May 2008

May 29, 2008 Lula Lounge Toronto
Autorickshaw Goes Off-road
by Tova G. Kardonne with photo by Mike Colyer
“This,” said Ben Grossman, from the stage of Lula last Thursday May 29th, “is a com-pu-ter. Com-PU-ter. It’s important to pronounce the ‘T’” We chuckled. Not counting the tabla, it was the most complicated instrument on the stage. Suba Sankaran had just introduced Grossman as their special guest, bringing new-fangled contraptions and fresh tunes for their repertoire; together with his computer and hurdy-gurdy, he represented something of a new adventure for the ever-adventurous members of Autorickshaw.
Fans of Autorickshaw expect a twist. Having found an audience for the virtuosic and hard-groovin’ fusion of traditional Indian and contemporary western sounds, their innovation has always been well modulated by their taste and judgment. This time, however, I’m not sure it worked. Suba’s vocals, for one, are smoother, truer, in short, more impressive, as the mix of influences tends more heavily towards the Indian side. The tunes that Grossman brought to the group were beautiful and erudite, so I see why one would expect them to fit the bill for Autorickshaw repertoire. But as with, for example, some of the Oliver Schroer pieces, it wasn’t immediately apparent how they were a good match for the combination of sounds and talents in Autorickshaw. Sure, it was neat, but it seemed that neither the tunes themselves, nor the artists, were best presented. It could be that this combination of elements hasn’t quite locked yet; though they have been combined, they haven’t yet fused. Unlike, for example, their version of Leonard Cohen’s "Bird On A Wire", which provokes the kind of listening stillness that is a rare treasure in the wide world, let alone in the tricky domain of cross-cultural re-arrangements.
Suba Sankaran
The group improvisations, on the other hand, were sensitively performed with a well-managed arc to the energy, and Grossman on the hurdy-gurdy blended seamlessly while contributing its own acidic counterpoint. An adventure indeed. With both hazards and unexpected delights.
We welcome your comments and feedback
Tova G. Kardonne
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Mike Colyer
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The Live Music Report

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