Jasdeep Singh Degun: “Anomaly”

A fantastic disc, full of energy, history and yet completely of the moment

Jasdeep Singh Degun: “Anomaly”

We not only met the wonderful sitarist Jasdeep Singh Degun at Pembroke College, Cambridge recently, we also met one of the tracks here, Veer, which constituted the encore (see here). Obviously, that was just two performers; here he has a whole studio at his disposal, including a 16-piece string ensemble.

We begin, though, with the titular track, Anomaly, for estraj (an Indian stringed instrument, played here by Kirpal Panesar), tabla (so far so traditional: Upreet Singh) and harp (an Indian harp, the swarmandal, here played by Kaviraj Singh) and cello (Elizabeth Hanks). This is a binaural recording, for those able to listen to good enough equipment (and it is “best experienced on headphones,” according to the booklet), it is a magnificent mix of Orient and Occident.

The luscious Veer follows, here for sitar, tabla and strings; it is based on a Punjabu folk song; it is intended as an image to Degun's younger brother, who passed away sadly in 2021 (the title actually means “brother,” but also carries other meanings of courage and valour).

Translucense is co-written by Degun and Nitin Sawhney. Its basis is a raag, Yunan, which has been used in a number of Bollywood films, as this young lady explains (there are subtitles);

Degun's response is stunning in putting the slow-moving sitar against a very fast, almost “motor” percussion background (Degun is joined by Sawhney on both guitar, and in charge of “programming”):

The next song, In Search of Redemption, is one of Degun's first compositions and in this arrangement features a morning mouth harp (mainly used in Rajasthan, in the Carnatic music of South India, performed here by Pirashana Thevarajah). It is beautifully relaxing, ts opening contrasting with fast, rhythmic-unison passages towards the close:

Vocalisst Debipriya Das and Yalinie Thana feature in Sajavana: one singer trained in North Indian classical music, the other in South Inidian techniques. The song is in thumri form (semi-classical) and the derivation of that word is worth investigating. The lush strings speak of the West, though, and is it just me in detecting a touch of Peters and Lee in the moment when the two vocalist sing in parallel intervals?:

The lovely sound of the santoor (a hammered dulcimer) informs Enigma 7.5; the title refers to 7.5 beats to the bar (15/8, I imagine):

The North Indian raag Rageshri forms the basis of Undertow, an improvisation (the “Alap” part) on this raag, accompanied by samples via a granular synthesiser. It is extraordinary; and for comparison, I've put a version by Ustad Rashid Khan below:

The next track on Jasdeep Singh Degun's album is actually called Rageshri; the North Indian raag is arranged in a South Indian way (hilana, a song-form). The drum you can hear is a mrindangam, played by Pirashanna Thevarajah:

To be honest, I find Degun's Ulterior Motives rather less impressive than the rest of the album; it is easy on the ear, certainly, but the only cover here, is much more compelling: Nadia, from Nitin Sawhney's album Beyond Skin. The original really is quite remarkable, so I have included it as the first video below. Arranged in traditional manner, Degun offers his take as a tribute to the British Asian music boom of the 1990's:

Both are fabulous, I hope you'll agree - I particularly like the intensity Degun achieves with Sawhney's melody.

The penultimate track is Mahogany (the final is a reprise of Redemption). Again, the album offers a geographical take on music form another location: a North Indian take of the South Indian raag Saramati. Before that, a traditional exploration of that raag by Ramana Balachandhran:

... not one, but two sitars - in dialogue/competition - on this, one Degun, the other Roopa Panesar. A fabulous track, by far the longest on the album (over 21 minutes), full of energy.

To close, a “reprise” of Redemption, but featuring tutti;

A fantastic disc, full of energy, history and yet completely of the moment. Anomaly is available from Amazon here. Spotify below. Note that Beyond Skin is offered at a 9% discount here.