Sunny Jain: Phoenix Rise | Album Review

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Sunny Jain: Phoenix Rise | Album Review

Making music in quarantine, isolated from bandmates and audience, feels like the opposite of anything Sunny Jain has done so far. Composer and dhol player Jain is best known for his work with Brooklyn’s top bhangra party band Red Baraat, famous for boisterous live shows, and his solo debut Wild Wild East, which came out in February 2020, was due to its collaborative activities Energy just as dynamic. Fortunately, the quarantine didn’t stop Sunny Jain from making new music. Phoenix Rise is the result of virtual collaborations with around 50 artists, a selection of bright, punchy melodies that are a living example of fruitful musical connections that can be made in even the most isolated of circumstances. It’s an eclectic mix in every way, a 72-page book of photographs (of food and instruments) and herbal recipes to accompany ten tracks that range from country fried rock to golden age Bollywood to name a few of the album is transcultural patchwork. Even if the individual songs are more reduced than previous works, they are no less effective as examples of how successfully Jain brings the many different styles into dialogue with one another in his respective musical milieu and that of his friends. On “Heroes”, John Falsetto on Mbira and voice, Endea Owens on bass and Tawanda Mapanda on saxophone weave a bright musical tapestry that serves as a backdrop for Malik Work to rap a tribute to important workers and activists. Shilpa Ananth sings “Where Is Home” out of the forced isolation in Dubai, her voice bleeds movingly over Dhol and Mbira. On the plugged in “Say It”, Arooj Aftab calls out “Black Lives Matter / Say it” in Urdu over rattling percussion and twisting violin and bass with solemnity in sharp contrast to the next track: twang-heavy “I’ll Make It Up to You” Adrian Quesada on howling lead guitar while Jain attacks an entire drum kit and Kushal Gaya sings about gun violence and protests against police violence with dark, bluesy sincerity. “Pride in Rhythm” and “Phoenix Rise” are hearty instrumental pieces, the first mixing silky retro synths with shimmering percussion and the second being led into the chaos of weightlessness by a soaring saxophone. A new version of “Wild Wild East” is bursting with saxophone, drums and guitar at full volume. Jain’s wife and children wrap the lively Bollywood classic “Hai Apna Dil” with lively sweetness. An arrangement of “Ja Ja Re Apne Mandirwa” moves quickly from serenity to ecstasy. The album ends with “In and Out”, where fiery violin and melismatic vocabulary superimpose unstoppable drums. When Wild Wild East came out last year, it was a colossal start to a promising solo chapter in Sunny Jain’s already storied career. Global twists may not have given it the spotlight it deserved, but the aptly titled Phoenix Rise shows that Jain is capable of being both a performer and a creative thinker. Sunny Jain is an artist who finds a way to express himself and maintain a sense of musical community no matter what, and never more clearly than in the relative intimacy of the foods, sounds, and images of Phoenix Rise.

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