Family Funktion & The Sitar Jams: Karma Print
Review By Zach Zeidner
Edited By Benjamin Wilkerson
When I first heard Family Funktion and The Sitar Jams, I knew immediately that I would love the project. As a self-proclaimed “jazz-freak”, I am easily drawn to those walking bass line, cooking rhythms, and subtle yet forceful jazzy drum fills; this project has it all. However, an addition to this sound that has fully captured me is the use of classical sitar. As a classically trained sitar player, I am drawn away from the “gimmick” aspect of the sitar which has been popularized by “musicians” such as Gabby LaLa.
Naryan Padmanabha is a tasteful sitar player who uses a classical sitar that is played through an amplifier with added effects. This allows for a traditional sound at necessary points during a melodic line while at other points allowing for an extreme amplification and emphasis on the unique resonating tones of the Sitar. With these effects, Naryan is able to explore the space of the jam as well as the space of the instrument.
Family Funktion and The Sitar Jams first self-titled album, widely overlooked by the general public, was a hit in my book. The first album had a familiar traditional yet unique feel. A synthesis of jazz fusion with classical Indian music, it could be described similarly to the style of Medeski, Martin, & Wood, if a sitar were to replace the keys. Already a fan, I was looking forward to their next album.
I popped in the album and as soon as it started, I could tell I was in for quite an experience...
"A1" set a new unique tone not just for the album but for the band itself. It's a dance tune complete with a driving electronic-esque drum and bass line. As both Ravi Padmanabha (Drums) and Aneal Padmanabha (Bass) share call and responses in the rhythm section, Naryan Padmanabha (Sitar) is free to explore the space provided for him. As he does this, he lays down tasteful riffs with a little resonation on the sitar to give it that psychedelic sound needed, providing an overtone to the driving drum and bass section. I can easily see this tune becoming a dance party when played live. In addition, there is tons of room in the composition to allow for extended jams to make any show a real dance party. I look forward to hearing this song live when I get a chance to catch these cats.
The titled track, "Karma Print" starts with a tasteful walking bass line on an upright bass, in addition to some resonating tones provided by the sitar. Naryan goes into a hypnotic riff and, as in a true form of classical Indian music, uses this riff to improve off of, as in a classical raga. As the bass line continues to walk, the tablas come in with a simple but rhythmic beat. This turns into an upright bass/percussion down tempo style song with mainly a jazz influence. Naryan uses his effects well to allow for reverberation through his sitar that seems to echo his riffs back to him. This song is Indian fusion at its best and remains one of my favorite tunes from this album.
"Supermadala" is more reminiscent to their first album sound, a very fusion driven song. Ravi and Aneal again lay down a MMW like rhythm sound while Naryan plays a driving riff. Naryan uses little effect on his sitar allowing him to drive the song along with Aneal. They all jam well together in this tune, each of them trading licks to each other and each of them regarding the other’s space in their respective improvisation sections. This tune reminds me of why I love these guys; they can provide a psychedelic landscape with their instruments in one tune and in another use the sitar as a lead instrument in a tasteful, jazzy way.
"Panjira" starts with a exceptionally slow and simple, yet hypnotic tabla line. This is a incredibly meditative song, the tones and pitches explored on the sitar and bass allow for a wide array of vivid colorful images. It is an interesting song complete with simple percussion buildups and an assortment of distortions provided by Naryan. Towards the end it builds up into a rhythmic beat that is reminiscent to early Bhangrah. This tune seems to mark a transition of the album into a more trance-like atmosphere to provide for the next song.
"This Before That" is a fourteen minute space exploration program to say the least. The tune starts out with a subtle driving bass/drum/and keyboard line as Naryan just plucks at various resonating strings. He then provides random notes with a large use of distortion and continues until he begins to play some simple riffs. The layering in this song is phenomenal as it is easy to point out their tasteful use of studio effects which allows this tune to be a success. The song is full of mad jazz drumming licks that provide a solid undertone to the whole space out. I enjoyed this tune and felt it was a great peak to the album. This is one you just have to hear for yourself.
"ABC" is a refreshing cleanser from the trip to the moon and back that "This Before That" takes you on. This driving fusion tune again is similar to the sound of their first album. A very danceable song with beastly sitar/bass tradeoffs that give this tune its pizzazz; Ravi uses the space given during to lay down his signature jazz licks that we have come to know so far throughout this album. The bass line takes this song to the next level, continually providing the gasoline to run this jam machine. There are many similarities to the sound of Garaj Mahal in their strictly fusion pieces such as this one, although the musicians aren’t held to the same standards as those in Garaj Mahal (I mean that lineup is ungodly) they strike similar tones in the unique east Indian fusion sound they are both trying to reach and explore.
"Durga Brew" again is a very down beat tune, redolent to the earlier "This Before That", this song could have easily been filled with a more driving fusion number and I really don’t see a need this far into the album to space out again once more. At this point it would have been wise to fill the rest of the album with driving jazz numbers. Although "Durga Brew" is enjoyable I would have much rather felt another tune like "ABC" to take this album home.
"Kolkata Krackdown" is a well composed piece that marks the signal that the time to rage has come to the end. In a very progressive style the band seems to play with all the elements they have explored throughout the album one last time before taking you to the last tune.
"Lotus" is a good “the albums almost over” tune, a simple melody complete with a slow melodically beautiful sitar part that just makes you happy to be alive. This song has a seemingly Velvet Underground sound with a sitar added, it seems as if you added Nico in the mix to sing some crazy lyrics, it wouldn’t be too far off. This is a great tune, a great way to bring the album in full swing and take you out wanting not too much more, but just enough to pop this album in your car or on your ipod just because you know you’re gonna want another spin.
All in all, this album was very enjoyable; it shows a real step this band is taking. Not only is it evident that the musicians in the band are improving on their respective instruments, but it is also apparent the direction the band is trying to drive toward. The album is far more progressive than their first album and in a very tasteful way. They take many aspects of music popular to the scene they seem to be catering to, the jam scene, and incorporate them with the sound they have uniquely developed for themselves. Family Funktion and The Sitar Jams have done it again, Karma Print has proven to be a great album to me and I am sure this will be playing on the speakers at my house in a couple days. I already have a few rhythms stuck in my head.
Download Karma Print Here.