When Brooklyn Raga Massive released In C as an album, Terry Riley happened to see the video and was so moved that he invited the group to visit him in California. He wanted to compose a new piece to record and perform with the collective.
Brooklyn Raga Massive pays homage to minimalist composer Terry Riley w/ album release of “In D” in conjunction w/ 24 Hr Ragas Live Festival
Inspired by a fruitful correspondence between the legendary composer and the prolific artist collective, the 24 musician performance will be premiered alongside a solo set from Terry Riley
What began as a casual weekly gathering of friends centered around a creatively fertile jam session grew into a mainstay of the New York City arts scene when Brooklyn Raga Massive sitarist and Artistic Director Neel Murgai came up with a new concept for a live concert that could include every member of the collective’s expanding community of diverse musicians.
The first ensemble Brooklyn Raga Massive ever undertook to that end was the famed minimalist composer Terry Riley’s “In C,” a musical piece comprised of a series of short melodic fragments and composed for an indefinite number of musicians to perform.
“I thought “In C” would be a project that could bring our whole community together on one stage,” said Murgai.
The program was a hit and by their second performance of “In C,” in 2015 at the Rubin Museum of Art, the group had already attracted the approving eyes of several tastemaker critics. The Wall St. Journal published a full-page article on the collective and The New York Times soon followed with a full-page article of their own citing the new “Raga Renaissance Flowering in Brooklyn”. Suddenly the group was quite favorably positioned under an international spotlight and, encouraged by the buzz, decided to release “In C” as an album and video.
When NPR premiered the video in 2017, the then 82-year-old Riley happened to see it and was so moved by the performance that he reached out and invited the group to California where he wished to compose a new piece to record and perform with the collective. A few members of Brooklyn Raga Massive were headed to San Francisco for a show with roots singer Martha Redbone, so they planned to head out to Terry’s place after, but alas, Riley’s travel plans were disrupted and the meeting fell through at the last minute.
That night, disappointed by the near missed opportunity to meet and collaborate with one of their most celebrated heroes, BRM Artistic Directors Neel Murgai and David Ellenbogen sat down with a cheap bottle of whiskey in Oakland and wrote the score for “In D” [to be released Nov. 21, 2020].
“We thought, why not write the piece that we wished Terry would write for us,” explained Ellenbogen. “With the title, we were kind of making fun of ourselves, since we would need to play in the key of D for sitar. The piece is based on the concepts of “In C,” which is a series of phrases, kind of musical cells that can be played in any order and moved around at will. But now each would be rooted in a particular raga.
The result of that night is Brooklyn Raga Massive’s own personal homage to Terry Riley, adapting his compositional techniques (which launched the musical movement dubbed minimalism in 1964) but conforms to a series of 3 Indian classical ragas. Raga, the Classical Music of India, which translates to “that which colors the mind,” had a tremendous influence on Riley’s career and he studied deeply with the vocalist Pandit Pran Nath.
Though Ellenbogen and Murgai had no plans to perform “In D,” a live set they were later scheduled to do with an orchestra fell through, so they convinced the producers to let them perform the new composition in its place. The musicians and audience loved it, so they decided to perform the piece at the 2019 Ragas Live Festival as well and soon started conversations about releasing “In D” as an album.
From there, doors kept opening serendipitously. The Cafe Royal Cultural Foundation gave Brookly Raga Massive a substantial grant to put the album out, and the prestigious DiMenna Center for Classical Music agreed to let them use its state of the art recording studio at an unbelievable bargain price. And to top off the uncanny run of luck, legendary engineer Jay Newland, whose 14 Grammys include Norah Jones biggest hits, enthusiastically came on board for the project.
Recorded during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and despite the 24 masked musicians performing 6’ apart, the joy of making music together for the first time in many moons emerges in these tracks. Reflects Ellenbogen, “DiMenna Studio is located right in midtown Manhattan and usually records orchestras, so it has a 300-person capacity. Jay, and his team set up baffling between all the musicians while me and Neel came in early and measured out the spacing for everything …and that’s how we pulled it off.”
