Amirtha Kidambi - Elder Ones
Amirtha Kidambi: Vocals, harmonium, synthesizer, compositions; Matt Nelson: Soprano saxophone; Nick Dunston: Bass; Max Jaffe: Drums and sensory percussion
As Ben Ratliff wrote in the New York Times, “the aggressive and sublime first album by the band Elder Ones, Holy Science, is a kind of gauge for how strong and flexible the scene of young musicians in New York’s improvised and experimental music world can be. At the center of it are drones and phonemes. The group’s leader, the composer and singer Amirtha Kidambi, holds forth behind a harmonium, the small keyboard instrument with hand-pumped bellows; it’s commonly used in bhajan, the Indian devotional-singing tradition that was central to her musical experience while growing up in a South Indian family.”
Amirtha Kidambi trained in classical music while singing works by avant-gardists like Nono and Stockhausen, but free jazz drew her toward a different path. The influence of Alice and John Coltrane is especially apparent on the new album, as is her work with composer and saxophonist Darius Jones, and her study of Carnatic music.
While in Darius Jones’s a cappella group, Kidambi developed a language for wordless vocals, a technique she uses throughout the album Holy Science. The music is anchored by bass-lines and the harmonium, often doubled on the bass by Nick Dunston. Matt Nelson on the saxophone evokes the sound of the Indian nadhaswaram. The playing of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders blends with her voice and the harmonium. Drummer Max Jaffe’s ability to pivot between complex grooves and explorative free- playing completes the equation.
The first piece composed in the suite was “Dvapara Yuga” began as a meditation on the death of Eric Garner, and recent compositions include lyrics to express themes of political resistance. The album title comes from a text by Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, which explains the yugas, or eons of cosmic time in Hinduism. The four movements explore themes of creation, destruction, and rebirth, with the final movement pivoting to the Vishnu Sahasranam Vedic chant, and ending with the reset of the time cycle.