You want happy? Ricky Kej has happy. On his feel-good New Age offering, Shanti Orchestra, the Bollywood composer and creator of the Kamasutra Lounge series meshes native Indian music with laid-back club beats and far-reaching world-music influences. The intent is to massage your soul into a state of bliss–which, if your tastes run to very light New Age, it probably will. For me, Shanti Orchestra starts strong and interesting but in the long run contains a little too much sugar for my liking. Kej grabs me at the start with “Shanti, Pt 1” and “Forever,” snaring me with the exotic flavors of saarangi and the duclimer-like santur (thank you, liner notes) on the first, short track and then the dual siren’s call of seductive sitar and soaring bansuri flute from Praveen Godkhindi on the second. Kej’s lounge-style beats and backgrounds make it all float beautifully, particularly when joined with Alexis D’Souza’s chanting vocals. So the start is very good; the world feel, the cool grooves, the fact that it avoids being, for lack of a better term, too New Agey. From there, however, for me the disc becomes something of a jump-and-skip affair. Some tracks are simply too light and airy for me. It hits me first on “Blue,” and I get it again on the piano-and-flute pastorale of “Longing.” I can see where some listeners might quite enjoy this; it’s well made, and hits all the right soothing notes. Me, I prefer Kej’s music mixed in with other albums. When a track comes up in the course of a shuffled listen to my library, I find myself paying attention. The depth of global instrumentation is excellent. I hear Gaelic pipes (uillean?) in “Longing” and bagpipes (or their like) in “Exotic Dreams.” That track is the most rock-solid piece for me here. The pipes give way to plucked strings and flute and an absolutely catchy house beat, and then Kej sweetens the pot with vocals that recall traditional Qawwali singing. I’ll listen to this souful mix all day. Shame that it’s just three and a half minutes long. “Black and White” packs a tasty jazz edge and, just to hook me more, throws in the growl of a didgeridoo. If there was more of this and less of the superlight stuff, Shanti Orchestra would sit better with me. New Age listeners will find a lot to like here, and it’s a must-hear for fans of Eastern-influenced music. Definitely worth checking out.
Available from Ricky Kej’s web site.