The All-Star band includes raga maestros, Jay Gandhi (bansuri) and Abhik Mukherjee, who both later contributed to the composition, and a diverse collection of creative musicians that could only occur in New York City, including Klezmer/Bluegrass virtuoso Andy Statman, Ron McBee of the Sun Ra Arkestra, violinist Charlie Burnham, and Terry Riley’s son, the great guitarist Gyan Riley.
Like the album’s cover, the music of the album represents a gradual shifting of colors and hues. It’s abstract yet consonant, both classical in one sense and radically new in another. Says Brooklyn Raga Massive sitar player and “In D” co-composer, Abhik Mukherjee, “‘In D” is comprised of three tracks, “Raga Bihag,” a romantic evening raga that also depicts joy; “Raga Bairagi,” is a meditative piece with a sad mood; and “Raga Darbari,” which is somber, majestic and in this context, goes on to portray hope. The raga selections match the pandemic situation we now face. We plunged from our normal happy lives into darkness and finally, after passing through these phases, we have hope”.
Excitingly for the band, the album’s release will be featured at the Ragas Live Festival, the penultimate performance of a 24 hour/ 24 set livestream featuring musicians from 13 cities around the world from Mysore to Madagascar, which is slated for November 21, 2020. Among the highlights of the event, Zakir Hussain will perform a tabla solo from San Francisco and Toumani Diabate will perform kora from Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Then, Brooklyn Raga Massive will have the honor of presenting “In D” to the world right before special guest Terry Riley goes on for an incredibly rare set of raga-based improvisations on solo keyboard from Japan.
“In D” is an album that almost didn’t happen. But then strange serendipity seems to have come together at every turn to transform the impossible into the inevitable.
Reflects Ellenbogen,“DiMenna Studio is an amazing space, so much so that if it wasn’t for COVID decimating the music industry this year, we would never have been able to afford to record there. Jay Newland would likely be so busy that he wouldn’t have had time to do this kind of fun passion project. All of these uncanny synchronicities — from how the album release ties into the festival to all these amazing, in-high-demand musicians being willing and available to collaborate — these are sure signs that the music will survive. So in a way, this new paradigm has allowed for a sort of music festival 2.0 where it’s actually a World Music Festival, where people from all around the world are participating and people from all around the world are listening. And at the heart of it, there’s a real idealism and a hopefulness driving it all. I think that kind of community-based, joyful, inclusive approach is what resonates with our fans, and it’s what brings life to the music too.”
Ragas Live Festival is a 24hr/24set livestream and radio broadcast presented by Brooklyn Raga Massive, Pioneer Works, Rubin Museum of Art and NYC Radio Live and will feature 90+ musicians from 13 cities including Zakir Hussain, Toumani Diabate and Betsayda Machado. It will stream from 7PM-7PM November 21-22nd at live.pioneerworks.org/ragas/. The virtual event is free but encourages donations.
Press for “In D” and 2020 Ragas Live Festival
- CD Hotlist, Album review, 01/04/2021, Brooklyn Raga Massive, In D
- London Jazz News, Album review, 11/30/2020, Brooklyn Raga Massive – ‘In D’
- WNYC/NPR New Sounds, Feature story, 11/20/2020, #4432, The Indian Influence
- The New Yorker, Listing, 11/16/2020, Ragas Live Festival
- The Vinyl District, Event preview, 11/19/2020, Ragas Live Festival to be reimagined as an epic 24-hour live broadcast, 11/21–11/22
- The Wire UK, Airplay, 11/09/2020, Phil England presents Adventures In Sound And Music
- Avant Music News, Mention, 11/25/2020, AMN Picks of the Week
- Avant Music News, Album review, 11/23/2020, AMN Reviews: Brooklyn Raga Massive – In D (2020; Bandcamp)
- NYCity123.com, Event preview, 11/22/2020, Stream 24 hours of music from around the world
- Club Free Time, Event preview, 11/22/2020, Concert | 9th Annual Ragas Festival: Indian Music From Around the World (live-streamed, virtual)
- Thrillist – New York, Event preview, 11/20/2020, 9 Actually Fun Things to Do in NYC This Weekend
- Liberissimo, Album review, 11/20/2020, Brooklyn Raga Massive – In D
- Musicalnews.com, Album review, 11/20/2020, Brooklyn Raga Massive – In D
- Pioneer Works, Event preview, 11/19/2020, Color the Mind: 24 Hours of Ragas, Live!
