, in that its light and happy sounding compared to the emotionally intense tracks elsewhere. However, the bass solo is aboslutely epic. This maybe a showcase album for Niladri Kumar, but Hellborg is the star. Undoubtedly.

RAWWWWWK!

This is a highly recommended album for all musos. God here for some smoking instrumental jams (though I miss the presence of a kanjira­ solo or two) and inspirational in terms of the possibilities of the acoustic bass and the sitar (argh, Zitar). This sounds right.

– El Bajista

More JONAS HELLBORG reviews HERE.

More FUSION reviews HERE.

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