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Thread: The return of U Srinivas

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    5-string electric mando-whiz U Srinivas is touring the States again. NY and PA this weekend, working his way west. Visit http://rasika.org/ for a tour schedule. I saw him last time he toured, and I can't say enough about how great a show it was. Indian music isn't everyone's cup of tea, but if you appreciate world music & culture, you'll have a great time at one of these concerts.
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    If you like the mandolin (duh!) or have ears (!) you will be amazed at this man's music. What a humble guy and a humbler as a musician!
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    Is there a "talent" knob? taboot's Avatar
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    I *love* his playing, and would offer the word of caution that if your only exposure to it is through a record on Peter Gabriel's WOM label, you gotta keep looking. I can't remember this particular album's title, but I'm glad it wasn't the first one I heard, since I'm not sure I would have looked for others. I'll be at the Portland show, anyone else?

    Christian
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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    The two records he did for Gabriel's label are Dream (w/ Michael Brook) and Dawn Raga. Which one do you dislike?

    I'll be at the Seattle show, but probably not the Portland show.
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    Is there a "talent" knob? taboot's Avatar
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    Thanks, mrmando. It was Dream that I didn't like, it felt like generic, bubble-gum "world music" to me, complete with the tepid dance beats. On the other hand, I thought Dawn Raga was a *fantastic* record, and it spent a lot of time in my stereo while I had it from the library. Very heartily recommended to anyone who likes Indian classical, and/or is interested in off the beaten path mandolin.

    Christian
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    Is there a "talent" knob? taboot's Avatar
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    I saw U. Srinivas and his ensemble yesterday afternoon, and was more floored than I was prepared to be. I have to say, I think he may very well be the most techincally proficient mandolinist I've ever seen, period. Speed, fluidity, grace, melody, and really complex, compelling rhythmic figures just pour out of him. Beyond what appears to be his *complete* mastery of the instrument, the duets that he and his brother play and his skills as an improviser are amazing. Just another plug encouraging people to go see him whenever possible. Amazing.

    Christian
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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by
    If you like the mandolin (duh!) or have ears (!) you will be amazed at this man's music. What a humble guy and a humbler as a musician!
    I am honestly glad to hear about his humility. I sure then, he would be horrified by his own website. Buttons include "The Maestro" and "A Star is Born." There is one quote that really gets me. It is describing one of his early concerts: "The way critics gushed, it was hard to tell if they were talking about a child or a god!" If he really is that humble, he needs to have a talk with his PR people.

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    Johnny,
    I wonder if this isn't a cultural thing. If the web page originates from India this may be the case.

    Jamie
    There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and, after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second. Logan Pearsall Smith, 1865 - 1946

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    Is there a "talent" knob? taboot's Avatar
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    That very thing has been discussed here before, and I seem to remember someone saying that such rhetoric is quite common in that part of the music universe. I'm inclined to forgive that sort of thing, though, think of all the times you've heard "Jimmy Page is GOD," or a variation on that same theme...

    Christian
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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by
    I wonder if this isn't a cultural thing. If the web page originates from India this may be the case.
    Well, that is a possibility, but if you check out Ravi Shankar's site, for instance, or the sites of some of Shankar's proteges, such as Shubhendra Rao or Gaurav Mazumdar, you do see some appropriate self-promotion, but nothing like you see on Shinivas' site.

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Well, I had an assignment to interview Srinivas here in Seattle. It didn't happen. The promoter wouldn't let my photographer shoot anything, and made us both leave the venue during sound check. The photographer got disgusted and went home, and I had to buy a ticket just to get back into the venue. I did manage to get up to the green room after the show, and Srinivas said he was too tired to talk. He took my card and promised to call from Portland, which he hasn't done.

    Beforehand I submitted some interview questions via e-mail, as I'd been warned that I might not have much time to talk with Srinivas. In response to questions designed to get Srinivas to open up about his background, his instrument, and his philosophy/approach to playing and teaching, most of the answers I got were single phrases, sometimes a single word.

    So, I'm still a big fan but I'm a little puzzled. Neither Srinivas nor his promoter seemed the slightest bit interested in talking to me as a member of the press. I'm quite familiar with the Web site in question, and I'm thinking it's the work of rabid fans, of which he has plenty, and he's so indifferent toward the concept of publicity that he's given the site no attention. I don't think he has any "PR people" as such.