- CKCU, Feature story, 11/19/2020, David Dalle features Ragas Live
- Unidivers.Fr, Event preview, 11/18/2020, TOKO TELO au Ragas Live Festival 2020 NYC – (sur Internet) Pioneer Works Broadcast New York
- WRIR’s Global a Go-Go, Highlight, 11/18/2020, #1 Chart position, November 10-16, 2020
- The Wild City, Feature story, 11/17/2020, Terry Riley, Zakir Hussain, Toumani Diabate & More To Perform As Part Of Ragas Live Festival
- New York Music Daily, Event preview, 11/16/2020, A Global Cast of Characters Reinvent Classic Indian Themes With a Massive Webcast
- Anti-Music.com, Event preview, 11/16/2020, Ragas Live Festival 2020
- Green Man Review, Album review, 11/16/2020, Brooklyn Raga Massive’s In D
- WRIR – Global A Go-Go, Airplay, 11/16/2020, Back to Soweto
- NYS Music, Event preview, 11/16/2020, Wave Farm to Host Ragas Live Festival on November 21-22 <a href=”https://nysmusic.com/2020/11/16/wave-farm-to-host-ragas-live-festival-on-november-21-22/”>Read more at NYS Music… </a>
- Chronogram.com, Event preview, 11/16/2020, WGXC Airs Ragas Live Festival | November 20-21
- Newsbreak.com, Event preview, 11/16/2020, Ragas Live Festival 2020 to Feature Legends of World Music from 13 cities Around the Globe
- World Music Central, Event preview, 11/16/2020, Ragas Live Festival 2020 to Feature Legends of World Music from 13 cities Around the Globe
- WFMU, Event preview, 11/14/2020, The Annual Ragas Live Marathon Goes Virtual – and International!
- Classic FM, Event preview, 11/12/2020, The best classical music and opera online streams available
- 95bFM, Airplay, 11/12/2020, The One to Four with Sigrid: November 12, 2020
- Grateful Web, Event preview, 11/10/2020, Ragas Live Festival 2020 reimagines the world music festival with an epic 24-hour, 24 set Live Broadcast
- WPR (Wisconsin Public Radio), Event preview, 11/10/2020, Ragas Live Festival
- WKCR, Airplay, 11/10/2020, Rag Aur Tal/ Ragas Live Preview Sunday!
- WKCR, Event preview, 11/10/2020, Ragas Live 2020!!!!
- Mundofonias, Airplay, 11/09/2020, Mundofonías 2020 #79 Mares y ragas / Seas and ragas
- India Currents, Event preview, 11/06/2020, Ragas Live Festival 2020 is 24 Hours of Global Resonance
- Classical Music Daily, Mention, 11/05/2020, November 2020 Newsletter
- Afropop Worldwide, Event preview, 11/03/2020, Ragas Live Festival 2020 reimagines the world music festival with an epic 24-hour, 24 set Live Broadcast
- Desi News, Event preview, 11/03/2020, RAGAS LIVE FESTIVAL 2020 WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL REIMAGINED
- Saathee Magazine, Highlight, 11/02/2020, Ragas Live Festival 2020
- India Currents, Event preview, 10/30/2020, Ragas Liove Festival
- Brooklyn Vegan, Listing, 10/28/2020, This Week’s Livestreams
- NYC Noise, Listing, 10/28/2020, Nov 2020 listings
- The Jazz Mann, Event preview, 10/28/2020, Ragas Live Festival – 24 Hour Livestream Event – 21st – 22nd November 2020. Thursday, October 22, 2020
- WKCR, Event preview, 10/25/2020, Ragas Live Festival – Crossroads: Jay Gandhi & Yacouba Sissoko
- Clouzine, Social media mention, 10/22/2020, Ragas Live Festival 2020 reimagines the #worldmusicfestival