Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Puthiya Theerangal (Malayalam)

Sathyan Anthikkad is one of the popular film-makers in Malayalam. While his films till 2000 had music by composers such as Johnson, Shyam etc., he has been roping Ilaiyaraaja for most of his films after that. Most of his films in the last decade share a unique characteristic – the songs were small in number but fine on melody. His latest “Puthiya Theerangal” is his 10th film with Ilaiyaraaja and has 3 songs.

Maaripeelikaatte – Hariharan (another version by Madhu Balakrishnan)
The song begins on synth wind-instrument sounds and thumbing electronic percussion with a very poignant humming by Ilaiyaraaja himself (I think). A warm melody backed by guitar, this song’s tune bears Ilaiyaraaja’s signature all through. The quietly flowing string sections in the interludes aptly connecting to the charanams evoke a sense of calmness that some of Ilaiyaraaja’s compositions have. After Vilayatta Padagotti from Dhoni, this is perhaps the best soulful composition that Ilaiyaraaja reserved for Hariharan. Though there is another version by Madhu Balakrishnan as well, I liked up Hariharan’s version a lot.

Sindhoora Pottumthottu – Madhu Balakrishnan
The song begins with guitar strumming that makes us prepared for a country-music kind of song but Ilaiyaraaja quickly moves our attention to the native south-indian rhythms. The percussive elements in this song are a highlight. The melody, set in Mohanam raga, is more folkish in its execution with Madhu Balakrishnan and male chorus delivering it perfectly well. Ilaiyaraaja doesn’t keep it completely acoustic. The synth-elements he uses to fill-up the backgrounds when the pallavi comes to a close are typical Ilaiyaraaja ideas which vie for our attention just as he conjures up a brilliant closure to the taala pattern there. Interludes glide from one instrument to another while guitars and bass-lines stand-out in the charanams. Watch out for the 2nd interlude, which ventures into his recent “Neethane En Ponvasantham” orchestral sound.

Raajagopuram – Vijay Yesudas, Shweta Mohan
A weird combination of Mridangam and Harmonium set this hummable melody on roll and just as one begins to doubt if this song would ‘sound’ just this bland, Ilaiyaraaja abruptly changes the soundscape with violins, acoustic guitars and a swinging rhythm backed by some staccato effect. While the 1st interlude just warms up to the song, the charanams have impressive synth portions as the melody keeps changing the scale. In this song too, it’s the 2nd interlude that is goose-bumpy with just snapping of fingers as the rhythm while the guitars (and keyboard) play variants. This composition is lilting melody that many would like.

Like some of Ilaiyaraaja’s recent Malayalam films, this one too is very short but has remarkably wonderful music. It is difficult to pick the best one out of the 3 songs, although I personally feel that it’s a tie between Maaripeelikaatte and Raaja Gopuram. After the full-throttled music in Neethane En Ponvasantham, Ilaiyaraaja belts out a short, calmer and sweet album. Looks like he is back to his old ways – of not letting us completely soak in one album.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Neethane En Ponvasantham / Yeto Vellipoyindhi Manasu

When tamil film director Gautham Menon (whose last film was Vinaithaandi Varuvaaya) roped in Ilaiyaraaja for his next urban romantic flick, it triggered many expectations. Then, photographs of his recording sessions in London with symphony orchestra musicians there were all over facebook, which fuelled them more. When the first teaser of song Saindhu Saindhu released, the expectations half-crashed (for some people like me). But when the album is finally out, I realize that Ilaiyaraaja has other plans - of taking the audience on an enthralling journey. The director, Gautham Menon, must be commended for giving so much leeway to Ilaiyaraaja (in terms of budget etc.) that ilaiyaraaja could accomplish his vision for this score with such finesse. Telugu version (Yeto Vellipoyindhi Manasu) songs are also out although the lyrics are nothing great to write about. Here is my take on album:

1. Kaatre Konjum/Koti Koti – Easily my most favourite composition of the album. Reminiscent of the melodies Ilaiyaraaja belted out in 80s, this song belongs to ‘evergreen’ genre, though in reality, its genre can be called as jazz+western-classical. Karthik’s rendition is top notch. Ilaiyaraaja fills up the composition with lush orchestral counter-melodies, chord progressions and punctuations. The unpredictable flow of instruments in 1st interlude, the saxophone, the gliding down from the stanza, the special flourish that the string orchestra adds after 1st stanza – every moment has lot of meat. The song completely demonstrates what Ilaiyaraaja can do when he is given a philharmonic orchestra. Classy, modern and melodious!

2. Mudhal Murai/Atu Itu – Sunidhi Chauhan’s rendition is good. The tune sounds more international to me. Ilaiyaraaja elevated the composition with marvelous orchestration. I’ve been told Ilaiyaraaja used 10 cellos and 5 double basses in this song. The World Music evoking interlude piece has a nice electric violin by London based violinist Jyotsna Srikanth, while the stanza rides on synth-bass. Ilaiyaraaja conceiving this kind of tune is a surprise for me and he pulls it off with panache! Experimental song brilliant executed.

