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Utsav Lal’s ‘Visangati’ is a Dialogue between Indian Classical Music and the Piano

The New York-based pianist/composer’s seventh album, with virtuoso tabla player Nitin Mitta, deviates from traditional classical norm to celebrate the anomalies of music

Rolling Stone India Feb 11, 2021

“‘Visangati’ as a word reflects an integral poly-semantic and ambiguous quality," says Lal.

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Utsav Lal’s seventh record Visangati leans into his artistic inclination for contradiction. The album’s Hindi and Sanskrit title — which translates to ‘anomaly’ — is symbolic of Lal’s constant deviation from the norm. The New York-based pianist/composer’s tryst with Indian classical music began 17 years ago when a fun and experimentative session on the instrument led to a meaningful breakthrough for the artist. Almost a decade on, Lal continues to blend the improvisational mystique of Indian classical melodies, particularly Dhrupad-influenced raga interpretations, with the compositional framework of the piano. Lal has presented his unique fusion style at prestigious venues such as Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, New York City’s Carnegie Hall and Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts. On the six-track album Visangati, he embraces the differences between two timeless musical traditions while trying to eliminate their sonic contrasts.

Recorded in October last year, Visangati’s principal melody is the raga Lalit. The first three tracks of the album explore the raga in the traditional “Alap Jod Jhala” form as well as the “Vilambit Teental” and “Drut Ektaal” forms. Virtuoso tabla player Nitin Mitta too joins Lal on the album; the two instrumentalists create a mellifluous dialogue with the tabla and the piano in the ensuing tracks, riffing off the strengths of each instrument as they fuse Indian and Western classical music. Lal transitions from the raga Lalit to the raga Bihag mid-record with “Lat Uljhi” which basks in the romanticism of the Khayal and Thumri styles of Hindustani music. The pianist also leans into his western musical influences and training on the last two tracks of the record, “Neer Bharan Kaise Jaon” and “Yaad Piya Ki Aayi,” both original renditions of popular traditional songs.

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About making Visangati, Lal said, “ ‘Visangati’ as a word reflects an integral poly-semantic and ambiguous quality. It mostly translates as an ‘anomaly’ but sometimes also hinting at absurdity or illogicality. When attempting to play Indian Classical Music on the piano, it is impossible to not acknowledge the contradictions at play in this endeavor.” The pianist reveals that his ultimate goal was to revel in the divergences between the two musical traditions, to bridge their variances through Visangati. He further adds, “This record represents a current snapshot, 17 years into the everlasting goal of bringing this vast and vibrant art form to this instrument.”


Listen to Utsav Lal’s ‘Visangati’ below:

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