Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Disco Delivery #48:
Asha - L'Indiana (1979, Dash/TK)



Asha Puthli - I'm Gonna Dance (Richie Rivera Midnight Mix)
Asha Puthli - Mr. Moonlight (Richie Rivera Midnight Mix)
Asha Puthli - Music Machine (Dedication to Studio 54) (Richie Rivera Midnight Mix)
Asha Puthli - I'll See You Around
Asha Puthli - Legend Of Thais
Asha Puthli - There Is A Party Tonight

Asha Puthli - I'm Gonna Dance (Original Version)
Asha Puthli - Mister Moonlight (Original Version)
Asha Puthli - Music Machine (Dedication to Studio 54) (Original Version)
Asha Puthli - Dancin' Dandy

Although I'm sure those of you who read this blog fairly regularly are used to it by now; I've been pretty occupied with other things recently, so again, I apologize for the lack of entries lately. Also, to those who've emailed recently, sorry if I haven't gotten back to you right away. If I haven't replied to you yet, I'll make sure to do so very soon.. Anyway, about this entry: I had written a brief overview of this album on discomusic.com a few years back, but after getting a suggestion for this from a commenter on a recent post, I figure now would be a good time to finally do a little something on this excellent record... So without further ado, here it is..

Asha Puthli - one of the most eclectic, and in many ways, under-recognized vocalists of her time, often called the "Indian diva of Jazz, Funk and Soul", seems to have been gradually getting her due in recent years. With the rediscovery of her work, in large part through sampling (by the likes of The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z etc..), Puthli's work, once resigned to obscurity, has become increasingly recognized as of late.. After leaving her native India for New York to pursue her dream of singing jazz, one of her earliest, and most prominent notices was on Jazz innovator Ornette Coleman's "Science Fiction" (1971, Columbia) album. While much of her own work didn't follow in quite the same vein, it seemed, in a way to set the stage for the direction she would take in her own work. Unquestionably contemporary, yet somewhat experimental; informed by her Indian roots, her jazz background and occasionally bordering on the avant-garde, Asha always seemed to chart a rather distinctive course in her own music. It's a uniqueness that's especially apparent when listening to her 70's albums, particularly her stunning third LP, " The Devil Is Loose" (1976, CBS). A record that seemed to defy strict categorization blending soul, funk, early disco and early electronics, rendered through her own unique sensibility; listening to it, it's no wonder why legendary Columbia Records talent scout, John Hammond, once hailed her as nothing less than "a genius."

While her uniqueness had perhaps rendered her something of a wild-card in her time, particularly in the States (where her career never seemed to take off the way it had in Europe); that very same quality, seems to have ensured that her records, particularly her highly sought-after mid 70's albums: "Asha Puthli" (1973, CBS), "She Loves To Hear The Music" (1975, CBS) and especially "The Devil Is Loose" (along with her first, largely considered her best, from what I've gathered) have held up especially well over the years.. While those three are perhaps the best known of her own albums, her unique experimental approach is also evident on this record, her excellent fourth album, "L'Indiana".

Originally released 1978 by the Italian arm of CBS (CBS Dischi), it would gain an American release the following year through TK Records' Dash imprint. Although just as defiantly original as it's predecessor, it was perhaps her most obviously disco-influenced record up to that point. In addition, looking at the credits of the album, it's also easy to see why, among other things, Puthli is often considered a pioneer of 'world music.' An Indian singer, signed to an Italian label; recorded in both Brussells and Philadelphia with a French arranger (Jean-Luc Drion), a Belgian producer (Jean Van Loo), and a combination of variably notable European and American musicans, among them concertmaster Albert Speguel of the Paris Symphony Orchestra, Philly notables like Jack Faith and Richard Genovese on the horn section along with the ever-reliable Sweethearts of Sigma on the background chorus, "L'Indiana" is perhaps one of the most international disco records I've come across...

Speaking for myself, I had originally found this record some five years back at the used record shop, where I had stumbled across a Canadian pressing of the album. Not knowing anything about the mystery artist on the cover, the record looked strange, intriguing, and in good enough shape (sealed, with a cutout), and not to mention cheap enough, that I just had to buy it. Not really expecting all that much to begin with, I ended up enjoying the entire album much more than I had expected. Dark and sultry, sexy yet esoteric, it's one of the more interesting disco albums I've heard. In other words, anything but your average get-down-and-boogie record.

The Canadian pressing, released on Columbia, was pretty much identical to the original Italian pressing (minus the fold-out poster), with the same tracks and even the original album cover, which sported a dark, purple-hued and strangely unflattering photo of Asha on the front (thankfully rectified on the US release) along with all the original credits on the back, still written in Italian, even. While credited simply as 'Asha' on the front and back covers, the spine and label on the Canadian pressing still credited her full name - Asha Puthli, giving me enough to do a search on her. Through that, I later found out more not only about Asha herself, but about the album's later US release (which I eventually had to obtain for myself). Substantially different from the Canadian/European version with it's much-improved album cover, following in the practice of other labels like Salsoul, for instance, of remixing European-licenced disco records for the American market, the label evidently brought in New York DJ Richie Rivera to do his trademark "Midnight Mix" on the first three tracks on the album: "I'm Gonna Dance," "Mr. Moonlight," and "Music Machine," which, despite not being typical, were some of the most disco-palatable tracks on the record.

