Akshara Music Ensemble pulls deep talent from New York City to create an innovative and passionate group of musicians interested in creating music on the edge of tradition. Bala Skandan formed the group in 2008 with the hopes of finding the place where South Indian music meets the improvisation of Jazz and plays along the structures and moods of modern composition. In Time is the ensemble’s debut record and comes to us five years in the making, just as the balance between precision and playfulness has been expertly struck.
From the opening weave of hand drums on “Mind the Gap” to the anxious strumming that floats like a bumblebee in a field on “Urban Kriti”, Akshara Music Ensemble are able to move between moods and instrumentation without ever losing their flow. Often, it is the flute that drops in to change pace and drive the song, shifting expectation from the pervasive percussion elsewhere. Even the voice is used as percussion, as on “Shadjam”, which uses traditional melodies to crate patterns that become jovial in tone.
While the complexity and mood creation will immediately grab your attention on In Time, it is the award-winning “Mohana Blues” and the clips of Akshara Music Ensemble performing live that will cement their place in your memory. “Mohana Blues” is the epitome of subtle growth, with simplicity at its heart and a strong sense of timing propelling the mood. You can listen to the track above. Each time a new riff or instrument is introduced, it is joined with such a smoothness by another element you don’t notice until you feel it. Watching the ensemble play live mirrors this: the sense of timing and consideration is evocative of good jazz ensembles: each performer seems most concerned about the flow of the song, and less on their individual role.