The eponymous debut on ARC Records of the Raga Nova group based in Leeds, this album is a fusion of many things. Most noticeably, Indian classical forms are mixed with concepts of jazz as embodied by Jesse Bannister's sax, but there are other fusions that are perhaps even more notable, despite being somewhat quieter. Perhaps the real story is that Hindustani and Carnatic musics are joined together here, symbolically in the inclusion of both the tabla and the ghatam for percussion, as well as stylistically in the creation of the works, occasionally crossing borders. The first two pieces were written by Dharambir Singh, founding member of the group and one of Britain's premier sitarists. "Angi" is a relatively long work based on a number of ragas. It begins in Raga Kankangi, moves into Jog, then to Charukeshi. Breaking boundaries, it then moves into a period of Carnatic form before finishing on a Hindustani rhythmic cadence portion. It's in the beginning measures that one can already hear the possibilities that come about with the inclusion of a saxophone in the proceedings, as parallel lines on sitar and sax can alternately sound like transformed Indian music or Coltrane-inspired jazz, and switch back and forth between the ideals rapidly. "Varta," another work by Singh, is somewhat more relaxed, and based on Raga Ahir Bhairav. Moving into Bannister's compositions, one finds "In and Out," which offers another surprise: the inclusion of motives from Brazilian samba. Finally, the album closes on "Joy," a tribute to Bannister's wife. Between the ghatam and the sitar there's a vaguely Hawaiian aesthetic to the sound, especially when the quiet backdrop of the saxophone is added in. There are a few Indian classical saxophonists out there to be heard (Kadri Gopalakrishnan being the foremost), and there are countless Indo-jazz fusion outfits out there, but Raga Nova has a bit of feeling to them that the others don't, perhaps stemming from the fact that they aren't made of strictly Indian players and strictly jazzers, but instead people who foot the line between the two genres, and don't quite submit to the aesthetic of either completely. Entirely worth hearing.
AllMusic Review by Adam Greenberg