The lead-off track, "I'm Gonna Dance" was also the single in the US (the 12'' being identical to the US album version), reaching #67 on the Billboard disco charts. Originally clocking in at a tighter 3.30 on the original album, Richie Rivera's "Midnight Mix" just about doubles it's duration. Adorned by dramatic stabs of strings and anchored by a light, yet prominent pulse of clicking, machine-like synths in the background, along with Asha's subtle, yet effective performance, strings adding a hint of Bollywood; it plays like a misty, exotic and (if the lyrics weren't quite so innocuous) dark disco dream sequence.. The Midnight Mix spaces things out somewhat, making the synths sound a little less frantic, giving a little more time to the intro and adding a great break half-way through giving ample showcase to those synths and cascading drums..

Introduced by a spare piano and augmented later by a familiar horn refrain, the following track; "Mr. Moonlight" with it's slower tempo and it's lyrics, distinguished by a distant yearning perfmed in a decidedly un-disco fashion, not only continues but furthers the almost solemn vibe set by the previous track.. Going into decidedly moody territory here, the Midnight Mix, extending things by around a minute takes the mood even further with the break it added, practically spotlighting all of the atmospheric instrumentation in the mix.. It plays almost like late-night/after-hours disco mood music in places, a kind of down-beat disco classic, if you will. Apparently, "..Moonlight" was also released as a single in Italy..

The final track on Side A (at least on the US version), "Music Machine" (Dedication to Studio 54) is perhaps one of the most intriguing tracks on the record. Lifting things up somewhat from the yearning of the previous track, but continuing in the almost foreboding vibe of the previous tracks, "Music Machine," with it's lyrics and atmosphere, plays like a kind of chronicle/critique of the nightlife.. "..With poppers and strobes I am drunk to your beat, in this laser-lit glow, night people meet... to keep away tomorrow.. to keep away tomorrow...," it's as if the subject is, on one hand marveling and partaking in it, yet at the same time distantly observing and criticising the hypnotized masses seduced by the beat, dancing to 'keep away tomorrow,' completely high and completely addicted, staving off the inevitable, all the while begging for more ("...give me your music, give me your love, dance with me.. forever.."). With all that, I'm left wondering if perhaps the sub-title 'Dedication to Studio 54' is intended an an actual dedication or is simply an alternative title, implying it as an expression of one's dedication. Perhaps both?

Either way, out of all the remixed tracks, The Midnight Mix of "Music Machine" is the one which perhaps differs the most from it's original version. The remix used a slightly different vocal on the intro and, perhaps most obviously, replaced the ubiquitous manipulated/processed vocals on the original with a more straightforward one. The remix also added a great break (of course) to the track highlighting the bass and all the other excellent guitar work, practically buried on the original..

The original album also had a fourth track on Side A, "Dancin' Dandy." With the extended mixes of the other three Side A tracks, this was evidently no room left for this on the US version. With it's brief duration, acoustic rhythm guitar foundation, atmospheric synth touches and really, little else; it plays in an innocent, decidedly un-disco fashion, despite it's dancing theme. Although not quite at the same level as the other tracks, it's a half-way pleasant track, a nice respite from the heavier vibes of the other tracks. Adding a little bit of diversity to the record, without deviating from things entirely, it's one that I go back to more often than I thought I would. If anything, it's at least better than it's cutesy title might suggest it to be...

Side B starts off by going a little further away from the disco, opening with "I'll See You Around." Written by Timothy Touchton and Rainer Pietsch (an arranger/producer who has appeared on some prominent German disco productions) it's perhaps the closest thing to a ballad on the album. However, the most intriguing, if not somewhat perplexing track on Side B would be the one following it, "Legend Of Thais." Backed by what must be some of the Sweethearts' most angelic vocals, it opens with a chant, "Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison.." seemingly right out of a Catholic mass, followed by verses invoking drugs and disco: "..cocaine and opium were things I did for fun, but dancing was my joy..." Not sure if the title is a reference to something way over my head, but as intriguing as the lyrics and contrasts are, damned if I know what it's all supposed to mean..

