Monday, March 2, 2020

I'd Love to Turn You On #251: Rupa - Disco Jazz (1982)

            Rupa’s Disco Jazz didn’t gain a ton of traction upon its initial release in 1982. Born as the brainchild of the now Grammy Award-winning musician Aashish Khan, the record sold very few copies in its native country and was quickly forgotten about as the weeks passed. Rupa Biswas, the record’s titular and charismatic vocalist completely put the memory of recording the album in the rearview as the years went on. It was only after her son rediscovered the album in his mother’s attic that the family would go on to find out Disco Jazz had become a grail item for record collectors across the world. While its grooves are oriented in something that could feel dated to the average listener, its instrumental and vocal idiosyncrasies make the album an enjoyable and impactful listening experience. It’s for this reason that Disco Jazz not only stands as a testament to the talent of Rupa and the collaborators that made this record possible but also to the strange relationship of the album format and time itself.
            Disco aside, there seem to be both spiritual and psychedelic influences at play across the album and musician Aashish Khan is likely to thank for this. Khan’s performance on the sarod as well as his credits as both the producer and arranger of the record suggest he had strong creative influence over Disco Jazz’s four tracks, each of which makes an impression on the listener. His expertise on the sarod, which makes an appearance on every track, is the glue that holds the charm and beauty of the album together. The opening cut “Moja Bhari Moja'' borrows the core of its elements from standard late seventies and early eighties disco, but one doesn’t have to listen too long to be sucked in by the stark contrast of its transcendent breakdown, which slowly and brilliantly melds the sarod and Geoff Bell’s tremolo-drenched synthesizer in beautiful harmony. “Aaj Shanibar,” perhaps the album’s most well-known track, also dabbles in the realm of psychedelia with its sleek bassline and near jam-band guitar solo. The highlight of the track is the falsetto vocal from Rupa as she sings along note for note with Aashish Khan’s rhythmic, instrumental triplet. Aashish’s brother Pranesh Khan makes an appearance on this track as well as the album’s closer, complementing the track's lush production with his table playing.
            The album has its fair share of floor killer elements as well. “East West Shuffle,” the album’s bounciest and funkiest cut, is carried by the booming drum sound of percussionist Robin Tufts, whose polyrhythmic tendencies keep the track's repetitive and hypnotic bassline moving through its duration. The rock-inspired chorus of “Moja Bhari Moja” somehow fits just as much on the dancefloor as it would on any Yes album before 1972. “Ayee Morshume Be-Reham Duniya,” the album's sprawling, 15-minute closing cut, wraps up the listening experience perfectly, bringing together the best elements of side one into one epic mega track. Rupa's vocal melody over the Western funk of the Khan brothers’ instrumentation makes for some of the album’s most captivating moments. The hypnotic and pulsing refrain sucks you in and when you’re finally lost in the world the album has created for its listener, you feel as though the track could have gone on for another 15 minutes.
Disco Jazz could have been more appropriately titled Disco Psych, but the album gloriously lives up to the potential its moniker suggests. Rupa Biswas never made another album and never fully got to realize her musical prowess as the years went on, but the recent resurgence of her singular effort has revitalized her career and made her of a cult figure in some circles. If the story of Rupa proves anything, it’s that it’s never too late to make an impact and that genius is sometimes never recognized until decades later.

- Blake Britton

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