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Jasdeep Singh Degun modernises Indian classical music on Anomaly

The young British sitarist Jasdeep Singh Degun, born in Leeds, started Kirtan singing at his local Sikh temple as a boy. By 15, he was studying with Ustad Dharambir Singh, himself a pupil of Vilayat Khan and one of the best-connected figures in British Asian music. Two years out of a degree in music at Soas, Degun was mentored on a Sky Academy scholarship by the multi-instrumentalist and producer Nitin Sawhney, another of the scene’s prominent figures. Both those lineages come together on this debut album, which showcases the classical music of the subcontinent but also mixes, melds and modernises it.

Samyo, Dharambir Singh’s national youth orchestra for Indian music, brought together classical traditions from across India, meaning that British-based musicians who learned under him are often more familiar with the full range of classical music styles than their India-based counterparts. Anomaly exploits this familiarity, and the connections Degun has made, to the full. This can be heard most strongly here on “Sajanava”, with twin lead vocals from Debipriya Das (now Sircar) and Yarlinie Thanabalasingham, representing North and South Indian traditions, respectively. A string section breathes legato washes around them; Degun’s sitar is barely present in the mix.

Degun has brought stellar collaborators on to the album, notably Kirpal Panesar on esraj (a smaller-bowed sitar), Pirashanna Thevarajah on percussion and fellow sitarist Roopa Panesar — the two sitars duet on the 20-minute long showpiece “Mahogany”, which takes a South Indian raag and plays it back as North Indian court music. The title track opens the album by placing the listener in the middle of the studio floor, with sitar, esraj, tabla and swarmandal all around, plus an undertow of cello. The opposite geographical traffic can be heard on “Rageshri”: a North Indian melody arranged as a South Indian thillana, with heavy mridangam from Thevarajah and fluttering flute from Ashwin Srinivasan. Sawnhey’s influence can be heard too.

“Translucence”, based on a raag called Yaman, sees him and Degun trading licks on acoustic guitar and sitar, with programmed beats chattering away. “Enigma 7.5”, named after its time signature, is heavy with bass and kit drums and percussive hammered santoor, capturing the spirit of the Asian underground records of the late 1990s. Aisling Brouwer’s rolling piano Nymanisms on “Ulterior Motives”, underpinning programmed flutes and sitar explorations, recall Sawhney’s crossovers.

Most audaciously of all, Degun recasts Sawhney’s 1999 song “Nadia” (improbably but beautifully covered a couple of years later by Jeff Beck) and its skittering drum-and-bass rhythms in exquisite classical form.

★★★★☆

Anomaly’ is released by Real World

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