"There Is A Party Tonight," the album's closing track, goes back into disco territory, bringing things full circle, in a way. Written by the trio of Dan Japlin, J.M. Willa Roza and Carlene MacLinen, who all contribute to a few prominent Pierre Jaubert productions (Chantal Curtis, Brenda Mitchell etc..). The excellent production on here, with the cold, synthesized opening, right out of "I Feel Love," along with the gleaming synth stabs, jagged guitars and of course, Asha's performance end up taking what would probably be a rather rote, uninspired disco filler track into the stuff of high-flying disco decadence. Personally, I think a great deal of that is due to Asha's great, and appropriately tipsy "glass-of-champagne" ad-lib (at around the 1.40 mark). A bit hilarious, but effective nonetheless..

Although I'm not as personally familiar with a lot of his work, the producer behind this record, Jean Van Loo (sometimes credited as Jean Vanloo), is perhaps best known for his work on albums by the studio group Chocolat's (misspelled with the apostophe for some reason, don't ask me why) and perhaps most prominently Patrick Hernandez' disco mega-hit "Born To Be Alive." In other showbiz lore, Van Loo is also notable as one of the first people to 'discover' Madonna. Having initially recruited her as a dancer for Patrick Hernandez, he and his associate, Jean-Claude Pellerin ended up bringing her to Paris for a brief, and fairly unfruitful stint where they tried to turn her into their own disco protégé with a song, infamously entitled "She's A Real Disco Queen." Ms. Ciccone reportedly hated it so much she refused to record it, thus ending her little stint in Paris with Hernandez' people. Jean Van Loo, having been a noteworthy figure in the music business since 1961, particularly in Belgium and France, passed away in 2000, at the age of 61.

Arranger Jean-Luc Drion was also a fairly notable figure, having been a regular collaborator of Jean Van Loo on some of the Chocolat's recordings and a prominent arranger and producer in his own right. DiscoStyle.com has a great story about him, "In Search of Jean-Luc Drion" written by an old friend of his, Bobbie J. Pemberton. An interesting and rare look into a fairly prolific, yet not-as-well known name in disco. Drion along with Dominique Régiacorte would later end up having a hit as Magazine 60 with "Don Quichotte" in 1985.

In recent years, Asha Puthli has been on a comeback trail of sorts. Spurred by the recognition of her work, Puthli, a long time resident of New York, has started actively performing and recording again, singing at events such as New York's Central Park's SummerStage in 2006, getting glowing write-ups in publications from the New York Times to India's Verve Magazine, and cultivating collaborations along the way with the likes of Bill Laswell and the Dum Dum Project among others. Although apparently working on a new album (reportedly with the French label Kyrone GP Music) unfortunately, Sony/BMG have yet to reissue any of Puthli's hightly sought-after CBS albums (the first three are widely availiable on vinyl 'reissues', however). In the mean time, Asha herself has taken the initiative in making her albums (including this one) available through her own website and even a couple of them through iTunes. A compilation, "Space Talk: The Best of Asha Puthli - The CBS Years", was evidently announced and even reviewed (see the All Music Guide), but as of this writing, has yet to be released.

Although this, along with her later albums, is perhaps among her lesser recognized works these days; to me, this record remains one of the more intriguing albums to come out of the Euro-disco spectrum. An album which synthesizes Asha's own distinct sensibilities with an elegant, at times even somewhat sombre Euro-disco sensibility, "L'Indiana" stands as a stunning example of Asha Puthli's distinctive artistry.

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #37: MIDNIGHT RHYTHM (1978, ATLANTIC) (WEDNESDAY MARCH 14, 2007)

PURCHASE:
ASHA PUTHLI'S OFFICIAL WEBSITE - SOLO ALBUMS

LINKS:
ASHA - L'INDIANA LP @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
ASHA - L'INDIANA LP @ DISCOGS
ASHA - I'M GONNA DANCE (US 12") @ DISCOGS
HIT PARADE ITALIA - 1978 ALBUMS

ASHA PUTHLI'S OFFICIAL WEBSITE
ASHA PUTHLI'S OFFICIAL MYSPACE
ASHA PUTHLI @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
ASHA PUTHLI @ WIKIPEDIA
ASHA PUTHLI @ DISCO MUSEUM
VERVE ONLINE - JAZZY DIVA (BY VINOD ADVANI) (MARCH 2007)
THE HINDU - ALL THAT JAZZ (BY VIJAY SAI) (OCTOBER 15, 2006)
OVERSEAS INDIAN - US TO HONOUR ASHA PUTHLI (SEPTEMBER 19, 2006)
THE NEW YORK TIMES - MUSIC: ASHA PUTHLI, AN INDIAN SINGER WHO EMBRACES COUNTLESS CULTURES (BY JON PARELES) (AUGUST 12, 2006)
JAZZ NEWS - ASHA PUTHLI'S USA COMEBACK
ENCYCLOPÉDISQUE - JEAN VANLOO
JEAN VAN LOO @ DISCOGS
JEAN-LUC DRION @ DISCOGS
DISCOSTYLE - IN SEARCH OF JEAN-LUC DRION (BY B.J. PEMBERTON)
RICHIE RIVERA @ DISCOGS

CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES

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