Krautrock meets Indian classical music in Ragawerk’s self-titled album – review

A few years ago Ragawerk was the Max Clouth Clan, named after their guitarist. The renowned group – a nod to Kraftwerk – focuses on a narrow concept: a meeting between West German sounds of the 1970s and a raga factory revamping Indian classical music. So “Ab Yeh Kya? opens with sitar shimmers from Mehtab Ali Niazi before Martin Standke’s drums nail the beat. Kanjira, mridangam and tabla dance with the piano, and Manas Kumar’s violin plays with Peter Puskas’ bass. Clouth’s guitar embarks on endless races around the melody, halfway between the Mahavishnu Orchestra and full-fledged progressive rock. The voices of Varijashree Venugopal, of the Bangalore fusion group Chakrafonics, allude to transcendence.

The best parts of the album embrace modernity rather than shy away from it. On “Mangal”, jazz and disco great Asha Puthli – who had a string of unlikely hits in the 1960s and 1970s before retiring from music in the 1980s – reads her horoscope (“must act fast Tuesday”) and questions the planet Mars of its future against a backdrop of arpeggiated synths and funky drums, like a Conduct soundtrack set in a Mumbai-of-the-mind. “Red planet”, she sings, “auspicious planet”. The music slows, as if briefly stopped by traffic, a synthesizer lets go, and the beat picks up. “Do you want to smile or are you going to hit me?”

Intense guitar arpeggios ripple through “Nature of the Self” over a bass and drum loop, leaving room for an extravagant keyboard solo. “Das Modul” is reminiscent of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin at its most unforgiving, Shivaraj Natraj’s percussion ticking perfectly in sync with the keyboard patterns and rising bassline, Standke’s drums anticipating the rhythm, Clouth’s guitar sliding like a veena.

“Face in the Sky” launches jazz-rock power chords into a medieval raga, the electronics shattering like broken stained glass. At the end of “Theta Wave”, where Abhishek Mallick’s sitar is on par with Clouth’s guitar, artist Koel Sen briefly evokes his mother Shoma Sen, imprisoned since 2018 for incitement to violence.

The less successful leads are little more than thrilled. “I Promise” has all the emptiness and echo of the late Pink Floyd’s aimless guitar. “Grace Krpa” channels the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, with barely perceptible flourishes of acoustic guitar, cello and violin through to a soaring figure at the end.

★★★☆☆

Ragawerk‘ is published by Bellaphon