    Patrice O'Neill, who helps coordinate the Mandolin Symposium, was at the gig, with hopes of getting a commitment from Srinivas to come to the Symposium sometime. I'd love to see him do that, but don't know whether Patrice was able to make the right connections to bring it about. We shall see.

    If a nose-flute player managed to get a seat in the Chicago Symphony, and was able to give compelling yet musically appropriate renditions of the classical repertoire on the nose-flute, we might well marvel at his accomplishments, and be tempted to describe them in hyperbolic terms. Well, that's more or less what Srinivas has achieved: he's taken an instrument not designed for classical Indian music and demonstrated that he can nonetheless perform the music correctly on it.



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    Is there a "talent" knob? taboot's Avatar
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    Interesting! I was struck by the fact that Rasika (the promoting group) may be line up a concert, but knows *nothing* about running them. Witness the 20 minute delay in starting because nobody brought an extension cord (!) and then during the concert itself, the "organizing" staff kept running around the venue, stopping people from taking non-flash photos, getting church staff to set up oscillating fans while they were playing, frequently going up and talking to the performers between songs, and generally making a serious nuisance of themselves. This never stopped throughout the whole performance. I actually thought about sending them a letter about it.
    Still, the music rang true, and I'll go again.

    Christian
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    Looks like he hits the Bay Area Sunday.....Chabot College in Hayward.

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    L.A. show is Saturday at Wilson High School in Long Beach.
    http://cricket.sulekha.com/events/ev...197003&nma=LAX

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    mrmando- sorry to hear you were treated shabbily.

    However, I think the nose flute analogy is a possibly just a wee bit sour grapes- I doubt John McLaughlin feels Srinivas is anything but a world class improvising musician...

    Still, it reminds me of Jay Leno's adage that if you are a nice famous person, two people will hear about it; if you are a famous jerk, 40 people will hear about it...
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    Does U. Srinivas play 8-string too or just 4-string?
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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    John, ya got me all wrong! The nose-flute analogy concerns Srinivas' stunning accomplishment of playing Carnatic classical music credibly on a non-Indian instrument. I was saying that a nose-flute (i.e., non-Western instrument) player being accepted in the Chicago Symphony (i.e., Western classical music) would be an equally stunning accomplishment. I could've used Howard Levy's achievements on the harmonica as an example (he can play Strauss! and Stephane Grappelli licks!), but that's not a non-Western instrument.

    The analogy wasn't meant as a putdown of Srinivas at all, and I wasn't thinking about his work with Remember Shakti. He IS a world-class improvising musician, no doubt about it. As for the way I was treated, I'm not sure Srinivas himself is to blame. He seems quite shy, for one thing. I can certainly understand that, as I get that way myself sometimes.

    Srinivas has never played 8-string, or 4-string, for that matter. He says he started with an 8-string mandolin but realized he'd have to remove 3 strings and retune in order to do what he wanted with the instrument. So he's been a 5-string player from the start, and he uses an open tuning (CGCGC).
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    Mr Mando,

    that's right, 5 strings, tuned in C. I remember now i've read that somewhere. I think U is a truly original musician, a rare thing. I'm not into Indian music right now. I was before, but just to think of the complexity of it now makes me shy away. But that's not here nor there.

    I didn't think you mean any disrespect. And you have to remember that the nose flute was used symphonically to great effect by the great P. D. Q. Bach. I also think you're probably right, that the bumbling management company is more to blame than the artist, for the way you were treated.
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    mrmando- my apologies for misinterpreting!

    I sure get the Howard Levy analogy- he's another monster musician.



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    ISO TEKNO delsbrother's Avatar
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    What an interesting show! The event was promoted by the local Carnatic Music Society. I was a little late, but they didn't start until about 1/2 hour after the scheduled time.. As it turned out, I walked into the auditorium right in front of Michael Brook..

    The set was about 3-1/2 HOURS, with nary a break in between songs.. He and his brother play so fast it's amazing. I was surprised by how different they sound from another - U. Rajesh is a lot more brash, fiery, and loud. U. Shrinivas is much cleaner, especially during those intricate hammer-on passages (where he played long segments entirely with his left hand).

