Read the reviews by Srajan Ebaen and Chris Nickson and listen to all the tracks.
Music as caffeinated health tea – by Srajan Ebaen
As the name implies, Mantrica is about Sanskrit mantras: ancient sacred syllables and verses charged with spiritual power, in some cases core messages from famous Sutras, in others short prayers or recitals to deities. What the name does not give away is the radically hip and modern environment of tightly percolating bass grooves that Jesse transplants them into, nor his polytonal, welcome-to-dissonances vocal presentation that points at the famous Bulgarian Women’s Choir.
This is a very far cry from the ethereal Singh Kaur or Deva Premal but directly related to the worldliness of Kirtan prince Jai Uttal. Throw in some of the ensemble coherence of Vas, Rasa or Tulku, highlighted by electrifying solos on Sarangi and Santoor that in this contemporary milieu sound like dead ringers for Free Jazz improv – in truth, they always were this radical but in this juxtaposition are thus all the more recognizable — and you’ll now find yourself in the heartland of Mantrica.
This place is vibrating with the undercurrent and legacy of millions of Sadhus, monks, Yogis and devotees who have whispered or sung these mantras for thousands of years in temples, in forests, in caves, on mountain tops and with the inner tongue on the rooftops of their minds. But now, like a fresh and unbidden breeze from the East, it transfers their subtle fragrances into the concrete jungles and living rooms of our 21st century, hidden inside poppy wrappers that appeal to our modern ears and short attention spans.
That’s practical magic.
Look at the bigger picture. Macintosh computers featured the Dalai Lama in their Think Differently campaign. Western spiritual adepts like Adyashanti, Satyam Nadeen, Nirmala, Hanuman and Andrew Cohen expand the boundaries of traditional Eastern religiosity to account for and incorporate an ever-greater totality of worldly phenomena that older approaches overlooked or didn’t recognize. Musicians like the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – succeeded now by his brother Farroukh and nephew Rahat – or Shafqat Ali Kahn and L. Subramaniam insinuate themselves to Western audiences to spread a wordless gospel of spiritual transmission.
Rudyard Kipling was dead wrong when he proclaimed that the twain, East and West, would never meet. Mantrica is just one of thousands of examples of how this meeting takes place daily, and in the most unlikely of places.
With Mantrica, even if you didn’t grok a single word of the repetitive Sanskrit hymns – and they are beautifully translated in the liner notes – you’ll bathe subconsciously in their vibratory energy regardless while your conscious attention was fixed on seriously get-down grooves. Famed mystic-scoundrel Gurdjieff was right to posit that in order to reach the real honey of Spirit, one had to be a crafty, sly and resilient bugger. Turned around, there’s a global movement of sly light infusion afoot that breaches our deep-seated collective reluctance to go inside by any means necessary. So what if that means to deliver sacred Buddhist or Hindu mantras in the guise of Techno, Trance or WorldBeat? Here, the end not only justifies the means but is wonderfully enriched in the process.
Of course there’s a liability with this recipe – nothing comes free after all. With the easy access to wisdom teachings that once were most carefully meted out to diehard and fiercely tested aspirants but can now be spotted on something as blatantly commercial as a tea company’s marketing motto, intrinsic value and potency will be diluted. We tend to appreciate and own what was earned the hard way far more than what was handed to us on a silver platter.
Only time will tell whether silent seduction works better than self-directed effort.
For now, albums like Mantrica are one very enjoyable means whereby to brush up against this rising tide. We can get our corporate coat tails wet and perhaps feel surprisingly vitalized by the encounter, as though we had unwittingly sipped from some potent tea that now coursed through our bodies to perform its subtle adjusting work along our energy meridians. Music as caffeinated health tea – who woulda thunk it?
Review by Srajan Ebaen – www.anantjesse.com
All fits together seamlessly – by Chris Nickson
The sleeve bills the album as “a bliss-ride thru the ancient, the modern, the electric, and the Vedic,” and for once the hype isn’t overstated. You name it — it’s here, from Western alternative rock to electronica, Indian neo-classical, worldbeats of different types, chants, even ambient music. And the thing is, it all fits together seamlessly. While the music is meant to be spiritual, to the average listener it’s a fascinating journey, as the pieces — the shortest runs seven and a half minutes, the longest almost 13 minutes — unfold, morph, and take on different shapes and colors; for anyone expecting a lightweight new age disc, it’s really quite a shock.
Drummer and percussionist Jesse (formerly a member of Dramarama) has assembled a fascinating band comprised of American and Indian musicians who work beautifully together under his direction, and his sense of arrangement is inspired throughout. Even “Savasana,” which revolves around one chord with overtones and thoughtful improvisations, never drags. The players give their utmost and never fail to glean new levels of understanding from the material, with “Sri Rudnam” making a jolting, upbeat start and “Maha Mrtyunjaya Mantra” pushing all manner of musical envelopes. Jesse knows when to program and when to use real percussion; he has a remarkable command of musical styles and he makes it all work in a way few have been able to before.
Review by Chris Nickson, AllMusic – www.allmusic.com