There’s something about Big Grenadilla/Mumbai, Evan Ziporyn’s newest album on Cantaloupe which pairs two concertos for unconventional solo instruments, that leaves it akin to a mental yoga exercise, finding balance in extremes.
It’s the Mumbai portion of the album that perhaps has the most profound effect. Written in response to the 2008 terrorist attacks on the eponymous city, it’s a haunting and cathartic 35-minute ride that thunders with Sandeep Das’s free-form tabla talents and a full-colored performance from Gil Rose and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Ziporyn’s ethnomusicology (best displayed by his works for the gamelan) is in full force here, incorporating modes of Indian classical music that seamlessly blends the northern and southern disciplines of Hindustani and Carnati composition, a nod perhaps to Mumbai’s situation in the midsection of the country.
The end comes with a numbing blow that hints at renewal, but also leaves you feeling a bit raw, an appropriate feeling to have four years after the city’s devastating attacks. What cushions it further is the preceding track, Big Grenadilla. Written as a concerto for bass clarinet (played here by the composer), the piece takes its name from the synonymous wood used to make clarinets, and doesn’t skimp on the “big” aspect either.
In Ziporyn’s performance, there’s a hint of that godlike sigh that created the universe—grand yet with some understandable uncertainties and ambiguities (Rome wasn’t built in a day)—set against an orchestra as vast as the final frontier. It builds in intensity, leading to a remarkable climax that mirrors the same in Mumbai, but to an entirely different end: Where the latter is about destruction, this is about creation. Thankfully, the end of the second track feeds into the beginning, giving us a galvanizing sense of hope after the last breath of overtone.