Water Lily Acoustics Series Volume 5 L. Subramaniam

Dr. L. Subramaniam is India’s violin icon. He has recorded, played and composed a substantial variety of music including Karnatic (south Indian), Western classical, jazz, world fusion and world music. Dr. L. Subramaniam has collaborated with a wide range of artists including Yehudi Menuhin, Stephane Grappelli, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Herbie Hancock, Larry Coryell and Ravi Coltrane.

Lakshminarayan Subramaniam was born July 23, 1947 in Madras, India. His career as a childhood prodigy brought him into contact with the greatest musicians and he soon imposed himself as a master of the violin. At a very young age, he was honored with the title Violin Chakravarthy (emperor of the violin). Very few musicians can boast of such diverse repertoire and collaborations, or even such mind-boggling techniques. Till date, Dr. Subramaniam has produced, performed, collaborated, conducted and released over 150 recordings.

Dr. L. Subramaniam is the only musician who has performed/recorded Karnatic Classical Music, Western Classical Music, both orchestral and non-orchestral, and also composed for and conducted major orchestras, collaborated with a wide range of some of the greatest musicians, from different genres of music including jazz, occidental, jugalbandis with North Indian musicians, world music and global fusion. He has established himself as a force that is strongly Indian, but universal in nature and approach. (read more)

Friends of this blog will not need to be reminded how much I love carnatic violin playing. And that there is probably none better at it than Dr. Subramaniam.

So nothing more to add here. Another utterly scintillating hour or so of music here. Enjoy!


Pure Sound: Water Lily Acoustics Series Volume 1 – Ali Akbar Khan

There is a record label called Water Lily Acoustics. It is a niche, connoisseur’s label created by a person who can only be described as a mad genius. I am in the process of completing a profile of him for an Indian journal which I will share once it is published.

In short, Water Lily Acoustics had a long gestation period…between 15 and 20 years. It was the idea of a restless, spiritually inclined Sri Lankan who landed in Paris in the summer of 1968–peak period of hippies, protests, drugs and what seemed the dawning of the great Aquarian utopia. This man fell in with an artistic circle in France and later in Sweden where in a serendipitous series of events he found himself behind the console in a recording studio capturing the music of one of jazz music’s iconic figures, Art Blakey. The resulting album is now considered a collectors item renown for the pristine quality of its recording.

Kavi Alexander

And so it went. From Blakey to Dizzy Gillespie to Dom Um Romão and many others, this Sri Lankan zealot in the cause of pure and perfect sound finally ended up in California in the 1980s. And with the chutzpah of a Biblical Prophet standing before the Pharoah gathered unto himself some borrowed Nagra recording equipment, a couple of high end mics and convinced Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, sarod master of Maihar to let him be recorded.

You’ll have to wait to read the full profile to see what happens next and fill in the gaps in this briefest of bios of Kavi Alexander but I want to start sharing with you some of his label’s recordings. The Water Lily Acoustics recordings are regarded as some of the best ever done and ideally should be heard on CD or wax and on a decent sound system. The Water Lily Acoustics catalogue–many hours of material remains unreleased–is one of the great collections of ‘world’ music ever made. Alexander’s vision to bring musicians from seemingly unrelated countries and genres together–often sight unseen–to make music together has resulted in some absolutely delightful and stunning performances. I will share some of these in upcoming posts.

But it was Ali Akbar Khan with whom Alexander formed an especially close bond and who collaborated on a number of recordings. The one I share today is from 1990 and presents the sarod master performing Raga Yaman Kalyan and Raga Jog.

Ali Akbar Khan

Track Listing:

01. Raga Yaman Kalyan

02 Raga Jog


Way Down South: Carnatic Music Mixtape

Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple, Madurai, Tamil Nadu

My earliest idea of India was south India. At the time I was born in Madurai, a historic and spiritual city near the tip of the sub-continent, my family lived in a small provincial town in the northern part of Karnataka State. In my first 6 years the family moved between Gadag (Karnataka) and Madras (Chennai). Summer holidays were spent in the Palani Hills town of Kodaikanal where my older siblings attended an American boarding school.

