The first run through of Holy Science nothing really stuck. And like the critical Teflon I am, I gave it another go. Somewhere in this winding-unwinding, pastoral-urban, grating-soothing four-track, just-over-an-hour jazz-scat-drone statement, I actually got into it. This was a bit of a surprise as I am not known for my fondness for wordless vocals. Kidambi’s vocals stay on a sort of Dada fringe area of scat. There’s something more than vocal imitation of a trumpet or what-have-you. Especially on what is undeniably the peak of the album, “Dvapara Yuga (for Eric Garner)”, which is two slabs of expanding and contracting that smother a brief and painful section of swollen double bass.
Holy Science isn’t really a good album to put on while trying to do anything that requires focus. It is unapologetically busy and the band deploys its limited range of instrumentation with confident aplomb. A brief search informed me that the “yuga” of the titles refer to the cycle of four epochs in Hindu theology. I recommend, if you do listen to this record, looking up a brief description of the yugas and you can certainly see the ambitious conceptual linking and interpretation. Even from a largely uninformed point of view, I thought this was a satisfying conceit and artistically successful. For example, the fourth track “Kali Yuga” does have a sense of something sliding into ruin, but at the same time tonally reflecting the first track with the drone of a harmonium. There is a link to Coltrane’s Psalm here, who Kidambi has cited as an influence.
Instrumentally, behind Amirtha Kidambi’s sizeable vocal breadth and experimental vigour, the soprano sax weaves behind the vocal lines, echoing sometimes, altering and throwing them back at other points creating a lively conversation. The double bass from Brandon Lopez is to be applauded for some especially melodic and dynamic playing, especially on “Treta Yuga”. The drums and percussion wrong-foot and mislead as much as they secure and stabilise, adding to the seat of your pants effect.
A great album that I’m glad I sent round the brain another time after the dust settled from the first wave. Ambitious and humble, tender and violent.