Among a series of interesting independent bands to have come up in India in the last decade, Delhi-based contemporary fusion outfit, Shadow and Light, has reflected the individuality that music writers wait to write about, orchestration that is complex yet not clunky and a sound that’s full of inventive and sophisticated details which unfold differently in every listening session. Their previous two albums — Shadow and Light and Elements — with refined and layered arrangements by Advaita’s synth man Anindo Bose and the soulful voice universe created by Shubha Mudgal’s mentee Pavithra Chari, have been imaginative and, in turn, impressive. Sabar, just like the duo’s two previous albums has been recorded in a home studio in Delhi’s CR Park but unlike the last two occasions when the band released the album themselves, this time it has found backing from Saavn for a release. Sabar (a way of saying sabr (patience), one of the two parts of Islamic faith; the other being shukr), is an eight-track, striking album that should be heard. Only sometimes, and sometimes, the emulsifying of genres — Hindustani classical, R n B, electronica and jazz among others — feels strategic and aware, as if wanting to try and dazzle. On most occasions it enthralls you.
As Bose has developed his skill as an arranger, his interests in varied forms have found interesting ways to have a conversation with Chari. The album opens with Chari reciting tabla bols along a chorus of her own voice and synth riffs and a flute prelude in Dilruba which has been loosely based on the difficult Darbari, a raga sung deep into the night. Her slow and elaborate oscillations in the middle of the piece are intrinsic to the raga, while the synth arrangements along her voice are working in another realm. It has a bluesy piano riff move along Chari’s voice which goes to the synth for interludes. It isn’t the most impressive piece on the album but compelling for the complexity of it.
Then comes Kahaani, which opens like a regular love ballad — soft, medium paced, and with a promise of being appealing. But soon it turns into one of the better compositions one hears from even the most mature artistes. Soft rhythms continue as if in the background. The profundity of the lyrics describes the pain of losing someone. Teri parchhayiyon mein qaid baithi hoon, croons Pavithra and follows it with an extensive alaap. It is fantastic how the synth chords and the voice function on different planes, musically, and still find common ground. That continues to be my favourite bit through the entire album.
Kahaani is followed by an absolutely stunning Dilruba. Regular and standard rhythms play alongside Chari taking this song through various planes and to a crescendo. She is stunning here. And continues the streak in Patjhad, which has powerful basslines breathing along her voice. The synth is a huge support too. She begins an alaap towards the end and somehow the pain of autumn here, metaphorical for loneliness, takes us to a joyous place. Vaade is another earnest attempt. Loosely based on raag Charukeshi, it moves effortlessly, the komal notes sounding hauntingly beautiful and blissful. The title song Sabar opens with the sound of ticking clock, highlighting the concept of time. The song’s effortless rendition and its sonic selections make it a ditty worth one’s time. An old-fashioned, ‘80s style synth riff and rhythm opens Samandar. There are choruses which are out of the same world. One of the weaker tracks, it does not sit well in an otherwise wonderful album. Yaad hai seems to have walked out of the same marquee. The only difference is, it’s reminiscent of ‘90s pop, and in turn sounds dated.
The eight-track album is a lesson in legitimate, fine music-making by talented artistes, without recording in certain kinds of studios and certain kinds of spaces. These are artistes at their peak, musically speaking. And yes, definitely to watch out for. We will be tuning in.