Tarun Balani – Dharma

27 Jul

The first thing to strike you about Dharma is how good an ear for sound this band has. Track after track has something clean and sharp enough to make you sit up. There’s a surprising and clear horn in “Planet Hunter” that’s citrus-like in feel. It’s an album with the confidence to take things at the pace it wants and the skill to make fantastic music on its own terms.

However, this point also makes for the major flaw of the album. There’s just not enough here in terms of thought. Particularly egregious is the album’s habit of repeating a phrase multiple times to make sure that we’ve got it. It comes off as almost a tic and adds an unfortunate drag to the album. “Brooklyn Bound”, which should have started the album strong, ends up slightly tiring as a result.

With “Here We Go”, this flaw even makes for a light contrast with the title. The song keeps building up and makes promises for what is to come, but then pulls back to places that we’ve already understood. Right before the end of the track, it moves forward very cleverly, but retreats for the finish and the whole song ends up deflated as a result.

Despite that though, it’s a very jazzy piece with an excellent piano solo midway through. There are some very unexpected flourishes there that make for little jolts of brightness and the track is very pleasant to listen to.

Similarly, “Samsara” is beautiful every time and I do always love jazz that’s able to pull off a laid-back look. “Impermanence”, which precedes it, has a little more pace to it, but is no less skilled and is a stand-out worth paying attention to. Tarun Balani’s drums do a fantastic job underpinning this album and sets grooves that are effortless to sink into.

The highlight of the album is clearly “Malala’s Dream” though. The guitar and trumpet solos are fantastic and the bass work is quite noteworthy as well. I unfortunately still have to quibble a little with the time spent on essentially reiteration and there are a couple of small miscommunications, but those are minor, minor issues in a very strong jazz track.

This skill and nose for clever sounds leave a lot to recommend in this album. It’s a shame then that the result is just too predictable for my liking. Had Dharma had more imagination and a little more tightness, it could have been a masterpiece. As is, it’s still a worthy listen and an instant recommendation – for people seeking some accessibility in their jazz or for people interested in the exciting new things coming out of the Indian jazz scene.

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