Fusing South Indian classical with Western instruments in his own composition, violinist L. Subramaniam enchanted the sparse audience at Royce Hall on Sunday night. Unfortunately, the listeners had to sit through about two hours of audio problems, really bad dancers and one stiff Kavita Krishnamurti Subramaniam to get there.
First half, which started an hour late, was the kind of Bollywood variety show popular among Indians in the U.S., with three couples in garish costumes dancing on the stage, already crowded with musical instruments. Ghulam Ali, with years of singing to his credit, gave a short but beautiful perf, accompanied by Anindo Chatterjee on the bass tabla.
Ali was followed by Sudesh Bhonsle who was a crowdpleaser with Indian film songs from the ’70s. But, Subramaniam’s wife, Kavita — a Bollywood recording artist — looked extremely uncomfortable and stiff as dancers pranced around her. (One segment with twirling umbrellas had some in the audience fearful that they’d put out an eye). Her voice was pleasant, but her perf was plagued by microphone problems, which persisted throughout the night.
Headliner Subramaniam started off with “Indian Express,” a jazzy mix of South Indian classical percussion combined with four guitars, two keyboards and a horn. Playing three more up-tempo numbers from his “Global Fusion” album, Subramaniam enjoyed a wonderful rapport — especially with Premik Tubbs on the horn, Chris Rhyne on keyboard and Jorge Strunz on the guitar — and blended Indian and Western music seamlessly.
During one number, “Harmony of the Arts,” Subramaniam played several notes on the violin to each of the percussionists, which they in turn repeatedly perfectly on the tabla, thavil and mridangam. (Except for the North Indian tabla, they are South Indian percussion instruments, and the thavil has a particularly deep booming sound; all are played with the fingers (rather than sticks) pounding on drum skin.
Hollywood thesp Steven Seagal was a “surprise” guest who joined in on electric guitar, but his playing was almost inaudible.