Jim Hynes / 29 April 2020
Radha Thomas, a veteran rock and jazz vocalist who is also Indian classically trained, joins with improvisational pianist Aman Mahajan for this spare duo performance where both contribute compositions, with Thomas responsible for the lyrics. Thomas sings while Mahajan plays either acoustic piano or Fender Rhodes across seven songs, totaling a little more than a half hour of music. The gist of the album is storytelling. Both hail from the city of Bangalore, which has a polarizing reputation. In fact, some of the songs are about missing the city or hating it. Others are about situations in the well-traveled Thomas’ life.
Thomas (formerly Radha Shottam) began singing in her teens in India’s most popular rock band, Human Bondage. She soon found jazz more to her liking and began combining the tonality of jazz with rhythmic aspect of Indian classical music. She relocated to NYC 20 years ago and worked with leading artists in jazz such as Michael Brecker, John Scofield, John Abercrombie, Joe Farrell, and others. Majahan’s resume is not as deep but he has developed a strong reputation playing in various configurations in Europe.
Given their backgrounds, they would call this more of a lyrical album than some of the jazz they are accustomed to. Thomas’ voice is quietly bright with unusual phrasing rendered with whispers, glissandos and vocal runs that play off Majahan’s piano notes. One has the sense that she has deep emotions but her calm expression belies that. Majahan stays in a supportive role throughout with simply economical interludes, only opting for a long solo on the closing title track. His deft touch is delightful and the perfect foil for her stories. Many of these songs apparently have accompanying videos, which will shed more light on the narratives.
The album is entitled with blues as many of the songs are laments. “The Morning After” is basically about a hangover where subtle Indian melodic influences mesh with jazz. “Jailer” decries an abusive relationship. “Would I Lie” is a nu-jazz (merging of jazz with electronica) treatment with Mahajan on Rhodes over which Thomas raps and whispers. The contemplative “Leitmotif,” the longest track at almost six minutes, brings out the best in their empathetic pairing, as one anxiously waits for his/her lover to return home.
“Load Shedding” is condemnation of the Bangalore’s government, which fails to warn citizens of power shortages, which occur far too frequently. Thomas delivers it with a sarcastic sense of humor. “Only Illusion” is another meditative love song, standing out from the others because the piano playing takes on a classical feel. Thomas wrote the concluding title track on a snowy day in NYC, missing the greenery of home, accenting the “love it or hate it” Bangalore thematic. Mahajan returns to Rhodes for this one, delivering his only elongated solo, punctuated with bright, joyous notes that reflect the longing in the lyrics.
The beauty of this album lies in its uniqueness. It quiet, classy, elegant luminescence proves eminently listenable.