    I'd seen videos before, but it was neat to see stuff live - the band and the audience counting beats; the interplay between the musicians (can't beat playing with your brother!); watching the mandolinists switch from picking, to palming/fingerpicking, and back again; wondering what that stuff was they kept daubing on their fretting fingers (oil to help the sliding?); listening to Shrinivas play a cool intro passage intentionally on the fringe of feedback (something I hadn't expected - it was kind of Hendrix-like). I went home and tried about thirty of the licks and techniques I'd seen.. And failed miserably on most of them.. But a cool emando experience nonetheless!

    On the "smugness" note, Shrinivas seemed extremely humble before the audience.. Though the promoters kept up the "He is a Genius - We are in such Ecstasy" lines both before and after the set.. I could understand how he could be too tired to talk afterwards, too. He looked happy but exhausted.. Personally I can't understand how the percussion players can keep going that long - my arms would've fallen off after the first tune.

    Darrell

    oh I dug the digital tambura too!

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Yeah, the digital tambura relieves some poor musician of a thankless task!

    Too bad we didn't get 3.5 hours at the Seattle show. I was watching the right hands very carefully (and this was something I wanted to ask him about): I don't think he uses a plectrum at all. There are times he holds the thumb & index finger together to make a sort of pseudo-plectrum, but then he'd open up the hand and go back to finger picking. He does oil his left-hand fingers repeatedly (he has the softest hands of any musician I've ever shaken hands with).

    The only time he doesn't seem comfortable is when he picks up the mic to announce the next number. In person, Rajesh seems the more outgoing and friendly of the two.

    I thought the mridangam and ghatam players were top-notch too (but what do I know?).

    Am I more or less right in thinking that ragas (at least as performed by these cats) are more or less structured like jazz? -- a "head" that everyone knows, followed by increasingly complex improvisations, followed some of the time by a restatement of the head?

    I think Rajesh has improved as a player since the last show I saw. But Srinivas is still a better improviser ... a master of the slow burn. He really takes his time to build interest, complexity, and tension in a solo, and then finally resolves it in a blaze of glory.



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    ISO TEKNO delsbrother's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (mrmando @ May 21 2006, 14:18)
    I don't think he uses a plectrum at all. There are times he holds the thumb & index finger together to make a sort of pseudo-plectrum, but then he'd open up the hand and go back to finger picking.
    LOL! I guess that would explain how (I thought) he did it so effortlessly, eh?

    Oh well - I could've sworn there was some palming going on, but I wasn't that close.. You're probably right. In most of the pictures I can find on the net it does look like he's using his fingers, but I then there are others like this..



    Maybe he switches off depending on the song.. ?




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    Is there a "talent" knob? taboot's Avatar
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    His Portland set wasn't quite 3.5 hours, but it was really close. I was quite impressed with all of their endurance, and seated at that!
    In terms of the structure of ragas as a form, the closest parallel that we have in western music is something along the lines of modal jazz, with its head/jam/head structure, although there are plenty of ragas that don't close with a re-statement of the "head." There are other important differences, notably the "gat," those lovely solo introductions. They are considered arhythmic, but are often formally divided into different sections (slow, fast, etc.) The other thing that makes this so different from jazz, is the fact that the harmony is static: there are no chord changes at all, as the focus is squarely on melody and rhythm. It's the different choice of rag (like a tone series) and tal (time signature) that keeps these pieces sounding different one from the next.
    Call me predictable, but there are some really excellent Shankar records that were recorded with an educational purpose in mind, so not only does he play the hell out of these ragas, he also speaks about their structure and musical elements as introductions. For me, that makes for a much more enjoyable learning experience than trying to read a book about it.

    Christian
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    You just can't go wrong with Ravi Shankar. I love everything Hariprasad Chaurasia did too. To me, he's one of the world's foremost flute players.
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    ISO TEKNO delsbrother's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (taboot @ May 22 2006, 11:48)
    Call me predictable, but there are some really excellent Shankar records that were recorded with an educational purpose in mind, so not only does he play the hell out of these ragas, he also speaks about their structure and musical elements as introductions. #For me, that makes for a much more enjoyable learning experience than trying to read a book about it. #

    Christian
    Christian, could you point me to one or two of these records? Looking at the (massive) Shankar section at Amoeba LA is a daunting task.

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