Prasanna: All Terrain Guitar

Prasanna’s “Springtime in New York” doesn’t follow in the footsteps of the more lyrical depictions of Big Apple seasons. It launches All Terrain Guitar with a gale of notes that express the speed in which the average New Yorker moves in order to stay afloat. Busy and technically challenging, the track also reveals the nuances of the one-named guitarist’s technique. Most significant is his use of gamaka, the microtonal slides and inflections that betray the Carnatic music at the root of his playing. Throughout the album, even when he’s shredding, Prasanna possesses the ingenuity to create a signature tone, and, consequently, his playing maintains real emotion.

The guitarist cites Indian composer Ilaiyaraaja and American iconoclast Frank Zappa as two inspirations, due to their abilities to fuse diverse strains of music. Like the latter, Prasanna revels in compositions that pack a wealth of ideas into small places. Sometimes the outcome is almost too clever, such as the overstuffed opening of “Final Approach” or “Pinch Pennies in Monaco,” wherein vocalist Shalini Lakshmi’s operatic breakdown nearly sounds like a parody (another Zappa trademark). On these cuts, Prasanna tempers any traces of over-ambition by having alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa hop in for solos that also draw on non-Western pitches. Pianist Vijay Iyer, trumpeter Dave Douglas and saxophonist David Binney also guest on several tracks. Since they appear after the music has taken off, the horns add to the element of surprise, and help the compositions reach their apex.

The only real misfire comes in “The Keyword Is Love,” where the reggae groove clashes with Natalie John’s vocals, which feel excessive. Overall, Prasanna demonstrates a solid balance of staggering chops and far-flung concepts.