Filament, Shankar Tucker’s first full-length album, is a significant debut. We know Tucker primarily as a clarinetist, but here, the musician also demonstrates his ability as a composer.
Chal Chal Sakhi, the first track, is an uneven start — the emphasis on speed and technical virtuosity sacrifices some of the emotion — but we forgive this shortcoming quickly when we come upon the Ae Re Chanda suite, an alternately pensive and joyous set of tunes. In this inspired collection, Tucker transforms music with classical underpinnings into something that commands mainstream appeal. The suite begins with an intense, purely instrumental alaap, followed by an exposition and an improvisation, with Jomy George’s tabla serving as an anchor throughout. The star of this suite is the tillana — here, the music is foot-tapping good, the violin, guitar, tabla, and vocals all in perfect harmony. (The urge to visualize this song choreographed to dance is compelling!) Tucker’s clarinet enhances the accompanists here, allowing Devendra Pal Singh’s unique voice and the other instruments to shine in a flawless climax.
Dil Hai Namazi, by Vijay Prakash, is a solid track with ghazal-like quality and the makings of a crowd pleaser. Another standout is Kashti, an atmospheric number that evokes the cabaret era. Tucker seems to have the knack for matching a melody to just the right voice — this track is indeed a great vehicle for Nikhita Gandhi’s husky voice and likely to have crossover appeal.
Dhuan Dhuan is notable for H.N. Bhaskar’s exquisite alaap on the violin – one could easily get lost in its plaintive notes. The second track in this suite does not quite match in terms of gravitas, but it does feature Tucker’s vocals — fans won’t be disappointed!
Amaidhi Thaedi, beginning with Shakthisree Gopalan’s vocals, has the potential to grow on you with repeated listening. The highlight of this suite is Part 2, a clarinet solo — nothing showy, this is just Shankar Tucker’s clarinet at its meditative best.
Of all the tracks in the album, Yaad and Udaan come closest to being filmi numbers and perhaps not as impactful. However, we do get another sampling of Tucker’s inventiveness with Aadiyillallo Anthamillalo, a track that combines Kerala’s traditional edekka with western instruments like the saxophone, trumpet and clarinet. The result is a modern take that retains the original’s folksy spirit.
Two years in the making and funded by Kickstarter, Filament solidifies Shankar Tucker’s unique position in the world of music. “I guess you could say that I am searching for a home for this music…It doesn’t belong completely to India, or to the West. What started as a search to find the musical thread connecting these very different cultures has developed into something else entirely,” Tucker writes in his introduction to the album. His may be a position that defies categorization, but as you take Filament along as a companion on a long drive, that should not matter.