On ‘REINHERITANCE,’ Varun Rangaswamy Reconciles Distant Musical Legacies

Improviser-composer, scholar, bassoonist, and Karnāṭak musician Varun Rangaswamy believes that change is an important component of ancestral traditions. Collapsing the past, present and future, the full-length improvisational album REINHERITANCE (released October 19) is a response to three of their musical ancestors: Ornette Coleman, Aretha Franklin, and Karnāṭak singer M.S. Subbulakshmi. On their creative process behind the album, Rangaswamy says, “Each of these responses is not only a piece of music, but also an act of inheritance in real time. I do this not by trying to recreate their work, but by offering my presence to theirs.” The resulting album is a fusion of free jazz, Karnāṭak music (from the Indian subcontinent), and gospel that sees Rangaswamy improvising on bassoon, mridanga, voice, tenor sax, and electronics.

REINHERITANCE begins with the dreamy but brief “Dakshina Stotra,” which features Rangaswamy’s soothing vocals over a tanpura drone. Immediately following is the more Occidental freeform jazz piece, “To Ornette – part 1,” showcasing the artist’s wide musical range and ability to toggle between Eastern and Western tonalities. Initially, the stark contrast between the two first tracks feels a bit jarring, yet it highlights the distinct artistic influences upon which Rangaswamy draws. Rangaswamy reinterprets Coleman’s distinct improvisational style with flair; this musical dedication includes improvisations on tenor sax, supplemented by a steadily tapping mridanga and colored by percussive plucking of guitar strings and flashes of electronic effects.

“wing joint alapana” returns to the droning tanpura, though this time it’s supported by long tones on bassoon that create a textured, multi-instrumental ambience. Pickup note blips on the bassoon occasionally buckle this sonic foundation, giving the effect of subtle tonal variety and dynamism through a quite minimalist approach.

“To Ornette – part 2” is a clear continuation of part 1, though markedly punctuated by not hearing the tracks back-to-back — an ordering choice that helps highlight the evolution of the two Coleman dedications. Part 2 features more electronic improvisations and explores the higher range of the bassoon, which in turn brings the percussive groundwork into sharper relief; whereas part 1 feels more steady and driving, part 2 is looser in structure, more meandering.

Varun Rangaswamy--Photo by René Pierre Allain

Varun Rangaswamy–Photo by René Pierre Allain

By this point in the album, a pattern has emerged: oscillating between droning and freeform, static and dynamic. However, “guitar alapana” disrupts that pattern somewhat by stepping away from long-held notes and focusing more on a plodding rhythm ornamented with staccato scratching of vinyl guitar strings, melting together the two distinct stylistic structures we have heard thus far.

“To M.S. – raga kalyani” returns to the sonic themes laid out in the opening track, bringing back the tanpura and Rangaswamy’s warm vocals. In this ode to Subbulakshmi, Rangaswamy records multiple tracks of their voice, creating a mesmerizing circular dialect between the chorus of layered vocals.

Up to this point, the “reinheritances” of Coleman and Subbulakshmi have been omnipresent throughout the album, but any trace of Aretha Franklin’s influence has felt notably absent. Yet Rangaswamy addresses this in the final track, aptly named “To Aretha – alterity in reverence.” Softly spoken words sit upon feathery sax arpeggiations and gospel-inspired choral harmonization, guitar strings plinking faintly and harp-like. Jazzy sax solos layered upon each other billow and unfold as Rangaswamy works up to a gentle reinterpretation of soulful vocal belting.

Rangaswamy writes, “The past can never be fully recreated, nor should it be,” and REINHERITANCE gives weight to the presence of each artist’s spirit. By responding to musicians from such disparate contexts with solo multi-tracked performances, Rangaswamy exponentially multiplies their own voice — not to make it louder, but to make it more dynamic. Throughout the seven distinct tracks, the weight of time leaves gaps, and generational movements bloom into open spaces where alterity flourishes. Voices of the past are born anew.


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