If you’ve read any of the other posts on this blog, you’ll likely have figured out that I’m keen on artists and ideas that can push the frontiers of classic rock in new and interesting directions. So, imagine what’s going through my head when I read of a guitarist trained in both the Indian Carnatic musical tradition and contemporary jazz who decided to channel the spirit of Jimi Hendrix in an album called ‘Electric Ganesha Land’.
Dada-ji! This sure sounded like my cup of chai. A quick glance at the cover art for the album (above) set my heart into palpitations. Low and behold, my finger had clicked the download button on iTunes before my brain had even finished processing that wonderfully funky artwork.
Like the famous dish Chicken Tikka Masala – the staple of Indian restaurants in the UK – this is emphatically fusion cuisine. It’s entirely instrumental and most tracks involve Prasanna on overdriven electric guitars backed with assorted Indian percussion. Occasionally, a tambura is used (the stringed instrument that produces a low drone characteristic of much hindustani classical music) and sometimes Prasanna engages in konnakol (a form of vocalised percussion).
So, with great expectations, I embarked on this musical journey.
But then the strangest darn thing happened: I really couldn’t stand the first two tracks. To be sure, Prasanna’s guitar chops are unquestionable. While he deploys a rocker’s sentiment across this album, he uses his Carnatic training to engage in scales that don’t grace most fretboards. He then adds innovative techniques to create notes that exist between the standard fretted tonalities (another guitarist who likes to explore these microtones is Dave Fiuczynski).
Yet, for those first two tracks it seemed he was far too conscious of making a statement about the novelty of what he’s doing rather than actually producing good tunes. I couldn’t help wishing he’d slow down and think a little bit more about the music he was meant to be making. The opener, ‘Eruption in Bangalore‘ starts off promisingly enough, with a bold guitar intro played with a sound reminiscent of Funkadelic’s ‘Maggot Brain‘. But what I thought was just an intro kept going … for the whole track. Hmmm. Opportunity lost.
And while the second track – ‘Snakebangers’ Ball’ – brings welcome percussion into the mix, it remains essentially a long guitar vamp with little concern for building a song. At this point, I was regretting my hasty finger clicking…
Fortunately, a reprieve occurred. It’s on track three – ‘Fourth Stone From the Sun’ – that things finally start to get interesting. Very interesting. Here, it seemed to my ears, the stress on a brash, in your face “this is rock guitar played with Carnatic phrasing” was backed off enough to let interesting melodies start to shine through. Having seemingly renegotiated the intentions behind the tracks, the album gets progressively stronger.
The fourth, ‘Dark Sundae in Tripilcane‘, is one of my favourites. It’s on this track that the sound of Prasanna’s funked-out, hard driven guitar stylings works in contrast to the pulsing kanjira rhythms to create something endearingly unique (this style is also well executed on track seven, ‘Iguana on a Funky Trail’). Dark Sundae builds from a underpinning minor riff as a launch pad for various sections of variously distorted then clean and funky guitar, with a real emphasis on letting the guitar solos build melodically using a range of Carnatic scales.
By ‘Indira’s necklace’ Prasanna is back to solo guitar, but this is a much more beautifully conceived melodic statement than the brash early tracks. It demonstrates all Prassana’s unique phrasing and Carnatic scales embellished with moments of Van Halen-esque virtuosity. Other notable tracks include Sri Jimi and the beautiful closer, Bowling for Peace, which perhaps presents the most straight ahead – and quite touching – melody. In this respect at least, was he teasingly saving the best for last?
Prasanna’s album is not going to appeal to everyone. Hell, I was really doubting it over the first two tracks. I still wonder whether it might have been a little better conceived in places, both in terms of the compositions and arrangements. That said, there’s no doubting the originality of what Prasanna is doing and the skill at which he approaches it. Electric Ganesha Land provides an intriguing angle on how a fusion of some aspects of classic rock mentality might blend with different musical traditions to create something that is both unique and – at times – rather tasty.