3. Saindhu Saindhu/Yedhi Yedhi – The teasers of this song sowed seeds of doubt about this album. While Ilaiyaraaja flings those doubts out of the window with this delectable melody, yuvan’s voice sticks out like a sore thumb for me. The Telugu version, by Shaan, is much better. But Ilaiyaraaja weaves magical dreamy interludes on piano and string section. One of the pleasant melodies, the pleasant-quotient depending upon how much you enjoy Yuvan’s voice which, by the way, was Gautham Menon’s choice.

4. Pudikele Mamu/Nachaledhu Maama – The progressive-rock feel in the prelude made me wonder if this is indeed by a 70 year old man. If the theme of “class bunking students, college fun” made Ilaiyaraaja do a “Botany Paatamundhi” in Shiva in 1989, then the same theme gets updated into this composition in 2012. Exactly one-half of the song was enjoyable for me – thanks to goose-bumpy guitar riffs and the tune. The song, however, goes downhill in the 2nd half.

5. Ennodu Vaa Vaa/Enthentha dooram – A trip back into 80s, this is a melodious composition set to a nice swinging rhythm. Karthik again shines bright with his rendition while Ilaiyaraaja laces the song with violins, clarinets, trumpets, cellos, metal-flutes – all creating a peppy riot. Watch the way instruments take flight during 1st stanza – delight! Ilaiyaraaja changes the canvas altogether in 2nd half when synthesizers completely take over, but keeping the melody of the song intact. However, the ‘type of synth elements’ (kind of sounds) used could have been much better – sounds that live up to the playfulness of the tune. Raaja had given such funky sounds earlier. Nevertheless, it is a very catchy and playful composition that will reach the masses.

6. Sattru Munbu/Intha kaalam – An operatic melody, this is another surprise that Ilaiyaraaja throws at us. Beautifully sung by Ramya, this song has Ilaiyaraaja changing scales in main melody like only he can. I really couldn’t predict where the song was heading to and yet, when it completed the whole crescendo, everything sounded so much in place and perfect. The usual orchestral embellishments charm us. Particularly, as the song approaches its end, the choir slowly ascends in intensity competing with the string orchestra, giving a great pathos effect.

7. Vaanam Mele/Laayi Laayi – This song begins like some of 80s Ilaiyaraaja songs – on chorus. A warm melody wrapped in orchestral delight, one cannot stop marveling at the scintillating arrangements in this song. The tune of the song itself follows a fugue like formula – a motif keeps repeating. The interludes are Grand! The stanzas however, are slightly predictable, if you have been following Ilaiyaraaja’s work. Also, I felt this song could have been much better if Ilaiyaraaja used the vocals of any other singer. Breezy this song might be and soft his vocals might be – but still they don’t seem to add up as 1+1 =2 for me. Even Bela Shinde’s voice feels slightly discomforting when she touches the high notes in the stanzas (Shreya Ghoshal missed). Nevertheless, as a composition, it’s a beauty.

8. Pengal Endraal/ardhamayyindhinthe – Another non-typical Ilaiyaraaja song that spews lot of angst and Ilaiyaraaja used electric guitar (I think) as his primary-instrument here. Ilaiyaraja goes completely rock in this song. I have never seen him put in this much of into-the-face (metallic) rock quotient in any of his songs and it indeed shows that Ilaiyaraaja is genre agnostic. He just imports the genre, domesticates and leaves his stamp on it. Listen to this song as “Ilaiyaraaja song” and chances are that you might dislike it. But if you do have a flair for rock/progressive-rock genres, this might be for you. This song took some time to grow on me. But, Yuvan’s vocals did not impress me although the stanzas do sound better. I loved the guitar riffs a lot. Adding this after writing the review and listening to this song a lot: This song is perhaps Ilaiyaraaja's tribute to Mahavishnu Orchestra and the likes. Just remove Yuvan's vocals and replace with a solo violin - it can become a classic. Compared to the romantic-ballad feel the other songs carry, this song comes across as unimpressive because of the culture shock but don't dismiss it. The guitar riffs, the fleeting raag pathdeep+keeravani-ish traces and classic rock elements tease you as you listen along. This song is probably the most envelope-pushing song in this album where Ilaiyaraaja defies himself. 

This album has Ilaiyaraaja going full-throttle on symphony orchestra. he uses instruments such as violins, clarinets, bass, cellos, trumpets, oboe, Piano, French-horn, harp etc. to weave a rich fabric of musical canvas on which he skillfully paints his melodies of both eras – his ‘80s brand of melody’ as well his current form of experimental-self. There are few sore thumbs such as the choice of Yuvan as singer etc., but the positives far outweigh the negatives. Wonderful tunes, eclectic mix of genres (rock, jazz, romantic, fun, etc.), sweeping orchestrations are few of the many high-points of this album. This album is not Ilaiyaraaja’s come-back, for he has always been consistently giving good music. But it is one of those special albums in which gets to do a bit of everything – please his fans, experiment with newer melodies, bend genres, work with philharmonic orchestra, excel at arrangements and impress the wider audience. 

At an age when he no longer needs to prove his genius, this 70 year old composer is still writing great music replete with melody, orchestral richness, and intensity and is still eager to try something new. Neethane En Ponvasantham is an accomplishment of Ilaiyaraaja that vindicates this fact.  

Grab the Telugu mp3s here and Tamil mp3s here. But given the brilliant recording quality and the music, I recommend music buffs to buy cds.