My taste in curries ran toward sambar and rasam. Snacks were dosa and idli. Thick milky sweet coffee was more common than tea. Christmas holidays were spent on the beaches of Karwar or Mahabalipuram or Pondicherry. I learned Kannada along with English.

When I was 7 my father was transferred by his employers to North India. To the equally holy and historic city of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. Though I was too young to form any opinion about what this meant I do recall considerable anxiety within the family, especially my two older brothers who protested loudly. No one wanted to leave our familiar surroundings in the South and head more than 1500 kms north to what sounded like a completely different country. We’d have to forget Kannada and Tamil and pick up Hindi. The food was different. The mountains were steeper and more dangerous. And we would have to say good bye to all our friends.

As it turned out I loved the north. I learned Hindi (and later Urdu) and fell hard for the popular culture of Hindi films, north Indian sports like gulli danda and kabaddi and spent what seemed like years trekking around the Garhwal Himalayas. I spent my entire primary and secondary school years in Allahabad/Mussoorie and finally moved to the States to attend University in 1975.

Though North India was the part of India I became most familiar with, I never lost my South Indian roots. I always loved the food and visited friends and familiar places as often as I could. In 1977 I spent a year back in Madras with my parents who had been re-transferred back once more. Though I loved many things about the south I have absolutely no memories of south Indian music. To the extent that I had any awareness of Indian music as a lad it was Ravi Shankar and Bhimsen Joshi or Lata and Hemant Kumar.

When I started listening seriously to Indian music as an adult I found my ear was very much tuned to Hindustani (northern) music rather than Carnatic (southern). It has been a slow process to understand and appreciate the quite different sonic world of Carnatic music. And by no means do I fully ‘get’ it yet. Thankfully, I still have a few years left (hopefully) to grown my appreciation but there have been some learnings thus far.

First, I absolutely love the way south Indians play the violin. There are so many incredible violin players (some of which I’ve included in this collection) who can make the instrument sound so soulful and so at home in a variety of settings (jazz, classical, folk). Second, the south Indians are tireless explorers. They collaborate and adopt anything that comes their way. They’ve pioneered the carnaticisation not just of the violin but of the clarinet, saxophone and mandolin as well. In the diaspora south Indians like the pianist Vijay Iyer and saxman Rudresh Mahantappa are at the forefront of contemporary jazz. Third, in their classical singing there is a deep but different (from khyal) beauty. Something altogether unique and original. I don’t have the words yet to describe it.

I’ve put together this collection of several tracks I’ve enjoyed over the years. There is plenty more which may come one day in a second volume but I hope you enjoy this. It has classical flute, violin and singing. It has fusion. It has jazz/rock. It has qawwali (in Tamil). It has sublime depths. It is wonderful music.


Holding Court: Nazakat and Salamat Khan

My favorite khyal singers. The way their voice blend and dance together is absolutely out of this world.

Here is an ancient post (and another recording) about them. And here is a really good article on them by someone who knows far more than I.

And here is the album. Don’t cry as you listen.


Masterwork: Amjad Ali Khan and Gangubai Hangal

Finishing off this series (for now; there are still a few more discs I’m trying to locate) with live recordings from Amjad Ali Khan (sarod) and Gangubai Hangal (singing).

I hope you have enjoyed this series.

Track Listing:

01 Composition In Tribute To NCPA (Rupak Taal Live)

02 Raga Shree (Alap, Jor & Jhala Live)

03 Raga Shree (Drut Khyal Live)

04 Raga Bageshri (Gat In Madhyalaya Teental Live)

05 Raga Saraswati Kalyan (Live)

06 Raga Chandradhwani (Gat In Vilambit Teental Live)

07 Raga Kedar (Live)

08 Raga Mishra Piloo (Live)


Track Listing:

01 Raga Kedar – Khyal In Ektal (Ab Kalana Pare Mitawa)

02 Raga Shuddh Sarang – Khyal In Teental (Ab More Baat)

03 Raga Basant – Khyal In Teental (Piya Sang Khelo Hori)

04 Raga Madhuvanti – Khyal In Ektal (Man Sakhi Mora)

05 Raga Mian Ki Todi – Khyal In Ektal & Teental (Danga Patah Dum)

GHangal LIVE