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Sandeep Chowta Pairs Lounge, Jazz and Fusion on Soothing New Volume of ‘The Immersive Experience’

Guitarists like Fareed Haque and Abhay Nayampally as well as familiar collaborators Seb Read and Diego Hedez join the composer’s evocative nine-track album

Arpito Gope Apr 11, 2022
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★★★½

It’s nearly a year since the second installment of The Immersive Experience was released by producer Sandeep Chowta and his label Namma Music. For newcomers to this series, The Immersive Experience was a uniquely produced album released in 2021. Chowta has created a palate of sound effects and elements as part of the tracks in a spatial experience that has to be heard to be believed.

At the same time, you don’t need any hi-tech headphones for this experience. Any regular pair of headphones will do well to surround you with the sound effects and for the storytelling to come alive. The most delightful factor is that one can even experience it on YouTube.

Now, while on one level the sound engineering is unique and arguably gives the album its sheen, the music and compositions have also been refreshing. I highly recommend the second edition for some excellently written tracks.

The Immersive Experience, Vol. 3 opens with “Reunion 1,” welcoming us with the sound of rain and water splashing from a passing vehicle, before Chowta’s keyboard cuts through. When I heard the first phrases of the track, I was immediately reminded of the track “Ajji” from Chowta’s other ongoing album series, Cinematic Vaults 9. It feels as though “Reunion 1” carries on the emotion from “Ajji.” Guitarist Abhay Nayampally starts off the album on strong footing with controlled yet energetic and fast playing. The maturity of his playing is only improving with each outing and I can safely say again, we will hear more of this excellent guitarist. With a unique style and command of musical language, he is building a healthy body of work. The composition, on the whole, is kept simple yet emotes well. 

“Visions” features violinist H.M. Smitha, who begins with what seems to be notes of Raag Charukeshi, and then Chowta’s composition takes over the mid-paced tempo. Pleasant violins complement Canadian multi-instrumentalist Israel Strom’s layered work on the keys.

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Being immersive isn’t just about maintaining a certain pace but journeying with it, as Chowta shows on “Colours Suite Azure,” which features dexterous drumming from American artist Aaron Smith. The track also features U.K. guitarist John Connearn, Koke Duran from Chile and Seb Read on the bass. There are three iterations of the “Colours Suite” and “Azure” is the first. Read has played on all the tracks and after being sedate in the first two songs, he lets loose on this one.

Connearn is an accomplished player and his technique and tone sound warm enough to uplift “Azure.” Duran sounds exquisite and his work behind the keys – specifically the composite notes at the end of the run – warrants multiple spins of this track.

Chowta brings in 21-year-old Dominican artist Hector Alexander Moreno Guerrero as co-composer on “Mindlessness 1,” which has a cinematic feel to it. It builds nicely from a soft beginning with Chowta’s piano notes. Hector, Connearn and Read are regulars and render this piece effortlessly. It ends evocatively, with the sound of feet splashing through water and fading away.

The next run of tracks all serve as reprises and a continuation of previously introduced pieces on The Immersive Experience, Vol. 3. “Colour Suite Cyan” sees the lead solo by Cuban trumpeter Diego Hedez, who sounds bold and showcases great technique. “Reunion 2” sees Hedez paired with Nayampally and “Colours Suite Magenta” brings in feted guitarist Fareed Haque.

Haque was voted Best World Guitarist by Guitar Player Magazine‘s readers’ poll in 2009 and has played with the likes of Sting, Joe Henderson, Herbie Mann, Joe Zawinul and many more. He was a member of the fusion band Summit led by saxophonist George Brooks and including Zakir Hussain. On “Magenta,” Haque’s solo sounds fabulous with his tone being raw and honest, though one feels disappointed since it’s only for two minutes. I wouldn’t mind Haque going on. 

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Vocalist Varijashree Venugopal, another one of Chowta’s regular collaborators from the previous editions of The Immersive Experience series, appears on “Mindlessness 2” with tabla artist Pramath Kiran. Like the earlier version, it’s a soft melodious reprise with the ethereal quality of Venugopal’s voice. 

Following all the reprises is the closing track “Eccentric Modules,” perhaps Chowta’s way of bowing out on a high. The most exciting track on the album, it’s co-written by Jonathan Berroa, a powerhouse talent from New York. The track starts with soft piano notes before shaping up into a powerful and sharply written piece. Berroa’s jazz vocabulary is vividly expressed through his short solo, while Aaron Smith is solid on the drums. You’ve got to hand it to Read, who keeps up with groovy and punchy basslines.

While an effects-filled sound palette and spatial feel lift The Immersive Experience, Vol. 3 to a compelling sonic storytelling zone, I, unfortunately, enjoyed the young talent and artistry so much that maybe the technical part took a backseat. But the truth is that when you listen to this album on a pair of headphones, you are hit by more than just an album of songs. It’s best described as a sonic storybook. 

Listen to ‘The Immersive Experience, Vol.3’ below. Stream on more platforms here.

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