Prasanna: Be the Change

Prasanna, a Berklee alumnus of South Indian origin, displays formidable guitar chops and compositional ambitions on Be the Change, focusing on difficult, polished jazz-rock fusion with pronounced Indian characteristics. Playing acoustic and electric guitars, Prasanna enlists the rhythm section services of Victor Wooten and Alphonso Johnson on bass and Derico Watson and Ralph Humphrey on drums. Reedists Jeff Coffin and Andy Suzuki join on a number of cuts, and Shalini makes two appearances singing Sanskrit verses. Prasanna himself croons the motivational lyrics to “Satyam,” exhibiting his mastery of konnakol (Indian vocal percussion).

Prasanna’s take on Indian-influenced jazz is quite different from John McLaughlin’s-or anyone else’s. Whether he’s cranking his Les Paul or caressing his Alvarez Yairi, he colors his jazz-savvy lines with a distinctly non-Western quarter-tone phraseology and sitarlike embellishment. The effect is disarming, especially on fusion tracks like “The Grapevine” and “Uncensored,” which are otherwise fairly conventional. “Ragabop,” an acoustic tour de force, rises above the more slickly produced electric tracks, suggesting a gritty, natural blend of idioms that could gain Prasanna wide recognition.

For those familiar with Prasanna’s hypnotic electric guitar work in a Carnatic (South Indian classical) setting, the more pop-oriented aesthetic of Be the Change could be jarring. But the album, despite its unevenness, is anchored by a substantive and highly promising talent.