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Anoushka Shankar emerges as a potent and creative force with Rise

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The sitarist & composer Anoushka Shankar's fourth album, Rise, marks a defining moment in the career of the young woman whose surname is synonymous with Indian music. Having previously recorded strictly in the classical tradition of her father, the legendary Ravi Shankar, Anoushka truly emerges as a potent creative force with her newest release.

"It's very much my own music and my journey and who I am right now," says Anoushka, who turned 24 in June. "I felt like I was rising into that. On a personal level, Rise signifies growth. It was a step up for me. Not even up, just more into my own."On Rise which was composed, produced and arranged by Anoushka she collaborated with a select crew of virtuoso Eastern and Western musicians wielding a variety of both acoustic and electronic instruments, often engaging in unexpected ways to create tantalizing new sounds. And while Anoushka's own sitar playing has evolved measurably, there are several tracks on Rise on which she eschews the sitar all together in favor of allowing her voice to be heard by way of her compositions and arrangements instead. The result is a stunning and evocative work that will surely catapult Anoushka into the vanguard of the world music scene.

Two back-to-back concerts in New York this Fall will accentuate the breadth and dedication of Anoushka's musicianship when on Oct. 27 she performs the music from Rise with her own ensemble at Joe's Pub, and on Oct. 28 she is a featured performer on Ravi Shankar's Festival of India III at Carnegie Hall. Further Festival of India tour dates include stops in Houston, Dallas, Austin, Boston, Baltimore, Washington DC and Chicago.

Anoushka's side projects of late have included everything from a guest appearance on an electro-Indian project, composing a film soundtrack, acting in a Bollywood film, and writing a biography of her father.

MIDIval Punditz, the electro-Indian outfit, enlisted Anoushka to contribute her sitar to "Rebirth," a track on their latest release MIDIval Times. Gaurav Raina, one the group's two founding members, was also the recording engineer on Anoushka's new CD Rise. Anoushka also composed the score for the short film Ancient Marks, which was screened at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival in New York. She also made her film acting debut last year portraying a dancer in the Bollywood film Dance Like A Man. Anoushka also penned a biography of her father, the legendary sitarist Ravi Shankar, titled Bapi, The Love of My Life.

"I was going to go disappear for a while but wouldn't you know it, I made an album," she says. "The sabbatical gave me the space to take risks. It was really an organic, natural experience. I was traveling from India to the States and meeting friends and adding people along the way. It was really beautiful."

From the first notes of "Prayer In Passing," which opens Rise, it becomes instantly clear that Anoushka is on to something inspiring and uncommon here. The track features Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, a renowned Indian slide guitarist, providing melodic direction alongside the flamenco-style piano of Ricardo Mino, Pedro Eustache's bansuri flute and duduk (a Middle Eastern wind instrument) and Anoushka's sitar. "This one's very languid," says Anoushka. "It's just nice and dreamy-it's set in a morning raga that's very moody and simple. It was lovely to have so many different things that shouldn't go together but seemed to flow really nicely."

"Red Sun," the second track, features Anoushka on keyboards and is highlighted by the percussive Indian "bol" vocalizing of Bikram Ghosh and Tanmoy Bose, her longtime tabla players. "We've always incorporated that into my shows when they play with me, and I definitely wanted to feature that-they're improvising on that," says Anoushka.

"Mahadeva" is based on a four-line song by Ravi Shankar that was re-composed and arranged by Anoushka. "He never developed it into a piece of music," Anoushka explains. "It was just something that I sang as a kid and it came into my head while we were in Calcutta recording. It started developing into a really strong rhythmic, dark-feeling track, which I was really excited about. Mahadeva is another name for Shiva, and one aspect of Shiva is that he's the destroyer. This sort of brings out that feeling of anger and insanity."

"Naked" turns the mood around completely-Anoushka, all alone, on sitar and keyboards. "It was a very conscious decision to add a little pretty track with sitar being the focus," she says. "We'd gone very mysterious and heavy and it seemed nice to have something light."

"Solea" was co-written by Anoushka and pianist Ricardo Mi?o. The luminous background sounds, Anoushka explains, were all created on the piano. "I'm holding the piano strings muted while he's playing one of the other background synth sounds. It was really creative and fun for me, and very physical, too, because of the rhythm, the flamenco approach."

The album's other sitar-less track, "'Beloved,'" says Anoushka, "was my first experience writing lyrics from scratch and fitting it to a melody. It was flute-focused and I thought it would be nice to have it be about Krishna because he's always associated with the flute. The lyrics are from the viewpoint of Radha, who's his eternal lover. She's searching for him everywhere and then she understands that the reason she hasn't been able to find him is because she's not looking within herself."

The intriguingly titled "Sinister Grains," like "Prayer In Passing," is another instance where Anoushka has juxtaposed seemingly incongruous ingredients, here using Indian shehnai and vocals, didjeridoo, South American vocal percussion, bass and electronic elements, including her sitar which was fed through a filter to create some of the track's ambient effects. "It's just a funky little mysterious track," she says. "The song is in a Sufi-sort of mood where he's talking about the pain of living, and the music is also very moody."

Anoushka compares "Voice Of The Moon," which matches the Western cello and violin to the Eastern sitar, tabla and santoor, to her father's collaborations with the late violinist Yehudi Menuhin. "It's very much composed within an Indian raga yet the fact that the cello is there gives it a smoothness," she says. The Indian percussion is amended with an electronic HandSonic drum pad as well, "to give it a little more depth," Anoushka explains.

Finally, "Ancient Love," the longest track on Rise, is "my favorite one by far," says Anoushka. "This is the one closest to my heart. It was also the easiest track because it constantly flowed. Every time someone added to this track, it would get more beautiful. We ended up taking out a lot, too, to retain a bit of simplicity. It's got a nice mix of the electronics and several flavors."

The sequencing of the tracks on Rise, adds Anoushka, is hardly random. "Each one is in a certain raga, and it flows from morning to evening through the course of the album, which is a pretty unique feature. It's not something that happens very often or that can be made to work, but if you do believe that ragas have moods and have significance it does enhance the overall flow."

Although Rise is a bold departure for Anoushka and she is cognizant of her expanding horizons as an artist since embarking on the project, she ensures that, like her previous work, it is a "very Indian album. Coming into my own in this way musically has made me a better sitar player, but Rise is something that can connect to a lot more people."