Album Review: Mariah Parker – Sangria

February 7, 2009

The members involved.

Concept: Combination of Indian meter with Latin rhythm and jazz stylings.

Sound: ‘World music’ is a cringe-inducing phrase, but the concept of this album is ambitious, and at some times it succeeds. The big name is Paul McCandless, a member of Oregon who has worked with popular groups like The Flecktones and The String Cheese Incident. However, his involvement in the album is low: he is on two tracks, and keeps to the background. Kash Killion, on bass, cello, and sarangi, is a more distinct voice through the album, along with Matthew Montfort and his scalloped fretboard guitar. They fuel the two more worthwhile tracks on the album, Sangria and Between The Lines, both of which incorporate flamenco. The letdown, strangely, is Mariah Parker herself. Although she may be responsible for the composition, her own part in it is surprisingly stiff and bland, lacking flexibility in tone or dynamic. She plods through the chord progressions without adding anything. For some reason, these problems do not arise as much when she is playing her secondary instrument on the album, the santur; it would have been much better if she had stuck to that for most of the tracks instead. The most obvious and poignant disappointment is on the second to last track, Tenth Journey. Everything unfolds well, with decent solos and nice melody from everyone, except Mariah tries to go for diminishing rolls on the santur, and it comes off choppy, upsetting the rhythm just slightly. As the song reaches its peak, Anuradha Pal attempts a vigorous recitation of bol, a mnemonic vocal percussion that couples with the tabla. Either the production blocks her more rapid enunciations, or she falls flat on her face three times in a row. Either way, the recording sounds dreadful when it’s supposed to be at its best. So, despite its strong points and general professionalism, the album bears the sleepy moments and awkwardness of a high school recital, which is more unfortunate when there is so much potential from both the pieces and the performers.

Quick And Dirty: If you want Latin or Latin jazz, you might as well skip this and thumb through Al di Meola or Larry Harlow. If you want good Indian music, Sandip Burman is a prodigious present-day talent on the tabla, or else I highly recommend Shivkumar Sharma’s brilliant 1967 album Call of the Valley. Sangria may be attempting a worthwhile synthesis of both styles, but it’s not a strong example of either. (♦♦♦)

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