Last year, Anoushka Shankar went into a recording studio to lend her sitar skills to a track by Delhi-based tablatronicists Midival Punditz. In and of itself, the occurrence wasn't that odd. The Punditz album featured a variety of traditional Indian instrumentation laid atop futuristic beats, and Shankar is nothing if not a pedigreed Indian instrumentalist. Her previous two studio albums, titled Anoushka and Anourag, provided ample evidence that the artist had picked up quite a bit from her father, Ravi Shankar, as the recordings were skillfully played extensions of his classical style.
What is surprising is that after Anoushka contributed her skill to the Punditz album, the Punditz turned around and contributed their skills to hers. The result is Rise, an album informed by Shankar's deep immersion in classical India as well as by her existence as a 21st-century musician, and by the incredible programming and sequencing work done by Gaurav Raina of the Midival Punditz.
With a sound that's completely separate from and completely indebted to the "Asian Underground" movement and the traditional sounds of her first two albums, Shankar has created a stunningly progressive album that's filled with daring sonics, luscious atmospheres and, most importantly, her personality. Whether it's the insistent chants and ghostly percussion of "Mahadeva," the swirling rush of "Red Sun" or the otherworldly jazz of "Solea," Rise brims with a peculiar mix of smoky ambience. On first blush it might seem a little too much like mood music, but by the time the epic sweep of closer "Ancient Love" rolls around a song that owes as much to traditional ragas as it it does to the elastic epics of Future Sound of London it's clear that there are multiple layers of compositional complexity, fresh production ideas and innovation at work.
An album like this, from someone with a reputation like Anoushka Shankar's, is a calculated risk; after all, those who have pegged her as the heir to her father's traditionalist throne will be mightily disappointed. Those who know better, who understand that Ravi Shankar's legacy is about progress as much as it is about purity, will understand that this is exactly the album that Anoushka was born to create.