Personnel: Arun Luthra (soprano saxophone); Mike Bomwell (baritone saxophone); Sonny Singh (trumpet); Miwi La Lupa (bass trumpet); Smoota (trombone); John Altieri (sousaphone); Rohin Khemani (percussion).
Audio Mixer: Paul Wickliffe.
Recording information: Bennett Studios, Englewood, NJ.
Photographer: Ferny Chung.
There is no sign of a sophomore slump on Shruggy Ji, the second offering from Brooklyn's Red Baraat. The brass band, bhangra and beyond mix was envisioned by Sunny Jain back in 2007, after returning to New York form India, where he had attended a relative's baraat. The baraat is a long wedding ceremony kicked off by the groom who walks, accompanied by his friends and family, to the bride's family's dwelling to pick her up -- with the brass band playing all along the way. Jain, a former jazz drummer, began playing the dhol as his primary instrument. The dhol is a two-headed drum whose sound combines the tight, round tabla and the big, forceful, and deep-hued bang of the conga, and is the heartbeat of Punjabi bhangra music. He lined up a slew of horn players from numerous kinds of music (six to be exact: sousaphone, trumpet, bass trumpet, trombone, and two saxes, alto and baritone), a percussionist, and a drummer. Red Baraat's first album, 2008's Chaal Baby, offered an introduction to their explosively happy meld of bangtastic funk, Bollywood drama, and marching band swagger. Shruggy Ji reveals growth. Seasoned by touring, Red Baraat are more confident in their ability to compose, arrange, and improvise together; they've expanded their musical scope considerably. Check the title track, which commences as a mournful dirge until 20 seconds in, when the dhol, percussion, and drums kick it up into a furious meld of go-go funk, hip-hop, jazz, and South Asian groove. "Hala Bol" adds not only New Orleans second-line but klezmer into the frenetic mix. "Apna Punjab Hove" weaves klezmer and reggae with bhangra and Balkan funk. "Azad Azad" sounds like a street party in the studio; with that sousaphone getting so deep and funky, no one needs a bass player. The horn chart is so tight that the J.B. Horns would be envious. While this band's live antics are known everywhere from Bonnaroo to the White House, capturing all that energy in a recording studio seems like it would be tough -- but Jain, engineer David Kowalski, and mixing engineer Paul Wikliffe have it down hot. The band was recorded playing all together with only minimal dubs and error corrections later; the groove you hear is from the vibe created in the moment. Shruggy Ji not only improves upon its predecessor, but takes Red Baraat's music to a whole new level. ~ Thom Jurek