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Album Review

Trina Basu & Arun Ramamurthy: Nakshatra


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Trina Basu & Arun Ramamurthy: Nakshatra
"Nakshatra: A Sanscrit word evocative of constellations, stars and interconnectedness." Meera Dugal

Two violinists immersed in the sounds of India—that would be Trina Basu and Arun Ramamurthy. Nakshatra, the duo's debut recording, opens with "Offering." An expansive drone backdrops a deliberative melody. They sound as if they are looking for God—or something similar. They sound, indeed, like the universe after the cosmic blast of the big bang, when things began to coalesce and gravity started to assert itself, gathering matter into dust clouds and then stars and galaxies and ultimately planets. And us.

Basu and Ramamurthy's artistry is rooted in South Indian classical music, jazz and Western chamber music. Basu has offered recordings with another duo, Karavika, with cellist Amali Premawardhana , and Ramamurthy has released his music with the Arun Ramamurthy Trio. Their embrace of the Indian tradition is vital, as they present music that sounds a thousand years old and, at the same time, contemporary, tradition-bound yet modern and improvisatory. It is celestial ("Offering") and of this Earth ("Migration"). It is reverential ("Sri Kamalabike") and celebratory, as in "Little Road Song," which could serve as the soundtrack to an Indian hoedown in some small village in the countryside outside of Mumbai, the women draped in beautifully-colored flowing dresses, the children dancing.

Basu and Ramamurthy are wife and husband. They share an interconnected musical mindset. They embellish each other's violin sentences. In terms of offering up the ancient, the duo's take on "Sri Kamalabike," written by one of the major Carnatic (South Indian) composers, Muthuswami Dikshitar, in the late eighteenth century, is a song written in praise of the Hindu Goddess Kamalabama, who is considered the Divine Mother of the Universe. It is music to put the mind into a state of supreme calm.

The sustaining drone in Indian music—a sort of tinted canvas of sound over which the main artist plays a raga—is traditionally supplied by the tambura. Basu and Ramamurthy created theirs by layering their instruments and playing double stops around the tonal centers and adding pulsating bow strokes to create the effect of a heartbeat. The use of the drone is not heard much in Western music (exceptions: Alice Coltrane, some of the ambient music jazz artists, and even Beatle George Harrison on tunes such as "Within Without You" and "Inner Light"). In Carnatic music, it serves as an unchanging backdrop which gives the music a feeling of deeply mystical spirituality.

Post Script: Meera Dugal, who is quoted at the beginning of this review, also created the stunning cover art for Nakshatra. Let us hope the ongoing whispers concerning the demise of the physical formats—CDs and vinyl albums—are much exaggerated.

Track Listing

Offering; Tempest; Migration; Sri Kamalambike; Alterity; Healer; The Little Road Song.


Trina Basu: violin; Arun Ramamurthy: violin.

Album information

Title: Nakshatra | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Spinster

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