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Sunny Jain - Phoenix Rise Music Album Reviews

Sunny Jain - Phoenix Rise Music Album Reviews
The drummer builds on the transnational foundations of his last ambitious album, making the case for global citizenship and international solidarity through culture-spanning music.

On last year’s Wild Wild East—Sunny Jain’s first album for Smithsonian Folkways—the Red Baraat bandleader recast the quintessential American cowboy in the image of the immigrant, a tribute to the courage and tenacity it takes to uproot yourself and build a new life in a new country. Drawing from disparate influences, Jain wove together an audacious soundtrack for this multi-cultural reboot of one of America’s most cherished myths. On his follow-up release, Phoenix Rise, he builds on those transnational foundations to make a new case for global citizenship and international solidarity, once popular ideas that have fallen out of fashion in these times of resurgent nationalism.

Written and recorded against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and the turbulent end to the Trump era, Phoenix Rise is breathtaking in the sweep of its ambition, spanning continents and centuries of musical tradition. The list of collaborators is impressive and diverse, a multicultural constellation of talent from the worlds of jazz, hip-hop, soul, rock, Punjabi folk, Hindustani classical, Zimbabwean mbira, and even kathak dance.

When it clicks, Phoenix Rise’s combination of technical brilliance and grand concept is electric. The compositions whirl their way through a multitude of sounds and genres, performing head-spinning feats of musical acrobatics with grace. On the title track, Jain’s trademark dhol holds down a steady rhythm as Lauren Sevian’s free-form saxophone unfurls in smoky spirals that circle gently rising vocals. A minute in, the rhythm picks up pace as Marc Carey’s discordant keys add an element of conflict and tension to the mix. The track then quickly builds up to a fire-and-brimstone crescendo, the long-awaited moment of spiritual renewal that is at the heart of the record.
 
Written in solidarity with the global LGBTQIA community, “Pride in Rhythm” is a jungle-paced percussive piece that offers a fresh take on a classic Asian Underground staple. Vijay Iyer’s oddly sinister synth lines snake their way through the rhythmic maelstrom thrown up by the dhol and mridangam. The aggressive machismo of the dhol is offset by a rhythmic structure that evokes the expressive grace and beauty in motion of kathak dance, weaving endless permutations and combinations over a repetitive rhythmic motif.

Another highlight is “Where Is Home?, written while vocalist Shilpa Ananth was temporarily stranded in Dubai on her way home to New York from India. Joe Russo’s drums and John Falsetto’s glittering mbira lock in together and provide a foundation of Ananth’s Tamil vocals that drip with longing and melancholy. It's a powerful meditation on community and belonging, elevated by the emotive power of Ananth’s voice.

But, as on Wild Wild East, Jain’s lofty aims can occasionally be too much weight for the songs to bear. Perhaps the worst offender in this regard is opener and lead single “Heroes,” an ode to ordinary people all around the world fighting for social, economic, and environmental justice. The song starts off promisingly, with the mbira and drums setting a bright, jaunty tempo matched by Tawanda Mapanda’s smooth tenor saxophone. But the trouble starts when John Falsetto’s lilting shona vocals give way to Malik Work’s well-meaning but painfully on-the-nose rhymes. Clunkers like “every activist that be activating out in the streets” only serve to highlight the awkwardness of the lyrics, like a student activist proclaiming their ideals with such straight-faced earnestness that it’s hard to take them seriously.

Its dense web of transcultural collaborations makes Phoenix Rise a thrilling, unpredictable ride, but occasionally Jain overdoes it, stuffing the tracks so full of twists and turns that they sometimes feel disorienting, even claustrophobic (although the songs are short enough that the feeling quickly passes). “Say It” features Arooj Aftab singing “Black Lives Matter, say it” in Urdu, a mantra she repeats over and over, a plaintive invocation of our shared humanity. Initially, Jain’s amphetamine rhythm and Bubby Lewis’s electric bass add a jittery edge to the track that complements the meditative beauty of Aftab’s vocals. But he keeps adding on layers of keys, violin, dhol that by the time the electric bass comes in, I find myself wishing some of Aftab’s minimalism had rubbed off on Jain.

Still, Phoenix Rise succeeds far more often than it stumbles, offering up a treasure trove of pleasures both cerebral and emotional. My favorite moment of the album is when the frantic chaos of “Wild Wild East (Recharged)” gives way to “Hai Apna Dil,” a re-work of a 1958 Bollywood song about unrequited love. Jain enlists his wife, Sapana Shah, to play the duff, while their two daughters sing in lightly accented Hindi. The song invokes both the joyful campfire sing-along and the evergreen South Asian tradition of embarrassing your kids by making them perform at family gatherings. In an album full of songs about fighting the good fight, “Hai Apna Dil” is an important reminder of what we’re all fighting for—a world full of warmth, community, and camaraderie.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Sunny Jain - Phoenix Rise Music Album Reviews Sunny Jain - Phoenix Rise Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, June 03, 2021 Rating: 5

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